Disney’s latest concept takes flight. Chick-fil-A to test virtual restaurant concepts. Dunkin’ goes digital-only with its latest location. These stories and more This Week in Foodservice.
U.S. retail and foodservice sales totaled $618.7 billion in August, per the advance report from the U.S. Census Bureau. This represents a 0.7% increase from July 2021 and a 15.1% increase compared to August 2020. Total sales for June 2021 through August 2021 period increased 16.3% from the same period a year ago.
Retail trade sales increased 0.8% from July 2021, and 13.1% compared to August of 2020. Clothing and clothing accessories stores saw sales increase 38.8% from August 2020. Gasoline stations experienced a 35.7% sales increase compared to August of 2020.
Looking more closely at foodservice sales, revenues were flat compared to July 2021 but up 31.9% compared to August 2020, a time during which many foodservice operations were still contending with COVID-19-inspired restrictions.
Economic News This Week
- Initial jobless claims totaled 332,000, an increase of 20,000 for the week ending Sept. 11, 2021. The 4-week moving average was 335,750, a decrease of 4,250 from the previous week. This is the lowest level for the 4-week moving average since March 14, 2020, when it was 225,500.
- Business activity grew in New York State, according to the September 2021 Empire State Manufacturing Survey. The General Business Conditions Index climbed to 34.3, a 16-point improvement. New orders, shipments, and unfilled orders all increased substantially. The delivery times index reached a record high. Labor market indicators pointed to strong growth in employment and the average workweek. Looking ahead, firms remained very optimistic that conditions would improve over the next six months, and capital spending and technology spending plans increased markedly
- Industrial production increased 0.4% in August, per data from the U.S. Federal Reserve. This was down, slightly, from a 0.8% July increase. Late-month shutdowns related to Hurricane Ida held down the gain in industrial production by an estimated 0.3%. Although the hurricane forced plant closures for petrochemicals, plastic resins, and petroleum refining, overall manufacturing output rose 0.2%. Mining production fell 0.6%, reflecting hurricane-induced disruptions to oil and gas extraction in the Gulf of Mexico. The output of utilities increased 3.3%, as unseasonably warm temperatures boosted demand for air conditioning. At 101.6% of its 2017 average, total industrial production in August was 5.9% greater than its year-earlier level and 0.3% more than its pre-pandemic (February 2020) level. Capacity utilization for the industrial sector hit 76.4% in August, a 0.2% increase.
- Privately owned housing units totaled 1.72 million in August, a 6% increase compared to July, per the U.S. Census Bureau. This also represents a 13.5% improvement compared to August 2020. August housing starts totaled 1.61 million. This represents a 3.9% increase compared to July 2021 and 17.4% more than August 2020.
Foodservice News This Week
- Chick-fil-A will introduce a trio of virtual brands via its Little Blue Menu delivery kitchen concept in Nashville later this fall, per published reports. A second location will open in Atlanta in 2022. Guests ordering from Little Blue Menu choose from menu items from virtual restaurants Flock & Farm, Garden Day, and Outfox Wings, as well as menu items from Chick-fil-A. The company will use the pilot locations to gather customer feedback. Chick-fil-A's delivery-only Nashville facility, which opened in 2018 to service catering, delivery and mobile orders, will serve as the pilot location for its virtual brands.
- Disney’s latest restaurant concept is far out, figuratively speaking, of course. The Space 220 concept takes guests on a virtual journey 220 miles above the earth. During their journey to the restaurant, guests see views of Epcot and the earth. Upon landing, a crew member guides guests to their tables where they can dine on a two-course lunch menu or a three-course dinner option. This being Disney, every detail’s been carefully considered, including a “lift-off” appetizer, “star course” main entree and “supernova sweets” for dessert.
- Dunkin’ opened its first digital-only location. Customers at the Boston restaurant place their orders using the chain’s app or via an in-store kiosk. Guests fetch their orders from what the chain describes as an enhanced pickup area. Interestingly enough, while guests place orders digitally, the chain claims it will still employ the same number of people as it would at a traditional location. Additional information about the concept is available here, too.
- DoorDash has added alcohol delivery across 20 states, the District of Columbia, Canada, and Australia. The move will help expand the reach of the third-party delivery company and drive customers to use its app more frequently.
- The James Beard Foundation has updated its high-profile awards program to make it more inclusive, sustainable and more. The move comes after a lengthy review of this program by a variety of stakeholders. The James Beard Awards have long represented highly sought-after recognition for restaurants, food and beverage professionals, authors, publishers, journalists, broadcast media, and others in the restaurant industry. Heeding calls from the restaurant community to make its awards process more transparent and inclusive, the James Beard Foundation conducted a review of this program, including an audit of policies and procedures to work to “remove any systemic bias, increase the diversity of the voting body, ensure that communities far and wide know about the awards and how eligible candidates may apply, increase transparency in how the Awards function, and align the Awards more outwardly with the Foundation’s mission and values.”
- Noodles & Company plans to open its second ghost kitchen. This unit will be in San Jose, Calif. The fast-casual chain’s initial ghost kitchen location opened in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood in May of 2021. The move supports the company’s growth across digital channels and comes after Noodles & Company reported digital sales growth of 15% for its second fiscal quarter of 2021. The digital channel now accounts for 56% of Noodles & Company’s total sales.
- Add emerging concept bellagreen to the growing number of restaurant chains with a carryout and delivery-only location. The eight-unit chain opened such a unit in Houston. This coincides with bellagreen adding an app and loyalty program. Deliveries are made via the chain’s in-house team.
- East coast restaurant chain Silver Diner is partnering with its primary insurance carrier and local health department to host vaccination events at its restaurants. Working with Kaiser and the Fairfax County Department of Health, Silver Diner will bring a mobile van to Silver Diner locations throughout the Washington, D.C., region and Baltimore region. To date, Silver Diner reports spending more than $1 million on safety protocols.
- Growth Chains: Dog Haus opened a second location in Houston. Fast-growing iced tea concept HTeaO opened two locations in East Texas. JINYA Ramen Bar entered the North Carolina market by opening a location in Charlotte. Pokemoto, a Hawaiian poke bowl concept will open four locations, including two coffee shops, on the campuses of Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA). These units support the parent company Muscle Maker’s nontraditional growth strategy. Wing Boss opened its first brick-and-mortar location. Dickey’s Barbecue initially developed Wing Boss as a virtual restaurant concept operating from its existing kitchens and decided to add a brick and mortar unit in Addison, Texas.