Week of Sept. 13, 2010

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Couche-Tard’s Casey’s Bid Topped by 7-Eleven
A battle between equals in the U.S. convenience store field is shaping up as Dallas-based 7-Eleven Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Tokyo-based Seven and I Holdings Co., made a US$2 billion bid (US$40 per share) for Casey’s General Stores Inc. last week, beating Laval, Que.-based Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc., whose most recent bid was US$38.50 a share. Casey’s annual meeting is Sept. 23, and Couche-Tard is putting forward its own slate of directors.

Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. also turned up the heat late Friday in its battle to acquire Casey’s General Stores, Inc. with a hard-hitting open letter addressed to its Board of Directors about the 7-Eleven Inc. counter-offer. Describing it as “an attempt to distract shareholders, in the midst of a proxy contest, from considering [Couche-Tard’s] fully financed offer,” company president and CEO Alain Bouchard described it as “a transaction based solely on a preliminary proposal that was first communicated…in a telephone call on September 2.” He suggested Casey’s, “delay the annual meeting, currently scheduled for September 23, for two to three weeks [to] complete a full and fair sale process and report the results of such process to…shareholders prior to the annual meeting.” Earlier last week, Couche-Tard announced “it [had] reached an agreement in principle with the staff of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in connection with Couche-Tard’s tender offer…for $38.50 per share in cash.”

B.C. Minimum Wage Reviewed
At $8 an hour, B.C.’s minimum wage is the lowest in Canada, unchanged since 2001. It’s why the province’s labour federation called for an increase to $10 an hour, with future increases linked to the cost of living, but according to news from Global B.C., Ian Tostenson, president and CEO of the British Columbia Restaurant & Foodservices Association, said there was “no way” the foodservices sector could absorb a $2 an hour increase in one jump. He added that a review of the minimum wage “is the responsible thing,” but added that “The industry is really in trouble right now to begin with. It is just reeling over the economy and the HST.” A recent statement from the Ministry of Labour states there are close to 1.8 million paid employees in B.C., of which 2.3 per cent earned the regular minimum wage or less. Of that 2.3 per cent, less than half of one per cent earned between $6 and $7.99 an hour. The general business community, represented by the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce, also supported a review of the minimum wage.

Extended Bar Hours Proposed in Edmonton
Extending bar hours, so that patrons can stay out until 4 a.m., is just one of dozens of recommendations being made by the Jasper Avenue Entertainment Working Group of Responsible Hospitality Edmonton (RHE). The idea is to manage the increased nightlife on Jasper Avenue. RHE consists of bar and restaurant operators, residents, police and other members of the public. The proposal to extend hours includes a caveat that liquor sales would still end at 2 a.m. RHE’s Cindy Davies told the Edmonton Journal six other Canadian cities are considering similar changes, mainly to reduce congestion. Other recommendations of the Group include evaluating the success of the portable toilets and possibly creating an entertainment zone police unit. The city’s executive committee recommended council vote on the matter this week with officials reporting back in February with a plan for implementing the proposals.

Bernardo Hees to be New Burger King CEO
Bernardo Hees will be the new CEO of Burger King Holdings, Inc. on completion of its pending acquisition by 3G Capital. Hees was most recently CEO of America Latina Logistica, Latin America’s largest railroad and logistics company. He joined 3G Capital as a partner in July 2010. Burger King’s current chairman and CEO, John Chidsey, will remain in his current capacity until the close of the transaction and will assume the newly created position of co-chairman of the Board alongside Alex Behring, managing partner of 3G Capital. The transaction is expected to close in the fourth quarter of this calendar year.

McDonald’s U.S. Sales Up
McDonald’s Corporation, Oakbrook, Ill., has reported global comparable sales growth of 4.9 per cent in August, including a 4.6 per cent gain in the States. Europe was up 2.2 per cent and Asia/Pacific, the Middle East and Africa were up 7.8 per cent. The company attributes the U.S. gains to, “the ongoing appeal of the McCafé real fruit smoothies and frappes, complemented by McDonald’s everyday affordability and core menu options.”

