Thanks to Everyone for a Great Time Live from Texas!

DMA's customers, distributor members and supplier partners celebrated the spirit of collaboration earlier this week in Arlington. Industry experts shared industry forecasts and innovative opportunities, while panels of top operators and distributors offered best practices to grow partnerships. Highlights will be available to subscribers each week throughout the rest of the year…click here to be added to the list.

The DMA family works hard to deliver the best customized distribution solutions to an amazing group of superior operator partners. Distributor awards were announced Tuesday night and congratulations go to Gordon Food Service, Ben E. Keith and Cheney Brothers for their outstanding performance. Thank you to the many DMA operator partners who voted! Want to know more - follow DMA on LinkedIn to see the award details and ceremony photographs.

Thanks so much to the panelists and sponsors who made this year's Live event possible - it couldn't happen without you!


The Early Bird Dinner Trend Is Sweeping the Nation

Consumers across the country are going out to dinner more often—and much earlier—than they were before the pandemic. Turns out, being an early bird isn't all that special anymore.

"Our data indicates that fine-dining customers are eating earlier than they did prior to the pandemic," R.J. Hottovy, Head of Analytical Research at told The Food Institute.

"We've reviewed visitation trends by hour for some of the larger fine-dining restaurant chains in the U.S., and generally speaking, we have seen an increase in the percentage of visitors frequenting a restaurant from 4-7 p.m. and a decrease in the percentage of visitors who are coming in after 7 p.m.," said Hottovy.

But the early dinner trend is not just limited to fine dining.

Is 4 p.m. the new 6 p.m.?

According to Yelp data, 10% of all diners were seated between 2-5 p.m. in 2023, a figure which doubled from 5% during the same time period in 2019. Perhaps restaurant-goers have become more interested in eating at less busy times, as 4 p.m. reservations more than doubled from 2% in 2019 to 5% this year.

Rideshare data offers even more evidence of the early bird movement. Uber trips to restaurants during the 4 p.m. hour increased 10% compared to 2019, reported The Wall Street Journal. And because an early dinner often leads to calling it an early night, rides after 8 p.m. are down 9%.

Restaurateurs have taken notice of the cultural shift. Earlier this month, Danny Meyer, founder of both Union Square Hospitality Group and Shake Shack, tweeted: "When did a 6:00 dinner reservation become the new 8:00, most prized table of the night—and will it last?"

And it's true, 6 p.m. is the most popular reservation time, according to Yelp, accounting for 20% of daily reservations. Whether or not it will last remains to be seen—but why is this time slot so coveted right now?

Why are diners becoming early birds?

Commenters flocked to Meyer's tweet to express their theories on the trend and a few distinct themes emerged. There was much talk of wellness, healthy living, remote work, the sober movement, and prioritizing sleep.

"I think work-from-home trends have been a major contributor," said Hottovy, for his part. "With fewer employees commuting to the office, consumers have more flexibility in their schedules to dine at different times."

All these theories are plausible explanations for the early bird trend, and each can be tied together with a single thread: the pandemic changed our priorities and our lifestyles.

"We've seen dining habits change in other categories coming out of the pandemic, including an increase in later morning and afternoon coffee visits," explained Hottovy. And the pandemic will continue to influence our dining habits in a variety of ways, including when we eat dinner.

"It seems unlikely that we'll ever fully return to five-days-a-week in the office for most employees," said Hottovy, "which should allow diners more flexibility when they eat." Food Institute Focus

The LATAM Food Trend Isn't Going Anywhere

Ivonne Kinser kicked off the inaugural Latam Food Week with a rather bold statement.

"When we look at the nomadic [nature of] Latin American culinary culture, there's unlimited sources of flavors," the food industry insider said, as Latam Food Week 2023 began on Monday. "American consumers are increasingly expecting new and exciting flavors," she said, "and that's going to continue for years to come."

Yes, opportunities abound in America for Latam F&B companies, as Monday's online event illustrated. Kinser—founder of Vantage Innovation Lab— noted that there are now 62 million Hispanics in the United States whose buying power is projected to reach $1.9 trillion by the end of this year.

