Week of April 26, 2010

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Dining Out Regains Favour in the U.S.
“Americans are returning to one of life’s simple pleasures — dining out,” reported The Wall Street Journal April 23. Citing recent published financial data from five major chains, as well as comments from company executives, The Journal reports that, “restaurant chains are serving more customers. That’s boosting bottom lines and increasing confidence that the worst is firmly in the rear-view mirror.” Examples in the story include: Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc.’s first-quarter profit rose 49 per cent, with sales up 16 per cent from a year earlier; McDonald’s posted a first-quarter earnings gain of 11 per cent on revenue that rose 10 per cent, with U.S. sales pitching in with a 1.5 per cent gain over a year ago; Panera Bread expects to report that first-quarter sales at company-owned same-stores are up 10 per cent with a 6.5 per cent to 7.5 per cent comparable sales gain; and Starbucks reported that same-store sales rose by seven per cent over last year. “Consumers are dramatically more confident today then they were a year ago,” Chipotle co-chief executive, Montgomery Moran, said in a conference call. He added, “It looks like the consumer is out spending again.”

Nation’s Restaurant News (NRN) echoed the same theme on its website, commenting, “First-quarter reports from public restaurant companies…have highlighted a long-awaited return of guest traffic after nearly two years of eateries losing customers who have been reluctant to spend.” Citing additional published results, NRN reported that The Cheesecake Factory Inc.’s net income for the quarter totalled US$18.7 million, up from $10 million a year ago, on a three per cent revenue rise.

Amex User Spending Up in First Quarter
In another positive sign of consumer recovery, the U.S.’s largest credit-card issuer by purchases, American Express Co., reported that first-quarter profit doubled as consumers boosted spending, rising to US$885 million from US$443 million. “Card-member spending was up 16 per cent, rebounding strongly from the recessionary lows of last year,” said CEO Kenneth Chenault. “The global economy seems to be poised for continued improvement.” AmEx users’ spending averaged US$8,665 last year, compared with US$3,073 for Visa-branded cards and US$2,588 for MasterCard.

Feds Consider Regulation of Trans Fats as Voluntary Approach Fails
According to Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, voluntary reductions of trans fats in restaurant and processed foods has failed; therefore, a “regulatory” option is now being considered. Her comments, reported by Canwest News Service, came on Friday following the final results of Health Canada’s two-year voluntary program. “The results indicate that further reductions are needed to fully meet public health objectives and reduce the risk of coronary heart disease,” Aglukkaq wrote. Among her criticisms, she singled out both processed foods and small-and medium-sized foodservice operators that “face challenges in controlling” trans-fat levels in menu items.

TV’s Top Chef Coming to Canada
Canadian culinary talent is set to get a lot more face time on prime time when a new Top Chef show, set exclusively in Canada, premieres in 2011. “Top Chef is a proven performer and audience favourite on Food Network and we are delighted to team up with NBC Universal and Insight Productions to launch the format in Canada,” said Karen Gelbart of Canwest Broadcasting. “Canadians are passionate about food and as our culinary landscape across the country continues to grow, so does the opportunity to showcase our wealth of talent, ranging from amateur cooks to trained chefs.” The Canadian version, like the original, will see contestants duke it out while showcasing their kitchen chops, management style, customer service skills and team-building talents. The rigorous competition will see one toque named Canada’s top chef.

OPUS Hotels Creates Unique Staff Shoe, Sells to Public
OPUS Hotels has partnered with Montreal-based Fluevog Shoes to create the unique OPUS Hotels Porter Shoes now being worn exclusively by valets and male guest-service agents in its Vancouver and Montreal hotels. The shoes are also featured on the hotels’ mini bar menus for sale to guests and will be available in all 10 North American Fluevog retail stores. Described as “echoing the OPUS brand’s reputation for personality, flair, individuality and for always being on the cutting edge of cool,” the two-tone shoes boast the colours of pink and black. Vancouver-born John Fluevog describes his product as “shoes to vie for, shoes to die for” on his website, and as “a favourite among fashion-conscious hipsters everywhere.”

