Latest Fast-Food Innovation Paced by Taco Bell
outset, several restaurant chains have been innovating their dine-in experience
to stay relevant and competitive; some with great success.
report by Placer.ai noted that some chains are making waves with
consumers that – now, more than ever – are looking for fun and affordable
dining experiences. By observing monthly dining visit patterns in key areas,
Placer.ai identified multiple unique and effective strategies according to its
company found was that consumers are looking for cheaper options during this
inflationary period, but still don't want to sacrifice experience overall.
be in a traditional sit-down setting or a fast food takeout option, consumers
are interested in trying a fresh take on the classics, but doing so on a
example of a restaurant chain vigorously innovating its brand is Taco Bell.
Back in 2015, the Tex-Mex chain first introduced its "Cantinas" concept. These
locations offer traditional Taco Bell menu items but also include shareable
appetizers, refreshing alcoholic beverages, and a so-called "fast social"
dining experience, Forbes noted.
The name of
the game when it comes to these locations is "dwell time." Customers are
spending significantly more time on average — sometimes twice as long — at
Cantinas compared to neighboring, traditional Taco Bell fast food restaurants,
according to Placer.ai. This is largely thanks to the emphasis put on promoting
Cantinas are built for the kind of social gathering consumers have longed for
since the outset of the pandemic. Some have game rooms, host a drag brunch
performance, or offer outdoor seating complete with a firepit and bean-bag toss
boards. There's even a wedding chapel in — you guessed it — the Las Vegas
Taco Bell currently
has Cantina style restaurants, as well as alcohol-free "Urban Inline"
locations, in major cities across the U.S. with more on the way.
a nationwide franchise or a regional restaurant chain, findings show that consumers
are responding positively to businesses willing to try something new and
unique. This can be as simple as a trendy new menu item.
data across demographics, Placer.ai revealed key points to remember for
restaurants looking to stay ahead of the pack:
· Affordability is
the bottom-line factor for customers.
· Innovation can
lead to greater sales.
· People need quick
and ready food, for the right price.
· Consumers like to
see health and wellness at the forefront.
· Above all else,
people want an experience when dining out.
are experimenting with new items that feature flavor profiles made popular
online (as noted by Thrillist), or meals that meet the needs of specific diets
and lifestyles. Such innovations can be big or small to be effective; consumers
just need to see effort put toward improving experience and affordability. And
these strategies can be implemented effectively in any type of business
work-from-home being a thing of the past for many, there's been a steady rise
in demand for affordable, prepared meals and snacks. To meet this demand,
convenience stores have been ramping up their hot meal options, with some even
offering drive-thru services.
observed that many c-stores benefit from the fact that they also carry a
variety of essential items. Dubbed the "Slurpee Effect," shoppers making
household purchases can be upsold on refreshments and small treats at the
7-Eleven takes this idea even further. Last
June, 7-Eleven announced the opening of its ninth "Evolution Store" in Dallas.
The chain now has five such Evolution locations throughout the Dallas-Fort
Worth metroplex, with the intention of testing out these concept stores to
service specific areas. These c-stores offer traditional products but take
their food to the next level, boasting sit-down restaurant service in
partnership with local eateries.
these Evolution locations are experiencing far greater amounts of foot traffic
on average, reinforcing the idea that investing in customer experience can pay
big dividends for businesses. Food Institute Focus
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Roadhouse: A Blueprint for Success
struggling economy there's one chain restaurant that is defying the odds as
many establishments have been forced to cut back or close their doors forever.
That chain? Texas Roadhouse.
Restaurant Business, the 697-unit chain has averaged more guests this year than
any other period that it's been open. It's reported an increase of 10% traffic
and same-store sales are up 15.8% through seven weeks.
deny that Texas Roadhouse has grown its earnings per share at a very impressive
rate. That's attractive," an article by Simply Wall Street says.
Restaurant Business, many experts are predicting negative traffic for
restaurants this year. So how has Texas Roadhouse been so successful? Nobody
knows for sure. There are some techniques, however, that many – including Texas
Roadhouse – have used to help usher customers through its doors.
