‘Tis the season for holiday shopping and eating out – then paying for it with plastic. According to Bankrate.com, 31% of consumers will use a debit card for holiday purchases and 22% will pay with a credit card. Is your restaurant equipped to take payments from EMV chip cards? EMV (Europay, MasterCard and Visa) is the global standard for cards that contain computer chips and payment authentication technology. The cards, which have become commonplace in the U.S. this year, offer both you and the consumer protection against fraud. But take note: Until recently, financial losses due to fraudulent credit card use were covered by card issuers and payment processors. That policy changed in October, according to Business Wire, and now merchants must accept some liability for fraud losses if they don’t have EMV chip card terminals in place. A recent Paychex Small Business Survey indicates 69% of retailers and restaurant operators are aware of the shift and 47% of them have equipment in place to accept EMV chip payments. If you’re not among them, there is still some time to make the change.
Ugly is the new beautiful
That’s what a number of eco-conscious small businesses are finding. California-based Imperfect Produce, for example, has been gaining momentum for its sales of ugly produce – fruits and vegetables that pack the same nutrient content as their prettier counterparts but sell for a fraction of the price and would otherwise be discarded. (Each year, Americans throw away 40% of their food, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council). Food-conscious Californians have been eating up Imperfect Produce’s 20-lb. boxes of produce for $18 each week, according to the New York Times. The ugly produce trend has already taken off in Australia and Europe. In the U.S., grocery store sales have been mixed but restaurants could be an ideal niche. Much of the produce restaurants purchase isn’t presented to consumers in its whole form – and those consumers like knowing they’re supporting an environmentally minded business. If you’re not already purchasing ugly produce through farmers, wholesalers or other businesses, it could present an opportunity to both save money and make some.
Consumers swap sugar for Stevia
Sugar is now the top item consumers want to remove from their diets. That’s according to market research firm NPD Group, which has conducted an ongoing nutrition study since 2004. Until last year, fat had always been consumers’ top concern according to the study. Now sugar is No. 1, with 67% of adults saying they would like to reduce or eliminate their sugar intake and 57% saying the same for high-fructose corn syrup. Sugar substitutes, on the other hand, are booming. NPD said case shipments of sugar substitutes to food service outlets climbed 22% over the previous year. Stevia, a sweetener that comes from the Stevia plant, saw the biggest boost of all sugar substitutes at 11%.
Near-term outlook for citrus is sour
Times continue to be tough for citrus fruits. Citrus greening, a bacterial disease that has shaken the citrus industry, caused the USDA to predict an additional 20% drop in Florida’s already-hurting orange
production this year. Citrus greening has hit tangerine and grapefruit crops as well. And expect to pay more for lemons in the next couple of months – or to find a worthy substitute for your menu. Lemon harvests have once again been smaller than expected and demand will exceed the supply available. Farmers expect the lemon shortages to last through January.
Genetically modified salmon approved for consumption
Salmon is officially the first genetically modified animal that the FDA has deemed safe to eat, capping a decades-long campaign by AquaBounty Technologies to prove that its salmon is safe for American stores and dinner tables. According to a New York Times report about the FDA announcement, the salmon grows to market size about twice as fast as a wild salmon does. The genetically altered salmon won’t be available immediately as it will likely need two years to develop. That’s ample time for AquaBounty to determine how to sell it – a number of seafood retailers (Legal Sea Foods, Red Lobster and Costco among them) have already declared they’re not buying.
No-tipping policy attracts top-notch applicants
The “hospitality-included” (a.k.a. “no tipping”) policy, which Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group launched this month, has elicited a vocal response – mostly from cooks seeking employment. Three months ago, the company was experiencing a cook shortage in its most expensive restaurant, The Modern, according to Eater. Now, applications to back-of-house positions have climbed from two or three per month to two or three high-quality applications per day. The new policy is designed to level the financial playing field among all restaurant staff, as well as to bring transparency to employee performance by encouraging diners to use a star-rating system – as opposed to a tip – to evaluate their experience.