"The opportunities that exist are endless" for food companies, the Latam Food Week moderator said, "creating trends that are getting bigger and bigger every day. Sixty percent of (America's) Hispanic population is U.S. born; they're going to evolve into an American demographic. ... That's why this opportunity of replicating and blending in other industries is going to be so powerful."

Marketing Evolution

Reaching Hispanic-American consumers requires specific marketing messages in 2023, experts said.

Diana Rosero, a consumer research analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence, noted that Hispanic American consumers value authenticity from F&B brands. She added that brands can earn brownie points with that demographic by producing ads that utilize the Spanish language, for example.

Meanwhile, American retailer Stop & Shop has enjoyed success of late by posting marketing messages tailored to descendants of specific countries, as opposed to a broad region.

"Because the growth of the South American shopper is so profound, (Stop & Shop) is really drilling down specifically into the countries in terms of the assortment and promotional items," said Barry Thomas, Senior Global Thought Leader at Kantar. "They actually have a marketing calendar that's more than just a generic ‘Latin America' calendar; (they) take more of a granular approach."

Enthused by Fusion

A noteworthy number discussed during Monday's presentations: 42% of U.S. consumers have expressed an interest in fusion cuisine recently. Americans are more receptive than ever to the big, bold, spicy flavors so prevalent in countries like Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, and Peru.

For the foreseeable future, "we're hoping for fusion," said Hernan Morfin, a representative of Cilantro Taco Grill, which is based in Chicago. "That's one of the best things you can do—(pair) Mexican food with (Asian) food. Grab things from all over, because you can put a lot of things in a tortilla."

Eyes Ahead

Leaders of CPG brands had an overarching message during one of Monday's late-afternoon sessions: There's a reason that racehorses wear blinders; it's so they stay focused on the task at hand, and mainly on what lies ahead.

That, panelists said, is a key to leading an emerging CPG brand to success.

"Everybody's chasing the unicorn (businesses), but the reality of things is, especially in emerging brands, is we're supposed to be survivors—tardigrades—little (microscopic) animals that can survive" virtually anything, said Hector Saldivar, founder of Tia Lupita Foods, including a lack of funding, or a lack of adequate staffing.

For the leaders of emerging brands, Saldivar added, it's about "that perseverance, that patience. ... Patience is a virtue." Food Institute Focus

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American Restaurant Chains Thriving in India

With its pride in native cuisine, large vegetarian audience, and shunning of beef, it might come as a surprise that QSRs present an investment opportunity in India. Today QSRs are less than 5% of the foodservice market in that country, while that figure is 20% globally, according to

Indian QSRs are expected to grow at a 23% CAGR between 2020 and 2025. Chains such as Pizza Hut, Dominos, KFC, Subway, Starbucks, and McDonald's are expected to benefit.

There are two trends that are making the situation ripe for growth: a growing middle class and interest in western lifestyles. The country's class structure is moving from a pyramid to a diamond one. India's middle class is currently 31% of the population and is expected to be 38% by 2031, according to the Economic Times.

Middle class Indians are more likely to live in a nuclear household and be college educated. Across the country's landscape, interest in western culture is subtle, as temples and mosques abound. However, if you walk the streets of Bengaluru you rarely see younger Indian women wearing sarees; instead, they're stepping out in dresses, jeans, and tunic and pants. For example, "denims are the most popular casual wear product among women.

In addition to adopting western dress, during my travels in India, I was regularly asked to take selfies with locals. Cab drivers and tour guides informed us that the reason behind these photo-ops is that some people are infatuated with western culture.

While 40% of Indians are vegetarian, there's still a large addressable market open to omnivore cuisine, according to Pew Research. Fast Food chains present in India modify their menus to meet local needs by eliminating beef and pork from menus and instead offer chicken and vegetarian burgers, vegetarian sides, and spicy versions.

