To hear Hudson Riehle, Senior Vice President, Research & Knowledge Group for the National Restaurant Association, speak is to be optimistic about the future of the restaurant industry. I recently had the pleasure of hearing Riehle speak at the Restaurant Innovation Summit in Atlanta. He showed the attendees charts that presented American eating habits and the greater and greater shift toward “food away from home” rather than “food at home” — in other words, getting food from restaurants rather than getting food at grocery stores.

In fact, for the first time, the restaurant industry and grocery industry in the U.S. are nearly neck and neck, each with about $700B in annual sales (each approximately 14% of the $5T retail industry). In years past, the grocery industry far outpaced the restaurant industry. But restaurants have been making strong progress and have pulled even. If one extends the trendline into the future, it is clear that restaurants will become the majority recipient of what Riehle refers to as “the food dollar.”

This shouldn’t be terribly surprising to us. (read more…)

The start of a new year is a popular time to reflect on the trends that will affect the coming seasons. One trend hitting the restaurant industry is pizza concept franchisees expanding into the sub sandwich segment. This is a recipe for success as sub and pizza makers discover operating efficiencies, which bring the two businesses together as perfectly as lettuce and tomato.

For pizza concept operators, entering the sub sandwich business is generally a diversification strategy. However, in rarer cases, individuals have sold their existing pizza business to become a sub sandwich operator. In either case, these operators cite one important consideration in their decision to enter the segment: As larger, more mature systems, the pizza chains provide less organic growth opportunity for existing franchisees, particularly in home markets.

The impact of this trend on the Jersey Mike’s system, where the vast majority of our nearly 900 restaurants are owned/operated by franchisees, has been profound. (read more…)

Retailers are operating in a very exciting world today. From social media to mobile devices, there are more ways to reach consumers than ever before. But retailers still have a ways to go to create a seamless shopping experience that spans across channels, according to a panel of experts who spoke at NRF’s BIG Show in New York City.

One of the major challenges for retailers when it comes to the path to purchase is that all these exciting new technologies exist across different silos, which can make it complicated for retailers to reach consumers in the most efficient way, according to Martyn Osborne, product chief at PCMS. He pointed out that while retailers look at technology in different buckets like mobile and online, consumers don’t think of technology in quite the same way, and that can create a disconnect between retailers and their shoppers who are looking for that seamless experience. (read more…)

At the end of each year, the team at Datassential releases our list of the trends to watch in the upcoming year, leveraging our extensive data from services like Datassential’s MenuTrends, the industry’s most accurate and trusted menu database, and combining it with our expert insight and passion for food trends. Last year we covered everything from European cuisines like German and English to beverage trends, including craft sodas and mocktails. In the past we have tracked mini desserts (2014), sweet potato (2007), and adult grilled cheese (2011). And now we are proud to release our trends to watch in 2015 — and this year it helps to think big.

Big changes

In the year ahead, major changes will continue to disrupt the entire food industry. Segment melding continues to blur the lines between traditional industry concepts, from fast casual, which combined the speed of fast food with options often found at casual or midscale concepts, to chef casual, where fine dining techniques and authentic flavors are showcased in more affordable and approachable ways. (read more…)

Loyalty programs are not a new concept in the world of retail, but, like today’s customer base, they are in a critical state of flux in the current digital era. Both for retailers looking to create loyalty programs from scratch and for those looking to adapt existing programs to appeal to shifting consumers, engaging today’s connected consumer is key, and developing engaging programs was the topic of a session at National Retail Federation’s BIG Show this week in New York.

According to Caroline Papadatos, senior vice president of international corporate marketing at Loyalty One, there has been an “explosion of channels” recently among consumers. She noted during the session that smartphones are often the first thing consumers pick up when they wake up in the morning and the last thing they put down before they go to sleep at night, and it is the responsibility of retailers to make sure that they let that kind of behavior shape their loyalty programs. (read more…)