Fast casual outlets battle at breakfast
There is a good reason McDonald’s now provides breakfast at any hour: It’s the only segment of the day that has experienced sustained growth at restaurants in recent years, according to NPD Group. Now fast casual restaurants are competing for those breakfast dollars and sales of favorite menu items including bacon, eggs and pancakes are growing to meet the demand. An NPD representative said breakfast competition will require distributors, manufacturers, and operators to be innovative in providing quality and value on breakfast menus.
A meating of the minds
News reports about meat’s links to cancer and climate change have made it tough to be a carnivore these days. But they’re a devoted group: In a recent study that U.K. policy institute Chatham House conducted in 12 countries, including the U.S., found consumers would be willing to pay a tax on the meat they eat to help address climate change costs. (Though the people surveyed also indicated they would support government interventions, including increased vegetarian items in school cafeterias and decreased subsidies for livestock farmers, according to the news site Quartz.)
Foodservice operators demand sustainable packaging
Being environmentally friendly is important to foodservice operators – right down to the wrappers surrounding the food they serve. That’s according to a FastCasual article about the Foodservice Packaging Institute’s 2015 Trends Report, which surveys foodservice companies in the raw materials, machinery, packaging, distribution and operations sectors. This year, respondents overwhelmingly stressed the importance of compostable packaging and indicated they seek more natural-looking packaging options and greener raw materials to manufacture them.
Food safety innovations to watch
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates one in six Americans gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die of foodborne illness annually. Several new technologies aim to chip away at those numbers:
* By using a camera and a light source, USDA scientists have found a way to distinguish between active and inactive forms of the Shiga toxin – a product of E. Coli – and at a fraction of the usual cost, according to Food Safety News.
* Most almonds sold in the U.S. must be pasteurized to eliminate salmonella risk. Food technology firm Sample6 says RF Biocides uses radiofrequency waves to rid almonds and other foods of pathogens, mold and insects – while maintaining the product’s taste and crunch.
* Idaho State University and Scan Tech. Inc. are developing electronic cold pasteurization for food – a chemical-free process for sanitizing and extending the shelf life of meat and produce. The Idaho State Journal says the USDA-backed process will scan food moving from Mexico to the U.S. and expedite the process of getting food to grocers.
Starbucks shows off its strength
Starbucks’ recent moves are again boosting the brand’s influence on food service trends – and coffee seems to be beside the point. Following Starbucks’ successful introduction of mobile ordering at 7,400 stores in the U.S. in September, Dunkin Donuts is now scrambling to catch up and will test mobile ordering in six cities nationwide. Starbucks also made news this week by becoming the world’s greenest retailer, with more than 700 stores that are LEED-certified energy efficient buildings. The company wants to bring that total to 1,200 within the next year and says it is willing to share its technology with any interested business.
Restaurant raters at war
Unable to find your restaurant’s glowing reviews on Yelp or TripAdvisor when you Google them? A recent report says Google may be behind it. The web search empire has been making big strides to enter the restaurant space – adding restaurant suggestions to its maps application, delivery options to search results and reservations through its partnership with OpenTable, according to Eater. Yelp and TripAdvisor spokespeople have accused Google of ranking its own content higher on the page when web users search for restaurant content. For its part, Google blamed the issue on a recent code push. In any case, make sure Google knows who you are.
McDonald’s All-day Breakfast Paying Off
Numbers do not lie. Same-store sales are up 3% this quarter at McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s, largely because of the resurgence of quickserivce restaurants and the availability of items such as Egg McMuffins all day long, The New York Post reports.
Insuring Your Brand Against Unforeseen Problems
Insurance is nothing new. What are new are policies that compensate restaurants for brand damage due to no fault of their own. Consider Chipotle. Recently the chain lost an uncalculated number of sales and customers in several states due to an outbreak of E. coli. Why uncalculated? Because the lawsuits are already being filed and more are expected, likely costing the company millions, Restaurant Hospitality reports. Now think about your own restaurant and how quickly things can spin out of control when hit with a foodborne illness. If you happen to have a problem in one restaurant, all will likely suffer as a result of the “weakest link” syndrome. To protect your good name, and your business, talk to your insurer about trade name protection insurance.