I had a chicken burger from both Burger King and McDonald's during my travels. I paid 179 rupees (equivalent to $2.17) for my McDonald's chicken burger meal, which seemed reasonable. However, other western items I purchased were very expensive (beer or wine as an example), so it's important that new QSRs find a way to profitably service Indian consumers at reasonable prices.

While there's opportunity for U.S. restaurants, India's industry groups are raising the alarm about the surge of foods high in salt, sugar, and fat.

A coalition of consumer advocacy groups led by the Nutrition Advocacy in Public Interest is advocating tougher restrictions in marketing and packaging of foods. Companies like Dominos, Pizza Hut, and CPG manufacturers may be impacted by the legislation. There has already been some progress in this area. India passed the Consumer Act of 2019 as a step in that direction but enforcement in food regulation is in the infancy stage. Food Institute Focus

Store News:

McDonald's plans to increase its American royalty fees from 4% to 5%, a 25% increase. Franchisees will be charged 5% of revenue on new locations or acquisitions of corporate restaurants in the U.S. and Canada; the previous rate was 4% and hadn't increased in 30 years, reported Restaurant Business (Sept. 22). Full Story

Cracker Barrel debuted its first loyalty program. Users can earn prizes from heat-and-eat platters to any hot entrée; points can also be redeemed for goods sold in its retail shops. The family chain dining restaurant hopes to reverse an ongoing traffic decline through weak economic conditions and expects to continue to slide through the end of the fourth quarter, reported Restaurant Business (Sept. 21). Full Story

Fat Brands has acquired Smokey Bones Bar & Fire Grill for $30 million. The deal by the owner of Twin Peaks gives the company another casual-dining chain. Full Story

Subway told its franchisees that they must accept mobile app discounts by December 28; many operators were far from pleased. Subway has been aggressively pushing mobile discounts for several months as incremental digital sales are more profitable. The message prompted immediate (and sometimes vulgar) responses from franchisee owners, reported Restaurant Business (Sept. 27). Full Story

Chipotle Mexican Grill is testing automation for its burrito bowls and salads. The popular chain is testing a robot at its California-based innovation center that can assemble the necessary ingredients and would only be used for digital orders, reported CNBC (Oct 3). Full Story

Meanwhile, Chipotle is preparing to open its Farmesa concept as a standalone kitchen. Farmesa focuses on healthy bowls. The test unit in Santa Monica, Calif., has closed and Chipotle moved to its Cultivate Center in Irvine, prompting the next stage in the to-market process. Details are scarce but the bowls were crafted by James Beard award-winning chef Nate Appleman, reported Restaurant Business (Oct. 5). Full Story

Starbucks recently announced that it has developed six new varieties of coffee seeds that can withstand the effects of climate change. Starbucks-developed arabica seeds are cultivated to resist the leaf rust and tests have been shown to generate a higher yield in a shorter period, reported The Guardian (Oct. 4). Full Story

Domino's and Microsoft have partnered to advance pizza ordering and store operations with generative AI technology and cloud computing power. Together, the companies will leverage the Microsoft Cloud and Azure OpenAI Service to personalize the ordering process and simplify store logistics. Full Story

White Castle has added ramen sliders to its menu, including Maruchan Ramen, Pork Belly Chicken and Banh Mi. Full Story

Apollo Global Management Inc. agreed to buy The Restaurant Group Plc, the owner of Wagamama, after activist shareholders complained about the company's strategy and ailing stock price, reported Bloomberg (Oct. 12). Full Story

Taco Bell is testing Crispy Chicken Nuggets in the Minneapolis market, according to an email sent from the company on Thursday. This test comes months after fellow Yum Brands chain KFC launched new nuggets nationwide, reported Nation's Restaurant News (Oct. 12). Full Story

Sweetgreen is using salad-shooting robots to increase efficiency and profits. In May, the fast-casual chain installed its first proprietary robots that shoot kale, cheese, and other ingredients down tubes and into bowls while employees add the finishing touches. The system reduces human employees and the time it takes to make a salad bowl in half, reported The Wall Street Journal (Oct. 16). Full Story