Five Guys Opens Fifth Canadian Location in Quebec
After the successful July opening of its first Quebec location in Vaudreuil-Dorion, an off-island suburb of Montreal, Five Guys Hamburgers and Fries has announced plans to open new units in Old Montreal, Laval, Brossard and others areas. The 650-U.S.-unit Five Guys Enterprises, LLC, Lorton, Va., already has four sites in Canada, having opened its first unit in Medicine Hat, Alta., in January. In Quebec it will operate as Five Guys Hamburgers et Frites. Linda Strachan foodservice industry analyst at NPD Group can see how the eatery would appeal to Canadians. “There is no reason to expect that Five Guys wouldn’t be successful in Canada,” she told the Gazette. “Burgers and fries are the top two food items ordered in restaurants.” She added, “It’s comfort food — a food for the times.”

Wayne Sellers, a New York commercial real-estate industry operator, decided to bring Five Guys into the Canadian market. According to Sellers, Five Guys differentiates itself from other burger locations by offering quality fresh food for good value. “It’s sit-down, restaurant-quality food for fast-food prices,” he told the Gazette, pointing out that all of the regular burgers come with two patties, and the most expensive item is a bacon cheeseburger that sells for $7.99. A “little” hamburger featuring only one patty sells for $4.49.

Mobile Food Kitchens Go Mainstream in U.S.
Mobile truck kitchens, from established and chain/franchise restaurants in the U.S., are going mainstream, according to a recent survey by the Los Angeles Times. “Familiar restaurant names…are offering food designed in corporate kitchens to compete with the wild and crazy offerings that have created buzz among foodies from coast to coast,” the report reads. “Ten per cent of the Top 200 chains will have trucks on the road within the next 24 months,” Aaron Noveshen, a restaurant consultant who co-owns the Pacific Catch restaurants in San Francisco, and the online food-truck portal Mobi Munch, said in the report. Mobi Munch now has trucks in Austin, New York, Portland, San Francisco and L.A.

Some 4,000 food trucks are licensed to do business in Los Angeles County, serving the lunch and break-time crowd at factories, office complexes and other sites without nearby restaurants.

The industry “was turned on its head in late 2008, when chef Roy Choi hit L.A. streets with Kogi, offering high-end combinations of Korean, Mexican and other ethnic foods,” the report reads. Recent new players include Canter’s Deli, a downtown icon since 1931, which is now serving potato pancakes and matzo-ball soup from a truck; the upscale Border Grill chain, which has two trucks serving gourmet tamales in paper cups; and the Sprinkles Cupcakes chain, which added a truck to its 11 regular locations last year.

Two weeks ago the California Restaurant Association held a meeting in Sacramento for restaurant owners and food truck operators. The goal, according to president Jot Condie, was to settle some tensions between the two since restaurateurs worry the mobile business is siphoning business. The meeting was also called to explain to restaurateurs how to get into the mobile-meal business.

The drive for more information makes sense, since the trend has just gone national with the Food Network’s launch of its new reality series The Great Food Truck Race in which seven teams of cooks drive catering trucks across the country in a race to win over diners by making the best food.

Panago’s Pizza Focuses on Nutritious Healthy School Food
The team at the B.C.-based Panago Pizza is ahead of the game when it comes to the Ontario government’s commitment to mandate nutritional standards in schools by next September, a move made to curb the growing rate of obesity among today’s children. As teachers, administrators and parents rush to find a solution to the changing dynamics, the chain — with stores in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick — has already implemented an applicable healthy eating menu, thanks to similar B.C. regulations enacted in 2009. “Our experience meeting the guidelines in B.C. has proven we have a selection of kid-friendly pizzas that meet the rising nutritional standards being mandated by provincial governments across Canada,” says Sean DeGregorio, the Panago CEO, alluding to the laws also in effect in Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland. Now, schools can sell cheese, pepperoni, chicken and pineapple or garden veggie pizzas from the chain, as they fall under the best of three nutritional content categories mandated by the Ontario government. And, Panago has taken the matter a step further, introducing a pepperoni pizza with 370 mg of sodium per slice — 590 mg less than the recommended serving. To cover the fruit and veggie food group, the pizzeria also offers salads and promotes 100 per cent organic juices.