Roadhouse president Gina Tobin believes that investing in technology may have
made a big difference. In most of its restaurants, the chain offers Roadhouse
Pay, where guests can pay their bill and leave whenever they want instead of
waiting. Justin Doshi, reservation specialist at BentoBox, a company that helps
restaurants create better experiences for their customers, agrees that
technology plays a major role in attracting and retaining customers.
to book an advanced reservation is key to driving foot traffic to your
restaurant. The real opportunity is how to turn a one-time visitor into a
repeat visitor," Doshi told The Food Institute.
He adds that
owning your own reservation management system instead of using a third-party
platform can help take you to the next level.
have a first-party reservation system in place, you gain access to important
customer information. This allows you to extend your relationship with that
customer by creating a personal experience during the meal or marketing to them
directly after their experience. As a restaurant owner, you'll have more
control over your diners' experience even after they leave your restaurant,
which will build loyalty and incentivize them to return," Doshi says.
Parsons, president of Razzoo's Cajun Cafe, agrees that technology plays
a large part in restaurant success.
our team refined our tech stack, and with that it has allowed us real-time
insights about our customers' ordering habits," Parsons told The Food
Institute. "With these insights, we have been able to curate select specials on
products at certain times of day that are most intriguing to our guests, which
has increased traffic and sales."
It may come
as no surprise that the menu plays a huge role in a restaurant's success, but
Texas Roadhouse has found success with its menu mix. Sam Cooper of findarestaurant.co.uk
adds that menu simplification and flexibility is the key to survival for
restaurants during this cost-of-living crisis and the impacted supply chain of
such as Ikoyi in St James's Market, offer a tasting menu that is
reactive to produce availability and the chef's creativity. By not having a set
menu, not only does it provide an exciting dining experience, it also helps the
restaurant to navigate through the ever changing price and availability of
produce without compromising on the taste," Cooper says.
restaurant business is struggling, it may be time to look to Texas Roadhouse as
a blueprint for how to navigate these trying times. Food Institute Focus
Nestlé Targets Plant-Based at University Dining Halls
plant-based offerings expand across food service, college and university dining
halls are a popular target for innovation and experimentation.
Last month, Nestlé
Professional announced a new plant-based college dining program in
partnership with Wholesome Crave and the University of Massachusetts.
The menu ranges
from more traditional vegan fare such as Eggplant Lasagna and Alfredo Tomato
Soup to internationally inspired dishes made with meat substitutes, including
Chawanmushi with Sweet Earth Breakfast Sausage, and Tres Hermanas Enchiladas
with Mindful Chik'n.
Institute spoke with
Fleur Veldhoven, vice president of marketing at Nestlé Professional, to
unpack this partnership and gauge the outlook for plant-based in the broader
food service space.
Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.
prompted Nestlé Professional to develop this plant-based partnership?
Purpose-Driven Plant-Based Incubator was created in response to foodservice
providers reporting increased demand for a wider variety of globally inspired,
flavor-driven, plant-forward options.
Incubator is intended to be a space to share insight and knowledge amongst
existing and new partners, and to ideate and test new opportunities, recipes,
and approaches to successfully accelerate the adoption of more plant-based
also the ability to inform students and operators about the emissions footprint
of their meal via on-menu carbon labeling.
the menu options measure up to traditional meat-based dishes, in terms of cost
to the company and the consumer?
From a cost
standpoint, plant-based products are generally comparable to the cost of
meat-based products, both for companies and consumers.
cost difference worth mentioning is the environmental cost, or rather savings,
associated with these products. Not all foods have equal impacts. Animal
proteins—especially beef and lamb—are generally more resource-intensive to
produce than plant-based foods. More plant-centric eating therefore reduces
pressure on forests, fresh water, and the climate.
people shift toward plant-forward diets can have climate and other
environmental benefits. By expanding plant-based and plant-forward menu options
in scaled-dining settings, we can all help to build a better, more sustainable
demand for transparency and clean ingredients continues to grow across the
plant-based industry. What steps does Nestlé take to ensure that these menu
options are nutritious and balanced?
that what we're offering is nutritious—in addition to being delicious and
operationally efficient—is a priority element of this program. One of the ways
we're doing that is through our partnership with UMass Dining and Wholesome
Crave. All three of the founding organizations are like-minded when it comes to
our desire to make a positive impact in nutrition and food systems. We came
together to promote the health and environmental benefits of plant-based dining
at scale through foodservice.
