A quick take on the National Restaurant Association Show. Is the business lunch making a comeback? These stories and more This Week in Foodservice.
The National Restaurant Association Show took place this week in Chicago. And as always is the case with an event as massive as this one (organizers say it measured more than 659,000 square feet and reports the total number of exhibitors exceeded 2,100), there is plenty to see. Here are a few initial thoughts from the annual tradeshow.
Automation represents one unofficial theme running through the show. Yes, there were plenty of robots on display. But it was also encouraging to see plenty of interest in and activity around nonrobotic forms of automation. This includes equipment that can help make some food prep tasks like breading chicken, portioning ingredients and other tasks simpler and more efficient. I also saw some great examples of autonomous retail merchandisers that will allow operators to provide round-the-clock foodservice options in a variety of settings. There also seems to be growing interest around software solutions that can make operations more efficient. IoT and equipment connectivity were hot topics, too.
Conversely, there seemed to be plenty of interest in equipment items that promote authenticity and craftsmanship. Sunday afternoon, I was walking past the booth of a manufacturer who makes brick pizza ovens and there was a crowd four deep as one of the company’s chefs conducted an engaging demo. OK, it probably didn’t hurt that those watching the demo were treated to hot pizza afterward, but the fact remains the demo was pretty engaging.
In addition, there seems to be a renewed interest in green or sustainability-related topics. For example, there were lots of discussions about food waste. No doubt rising food costs are a factor here. For the longest time it was the noncommercial operators leading the way in this area, but it would seem that commercial operators are getting into this as they look for ways to lower their operating costs, etc.
As I said earlier, lots and lots to see and discuss at this year’s show.
This Week in Foodservice
- Is the business lunch making a comeback? Yes, according to a Bloomberg story. Citing data from the restaurant reservation platform OpenTable, the number of seated diners on weekdays at noon in New York City climbed every month between January and April from the prior year. Only Fridays in March were almost unchanged from 2022. In addition, Chicago, Philadelphia, Seattle and Atlanta registered gains during weekdays at noon in April.
- Wendy's will test an underground autonomous robot system. The quick-service restaurant chain will use this system to deliver digital food orders from the kitchen to designated parking spots. The goal of this program is to provide customers who order via the chain’s app or other digital channels with a “fast and convenient pickup option without having to leave their car and increase efficiencies for restaurant crew members by streamlining digital order pickup points.” Autonomous robots will transport meals underground and deliver them car-side via a pickup portal.
- US Foods will open a CHEF’STORE location in Roanoke, Va., Greenville, N.C and Fayetteville, N.C. The broadline distributor plans to open all three locations in late fall 2023. The units will range between 20,000 and 23,500 square feet and will offer an assortment of products, from fresh produce, meat, dairy and beverages to restaurant equipment, catering essentials, janitorial supplies and other restaurant essentials. CHEF’STORE is open to the public seven days a week.
- Growth Chains: Black Rock Coffee Bar opened a location in Glendale, Ariz. The 2,000-square-foot unit brought the total number of Black Rock stores to 32 in the Grand Canyon state. Eggs Up Grill will open a restaurant in Germantown, Tenn., this summer. This is one of three Eggs Up Grill restaurants in development in the Memphis area and the breakfast, brunch and lunch concept chain’s second restaurant in Tennessee. HTeaO plans to enter the Georgia market later this year with the opening of a location in Peachtree City. Honeygrow opened a location in Hanover, Md., it's fifth in the state. The Philadelphia-based fast-casual chain has 32 units systemwide. Island Fin Poké Co. opened a location in Nashville. The company now has 26 locations systemwide, including 2 in Tennessee. Jack in the Box Inc. signed a 22-unit commitment in 4 northern Mexican States. This marks the first franchise agreement in Mexico for Jack in the Box in over 30 years. The Toasted Yolk opened a location in Magnolia, Texas.
Economic News This Week
- Initial jobless claims declined 22,000 for a total of 242,000, for the week ending May 13, 2023, per the U.S. Department of Labor. The 4-week moving average was 244,250, a decrease of 1,000 from the previous week. Economists had projected claims would be approximately 254,000 for the week, per a CNN report. In addition, there appears to be some concern about the data due to some fraudulent activity in Massachusetts.
- The Conference Board Leading Economic Index for the U.S.for the U.S. declined 0.6% in April 2023. This comes after a 1.2% decline in March. The LEI is down 4.4% over the 6-month period between October 2022 and April 2023, which is greater than its 3.8% contraction for the previous 6 months. “Weaknesses among underlying components were widespread — but less so than in March’s reading, which resulted in a smaller decline,” said Justyna Zabinska-La Monica, senior manager, Business Cycle Indicators, at The Conference Board. “Only stock prices and manufacturers’ new orders for both capital and consumer goods improved in April. Importantly, the LEI continues to warn of an economic downturn this year. The Conference Board forecasts a contraction of economic activity starting in Q2 leading to a mild recession by mid-2023.”
- Existing-home sales decreased 3.4% in April 2023, per the National Association of Realtors. All four major U.S. regions registered month-over-month and year-over-year sales declines.
- Building permits for privately owned housing units totaled 1.41 million in April, down 1.5% from March, per the U.S. Census Bureau. The April 2023 total is 21.1% less than the same month in 2022. The news was not all bad, though, as single-family home permits were 3.1% greater in April than in March. Housing starts increased 2.2% in April compared to March but was 22.3% less than April 2022. Single-family housing starts increased 1.6% in April compared to March. Privately owned housing completions in April were 10.4% less than March.