Veggie Grill is largely shifting its menu back to its whole-ingredient roots. Meat analogs are still available, but the plant-based chain is offering more for those seeking protein from items like tempeh, tofu, beans, and nuts, reported Restaurant Business (Oct. 10). Full Story

Pizza Hut is making a play for late-night customers. According to the chain, thousands of locations are now open until midnight or later as the brand targets night owls, reported Restaurant Business (Oct. 17). Full Story

Executives on the Move:

Red Lobster has promoted general counsel Horace Dawson to CEO. Dawson had led its legal department since 2014. Full Story

Eataly named Tommaso Bruso its first North American CEO. Full Story

Krispy Kreme will promote Josh Charlesworth to CEO in January. Current CEO Mike Tattersfield will remain on the company's board. Full Story

Darden Restaurants posted same-store sales growth of 5% in its first quarter, well above estimates of 3.74%. Darden's fine dining segment saw a same-store sales drop of 2.8%, reported Reuters (Sept. 21). Full Story


Analysis: Why Web 3.0 Could Reshape the Food Industry

During a presentation at a TEDx event a few years ago, Dr. Justin Goldston issued words of caution to business leaders. Scanning the assembled audience, the tech expert spoke rather sternly.

"If you don't adjust to your surroundings, you may become MySpace," Goldston warned, after noting that the social networking service was valued at $12 billion in 2007 but was sold for just $350 million a few years later.

In 2023, Goldston is nearly as adamant that business leaders should adapt and utilize the expansive potential of Web 3.0. "Think of Web 3.0 as a more intelligent, connected, and user-centric web," Goldston—partner, sustainable supply chain at Environmental Resources Management—recently told The Food Institute.

Other tech experts seem to agree that Web 3.0 could revolutionize business practices, including within the food industry.

In lay terms, Web 3.0 is the next generation of the internet which is largely focused on decentralization, transparency, token economics, and community empowerment thanks to blockchain technologies. Prime examples of Web 3.0 include artificial intelligence and machine learning, along with the Metaverse.

While Web 1.0 strictly allowed users to browse information, and Web 2.0 spawned social media interaction, Web 3.0 features an elaborate, interconnected network that boasts potential to improve business elements like food logistics.

"Web 3.0 goes beyond human-to-human connections and aims for an interconnected network that serves individuals' needs through algorithms, promoting personalized and data-driven experiences," said Jonathan Prescott, VP of e-commerce at CouponBirds.

Starbucks pioneered food companies' effective use of Web 3.0 last year, Goldston said, with its Starbucks Odyssey experience in which the coffee chain sold non-fungible tokens (NFTs) to members. He expects other food companies to follow suit, offering NFTs to their members to unlock rewards and exclusive experiences.

New York City's fledgling Flyfish Club is another prominent example of the food industry putting Web 3.0 to use. The club markets itself as the world's first members-only private dining club, where membership is purchased through blockchain technology as an NFT and owned by the token-holder to gain access to the restaurant.

The new iteration of the World Wide Web utilizes evolving technology that allows food to be tracked from farm to table, verifying authenticity.

"Using blockchain to track the supply chain of certain foods and verify their provenance can add lots of value to food companies," said Stefania Barbaglio, CEO of investor relations firm Cassiopeia. "New food startups can use tokens to raise funds and launch new products. Web 3 (also) unlocks new forms of liquidity and funding for SMEs (small and midsize enterprises)."

Companies will undoubtedly use Web 3.0 to personalize their products to individual consumers, too.

"In the coming years," Prescott said, "personalized food marketing will become more prevalent where companies can target individual preferences and tailor marketing messages accordingly." Food Institute Focus

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Feared Restaurant Industry Slowdown Becomes Reality

A slowdown in the restaurant industry may be upon us. Since June, every ensuing month has seen softer year-over-year same-store sales and traffic growth than the one proceeding it, according to Black Box Intelligence.

Black Box noted August same-store sales were up 1.5% during the month, but comparable traffic declined 2.9% compared to the prior year.

The best performing region during the month was New England, with the quick-service channels and Italian concepts also taking tops for segment and cuisine, respectively. Full Story

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