Nestlé envision the future of plant-based in food service?
it's so important we delight our diners with delicious and nutritious food
experiences. We know they will not compromise on taste and texture.
comes down to making plant-based foods attractive and craveable so that they
are the choice and not the compromise to a meal experience.
university students are oriented toward exploration and diverse thinking – from
an openness to try new foods and to deepen their commitment to sustainability.
That's why we're starting the Incubator there.
further ahead, we see this program being scalable for out-of-home dining
operators of varying formats and sizes beyond just the university setting. Food Institute Focus
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Taco Bell's Hollywood Cantina looks forward to
hosting DJ parties. The LA Taco Bell Cantina – where alcoholic Dewgaritas will
be served – will add a movie screen and surround speakers, host DJ parties, and
hopes to enter the LA nightlife with a Diablo-sauced bang, reported Nation's
Restaurant News (Feb. 16). Full Story
Factory is ramping
up the growth of its non-Cheesecake brands. The company will open as many as 16
North Italias, Flower Childs, and other brands from its Fox
Restaurant Concepts division, reported Restaurant Business (Feb 22).
Pizza Inc. missed
its quarterly sales estimates, arguing inflation hit customers cut back on
online orders due to higher delivery fees. The company reported same-store
delivery sales declined 6.6% in the most recent quarter, reported Reuters
(Feb. 23). Full Story
Shack launched a VIP
sit-down experience called The Truffle Table between Feb. 27 and March 2. For
$20 per diner, participating Shake Shack locations allowed guests to eat from
its full white truffle menu alongside unlimited Shake Shack canned wine,
reported Forbes (Feb. 24). Full Story
Barrel will push its
value with new $5 to-go meals. Cracker Barrel's takeout, delivery, and catering
accounted for 23% of sales in the second quarter, and the chain is likely to
hit its $100 million goal of growing annual sales, reported Restaurant
Business (Feb. 28). Full Story
Wendy's has struck a deal with cloud kitchen
operator Rebel Foods Pvt to scale the fast-food chain's physical presence in
India to 150 locations, betting on diners returning to public eateries as the
pandemic ebbs. Mumbai-based Rebel will become a master franchisee of the burger
brand about two years after the companies signed a cloud kitchen deliveries-only
deal, reported Bloomberg (Feb. 27). Full Story
is expanding its Krispy
Kreme offerings to more locations in Kentucky. From nine restaurants to
over 160, the burger chain is also taking a sharper eye to the no. 1 complement
to doughnuts – coffee – to encourage more morning visitors, reported CNBC
(Feb. 27). Full Story
KFC is bringing back the Double Down,
the bunless sandwich with bacon, cheese, and sauce wedged between two pieces of
fried white-meat chicken. In 2010, KFC sold 10 million Double Downs in its
first month. KFC said customers have been "begging" for the Double Down's
return, reported Restaurant Business (March 1). Full Story
Subway opened its second headquarters in
Miami. Located at 1000 Sub Way in Miami-Dade County, the company said its new
space is designed to "advance the brand's multi-year transformational journey,"
reported Restaurant Business (March 2). Full Story
Restaurants plans to
trim its menu by 10% as part of cost-cutting efforts. One of the industry's
biggest menus is getting smaller, but company executives don't foresee it
hurting sales, reported Restaurant Business (Feb. 21). Full Story
& Co. has
normalized commodity costs and achieved continual sales momentum throughout
inflation. Noodles reported steady growth across all channels, including
higher-priced menu items and delivery. Almost 60% of its fourth-quarter sales
came through digital channels – an 11% increase over last year, reported Restaurant
Business (March 8). Full Story
hopes to expand to
Europe and Asia. The QSR is planning a $1 billion expansion through 2030.