SIAL 2010 in Montreal Showcases Something for Everyone
Innovation was the order of the day at the SIAL 2010 show which wrapped up on Friday at Le Palais de Congres in Montreal. SIAL Canada was founded in 2001 as a biannual exhibition, becoming an annual event in 2007. The international food show got a makeover this year with the launch of SET, a mini equipment tradeshow within the larger international food component dedicated to food retail and foodservice. Boasting equipment for the retail and foodservice sectors, the addition received good reviews from those in attendance, although food continues to be the primary focus of this international marketplace. Along with the new equipment thrust, show organizers also worked diligently to make the event easier to navigate by organizing it along three themes: Restaurant Business Today, Food and Cooking and Home Meal Replacement. Also new to this year’s edition were halal, kosher and private label areas.   

More than 12,500 visitors attended the three-day show, including 545 exhibitors from 37 different countries around the world, making it a truly international marketplace. From a Canadian perspective, eight provinces were represented with Saskatchewan and Newfoundland missing out. Attendees were treated to a variety of new food products and flavours from around the world, showcased in attractive booths that made sampling a pleasurable experience. Among some of the more popular items were ginger maple butter from Citadelle Maple Syrup Producers; basil ice cream from Monsieur Basillic and a line of microwavable dishes that offer recipes with textures designed for infants. Additionally, confit pork cheek from Industrie Gastronomique Cascajares drew positive feedback from a jury of experts who rated the top 10 innovative food products. The dishes are prepared and seasoned allowing restaurateurs and cooks to apply their culinary skills in an instant. Another highlight of the show was an international competition of olive oils, which was organized to expose attendees to the wealth of product that exists from around the world including Italy, Spain, Greece and France.  

In addition to tasting a bevy of new products, visitors were also treated to a newly introduced cooking salon featuring several of Quebec’s best chefs, including Francois Blais from Panache restaurant in the Auberge St. Antoine in Quebec City and Laurent Godbout, Chez l’Epicier in Montreal. Sponsored by Rational, Quebec’s HRI magazine and Foodservice and Hospitality, the demos attracted foodies looking to increase their knowledge of cuisine. The learning continued in the Agora Room where up to 10 seminars were held each day as part of the “Eaters Under the Influence” lecture series. Many of the seminars featured sustainability as a focus, including one led by Naya Canada on the viability of bottled water. “Naya is a company on the crusade,” said Sean Surkis, vice-president, Sales & Marketing, referring to Naya’s decision to increase its focus on sustainability in the face of changing consumer attitudes. “We’ve been able to increase our market share from 23 per cent to 35 per cent. We turned the market around because of our initiatives,” he said, referring to Naya’s 100 per cent recycled-plastic bottle.  

More innovation is promised next year as SIAL moves to Toronto as part of its new rotation between English and French Canada (Montreal will host the show in even years, Toronto in odd years). According to Xavier Terlet of XTC World Innovation (organizers of the international show), who travelled from Paris to speak at a media briefing during the Montreal event, “The decision was made because Toronto is the economic capital of Canada. It’s also the fifth largest city in North America, with the GTA representing 53 per cent of Ontario’s population.” Terlet also pointed out that the city’s ethnic diversity means there’s growing demand for ethnic products. “This is the only international salon in Canada,” boasted Terlet. As part of the company’s mandate to keep adding new features, SIAL will also include a new section at next year’s show called SET Process, which will focus on the food processing sector.   

New Chef de Cuisine Named at West
The Top Table Group has promoted David Gunawan to the position of chef de cuisine at West Restaurant in Vancouver. “David is a tremendous talent who will provide a fresh focus for West’s kitchen,” said proprietor Jack Evrensel. “His philosophy reflects the restaurant’s core values and our ongoing dedication towards providing exemplary fine-dining experiences.” Gunawan, who’s worked in Chicago, Seattle and Vancouver, originally planned to become a civil engineer before learning the culinary arts at Kendall College in Chicago and Vancouver Community College.