Restaurant Sued For Charging More For Gluten-free Meals
A U.S. District Court judge in California ruled that a suit alleging that P.F. Chang's charges celiac disease customers more for gluten-free meals can move forward, The Food Institute reports. The company says it charges all customers an extra $1.00 for gluten-free meals. The verdict? You will be the first to know!
Offer Bigger Shrimp For Bigger Sales
Okay, it seems like a no-brainer. Red Lobster recently surveyed its customers and found that size does matter… at least when it comes to shrimp. The size of the shellfish will increase by at least 50% in all shimp dishes, the chain announced, based on customer feedback. Is it making a difference? Sales of shrimp dishes, which account for the bulk of Red Lobster sales, are up – and so are profits. The moral of the story? Give customers what they want and you will be rewarded.
Creating A Marketing Distinction For Eggs
An egg is an egg, right? Wrong. Pasture-raised hens lay a tiny fraction of the estimated 75 billion eggs produced in the U.S. annually. That is also why those eggs are in such high demand. Today, there are distinctions made among free-range, cage-free, and pastured hens, reports The New York Times, and distinctions mean price points. One farm has 5,000 birds roaming freely around 12.5 acres. The birds are fenced off in sections of that acreage unless they peck away all the grass, then they are moved to peck away more grass. The result? Demand for the free-pasture eggs is up 100% a year, and farmers believe this is only the beginning of a new trend. Time to get on board restaurateurs. Those eggs may be more golden than you think!
Fishing With Forced Labor
This may be a question that a customer asks unexpectedly: Is your fish caught by forced labor? Strange as that may seem, Nestle found that some of its Thai suppliers did not respect human rights and did not comply with all applicable labor laws, the company reports. To the company’s credit, Nestle took immediate action to change that, but says that there is no easy fix for itself or any other company in the industry. So what is it proposing? How about a solid plan of action that calls for a real grievance system, fishing vessel verification, more training, traceability, AND a Migrant Workforce Emergency Response Team to help protect Thai fishing workers from labor abuses. Ask your fish supplier for more details on your seafood supply.
Maine Pulls a “Blumenthal”
Remember when former New York City Mayor Blumenthal attempted to ban sodas over 16 ounces? Now Maine is trying to limit the purchase of soda and candy using food stamps, Reuters reports. Why? To arrest the alarming rise in obesity among the poor. "Healthy eating has the potential of trimming the waistline of both the benefit recipients and state government," said Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew. According to Reuters, a third of Maine residents are obese. Federal food stamp benefits can be used to purchase soft drinks, cookies, candy, steak, and seafood, Reuters says, but not tobacco or alcohol.
U.S. Egg Production Is Down
If you wonder whether you might pay more for those scrambled eggs you love serving your guests, here is some disheartening news. Egg production is down some 9% since 2014, the USDA says. That included some 6.7 billion-table eggs and more than 1.1 billion hatching eggs.
Mobile Ordering Poised To Rule
A flock of new mobile ordering apps is poised to transform the restaurant ordering business, QSRwb reports. The age of tablet ordering may already be gone, since the new crop of phone apps allow on-line ordering, bill sharing, reordering options, and games while you wait. Just a fad? No, says QSRweb. “Empirical data shows that smartphones have a continuously growing user base. According to Comscore.com, smartphone penetration has reached 77 percent in the U.S.,” QSRweb reports. That means there are still 23% more Americans as potential customers. With numbers like that, the potential increase can add up into the millions.
Cattle Supply Up 2%
Good news, beefeaters. U.S. cattle on feed for slaughter are up 2% since last year, the USDA says. But don’t grow complacent. Feed cattle in general total 1.63 million heads, 3% below last year. That accounts for the lowest number of cows to market since 1996. So will the price of steak go up or down? Likely up, because fewer cows to market means fewer steaks in your market. Use the time wisely to explore non-red meat alternatives for your restaurant.