Andrew Cathy, chief executive, says international growth is key to the chicken
brand's future, reported The Wall Street Journal (March 13).Full Story
Chipotle debuted a new worldwide LTO: Chicken
al Pastor. It's the first new menu item launched simultaneously around the
world in the chain's history, reported Restaurant Business (March 14). Full Story
logistics company Gatik partnered with Kroger to transport
customer orders within the Dallas region. Gatik will transport fresh products
from a central Customer Fulfillment Center to multiple retail locations. Full Story
Denny's has added an interactive,
augmented-reality menu presentation. The diner chain also is now featuring
several new menu items – like a new Mac N' Brisket Sizzlin' Skillet, and
Oven-Baked Lasagna. Full Story
SUPPLY CHAIN NEWS
Future of AI and the Food Industry
of the food industry is coming into focus as artificial intelligence grows
increasingly popular. AI is rapidly changing the way restaurant chains, food
manufacturers and other businesses operate.
Wingstop, Campbell Soup, Domino's
and Panera are just a few examples of companies that are taking
advantage of all the benefits that AI has to offer.
nearly 2,000-unit wing chain, is using AI to answer phones, as noted by
Restaurant Business. Wingstop partnered with ConverseNow to create a virtual
ordering assistant, which can answer multiple calls at the same time. It will
also be able to assist with recommendations and it speaks both English and
Spanish, according to the article. Chains like Del Taco, Domino's, Panera,
Checkers and Newk's Eatery are using similar technology, according to
Asher, CTO of GRUBBRR, a self-ordering system solutions company, said
this is just the start of AI's impact on the food industry.
"AI in 5
years will be used in both front-of-house and back-of-house operations focusing
on forecasting, reporting, predicting inventory, and labor needs to start,"
Asher told The Food Institute. "Restaurant operators see many
customer-facing benefits with this new technology, including ordering, smart
upsells, and more personalization.
addition, implementing AI will drastically increase operational efficiency by
prioritizing orders based on channels, routing, and throttling orders, forever
changing how operators run their businesses."
manufacturers, like Campbell Soup Co., are using AI to help with product
development, noted Food Business News. Campbell is tracking data to help
discover what its customers want next and through that initiative it has
introduced new products like the Chunky Ghost Pepper Chicken Noodle Soup.
Campbell determine that modern consumers crave spice. Partially because of this
information, the soup giant released the aforementioned flavor after successful
launches of Spicy Chicken Noodle, Spicy Steak and Potato, Spicy Sirloin Burger,
Spicy Chicken and Sausage Gumbo. Campbell also developed Frank's RedHot
Goldfish Crackers thanks to AI-driven insights.
also utilizing AI to analyze trends. Recently, AI helped Campbell identify a
rise in air fryer popularity, allowing it to introduce Kettle Brand Air Fried
Chips, noted FBN.
retail landscape shifts and brands continue to leverage D2C for growth and
scale, AI will become instrumental for highly customized and targeted content
catered to each consumer," said Catherine Merritt, CEO at Spool, a CPG
marketing agency. "For example, AI-driven content may look like an e-recipe book
for that specific consumer based on what they've bought or currently have in
"As integration between online, grocery shopping and smart-homes improves,
AI can serve the most relevant content and information consumers are looking
for – or will receive whether they sought it or not," Merritt told The
Food Institute. Food
Sales Look Strong Due to Easy Omicron Comparison
sales for the foodservice industry jumped 14.1% in January, but that may buck recent
trends due to an easy comparison to January 2022 when the Omicron variant
pushed consumers away from in-store dining, according to Black Box
Intelligence. Comparable traffic was up 5% during the month.
the best month for year-over-year sales and traffic growth for the industry
since February of 2022. It is also the first time during that same period that
the industry was able to achieve positive traffic growth," the group wrote of
the month in a blog post.
reported the Mid-Atlantic region, fine dining, and Italian cuisine were the
top-performing categories for the month; conversely, Florida, quick-service,
and chicken concepts faced the biggest hurdles in February. Full Story
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