California Winemakers Promote Wines Across Canada
Starting April 7, and continuing through May 12, wine producers from California have been journeying across Canada to promote their vintages. After stops in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Montreal and Quebec City, the group made its Toronto appearance at the Royal York Hotel last week, where it hosted the 18th Annual Toast to California Trade Luncheon, before opening the doors to the industry for a tasting of its best vintages. Themed, “The Next Generation: Passing the Torch,” top winemaker Karl Wente, a fifth-generation winemaker at the 125-year-old Wente Vineyards, addressed the distinguished crowd, speaking about evolving California wine styles, their commitment to the environment and hip marketing trends that are turning the industry on its head. Wente ended his talk discussing the implications of social media.  “The sooner wineries get onboard, the better,” he said, referring to networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. “It’s all about lifestyle marketing.”  

Canadians’ Taste for Wine Growing; Beer’s Share Down
Statistics Canada is reporting that beer’s market share in Canada has dropped from 53 per cent in 1993 to 46 per cent in 2009, as red and white wines gain popularity. Wines’ share of the market rose from 18 per cent to 29 per cent in the same period. Wine purchases reached 441.4 million litres in Canada, of which 64 per cent was red and rosé. Domestic wines continue to gain market share, with 24 per cent of all reds and rosés sold in Canada being domestic wines (39 per cent for whites). Total beer, wine and spirits sales reached $19.4 billion in the year ending March 31, 2009, up three per cent from the previous year. The net income earned by provincial and territorial liquor authorities, combined with other alcohol-related revenue such as liquor licenses and permits, reached $5.4 billion in 2009, up 3.6 per cent from the previous year. Saskatchewan, Nunavut and Nova Scotia reported the largest increases.

GroupClick Launches “Collective Action” Couponing in Toronto
Gary Lipovetsky, president of Toronto-based MenuPalace.com, recently launched GroupClick, a website offering users daily deals on the best local goods, services and cultural events in Toronto. GroupClick negotiates deals with businesses like restaurants or spas looking to attract new customers with no upfront fee required. For example: a $75 meal card is offered for $29.99. Then, GroupClick subscribers receive free daily emails alerting them to that day’s special deal, on the condition that the deals are only activated if a minimum number of people agree to buy in, encouraging subscribers to share the deal with family and friends via sites such as Facebook and Twitter. The deals are redeemable for a set period of time, with restrictions on number of deals used per group. Once a deal is closed, GroupClick immediately sends the operator their share of the funds obtained from buyers.

GroupClick is modelled on Groupon, a successful U.S.-based company that morphed its “collective action” website about 18 months ago into a commerce-driven model. Today, Groupon’s valuation is a reported US$1 billion with more than $300 million in annual revenues.

U.S. FDA Urged to Legislate Salt Reduction in Food
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is considering changing the safety status of salt in food consumed by setting limits on how much salt can be included in food sold in grocery stores and restaurants. The Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences that provides information to government decision-makers, said in a major new report released last week that gradual but sweeping regulatory changes to cut sodium in the food supply must be implemented because voluntary industry efforts aren’t working.

In Canada, voluntary industry reductions are the only option being considered by the Sodium Working Group (SWG), a two-and-a-half-year-old, federally appointed working group. The Health Canada group was to have a plan ready in April 2009, but it now says its report won’t be finished until some time later this year. It includes food manufacturing and foodservice industry groups, including the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association (CRFA), health-focused non-governmental organizations, scientists, consumer-advocacy groups, health professional organizations and government representatives. CRFA’s Ron Reaman said the industry has been making major progress because of continuing collaboration between the food industry, government and health experts.

ORHMA Golf Event, AGM, May 27 to 28
The Ontario Restaurant Hotel & Motel Association will hold the ORHMA Annual Provincial Golf Tournament on May 27 at the Lionhead Golf & Country Club in Brampton, Ont.  The associations’ Annual General Meeting will take place the following day, May 28, at the Delta Meadowvale Resort and Conference Centre in Mississauga. For information, click here.

 

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