National Coffee Competition Kicks Off
A highly caffeinated group of food and lifestyle writers took to the street of Toronto last week, in search of the city’s best espresso as part of its sixth annual Krups Kup of Excellence contest being run in five cities — Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Montreal and Halifax. Krups has asked loyal coffee drinkers in these cities to nominate their favourite local independent café. After receiving some 18,000 registered votes, representatives at Krups narrowed the field down to five candidates per city. Once the finalists were named, the company elicited the help of seven judges made up of local food media to name the final winners. Toronto was the first city to have its finalists raked over the proverbial coals by a panel of judges whose Toronto finalists in the competition were Crema Coffee, in the city’s west-end as well as Te Aro Roasted, Dark Horse Espresso Bar and Red Rocket Coffee in the east. The Toronto results are currently being tabulated by Krups experts, and news of local winners in the other Canadian markets are expected soon.

Toronto Hotel Workers Rotate Day-Long Strikes
Rotating one-day strikes by Toronto hotel workers is the latest strategy being employed by Unite Here! Local 75, whose contracts expired July 16. The picketing was chosen for a time when it would have maximum impact at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), which attracts tens of thousands of visitors and hundreds of high-profile film personalities to the city. The initial Unite Here! Strike occurred Sept. 10 at the Fairmont Royal York where workers got a boost from Martin Sheen who joined the picket line, which is supported by the actors’ union, ACTRA. “The main reason why we’re taking action today [Friday] is they’re trying to lock us into a recession contract when the recession is over for the hotel industry in Toronto, and especially for this hotel,” union spokesperson Cristal Cruz-Haickes said, according to the National Post. On Saturday, the Holiday Inn on Bloor Street was picketed, and today’s target is expected to be the Hyatt Regency.

Vancouver’s Opus Hotel Opens Pop-Up Restaurant
Customers at Vancouver’s Opus Hotel are enjoying a bold 100-day dining concept dubbed One Hundred Days. The pop-up restaurant replaces the hotel’s Elixir Bistro and is the site of the Opus’ new permanent restaurant, set to launch in the same space in the new year. “The Opus Hotels brand has been successful by doing the unexpected, and this was another perfect example of keeping the brand fresh, exciting and progressive,” said John deC. Evans, president and CEO of Opus Hotels, while explaining the concept. Open for just 100 Days, as its name suggests, the new urban, Mediterranean-influenced eatery is decorated with ever-evolving graffiti by Vince Dumoulin and features an affordable menu, including lobster and crab popsicles ($14), Kobe meatloaf ($19) and duck pot pie ($17). News of the upcoming permanent restaurant is scarce, but, according to The Vancouver Sun, the reno will have a million-dollar price tag.

Four Seasons Launches “Meetings-Made-Yours” Package
Toronto-based Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts — which has seen an increase in group room nights this year of more than 26 per cent, compared to 2009, according to Hotels magazine — has launched a flexible, customizable Meetings-Made-Yours package that allows planners to design programs that meet their needs. “Companies are investing in face-to-face meetings again because of the tangible and significant return on investment they have been proven to provide,” according to Susan Helstab, executive vice-president of marketing. Meetings-Made-Yours planners can design individual programs that define value on their own terms. Packages include a menu of options that feature added-value offers such as complimentary breakfasts, coffee breaks and a reduced attrition allowance.

 

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