This Week in Foodservice: May Restaurant & Bar Sales Show Mixed Results

While the month over month sales for 2013 remain sluggish they still outpace last year's results.

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The advanced estimates of retail sales from the U.S. Census Bureau for May shows an increase of 0.6 percent over April when adjusted for seasonal variations such as holiday shifts, etc. On the same basis, sales were up 4.3 percent this May over May 2012. Without automobiles included, total sales rose 0.3 percent.

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Bars and restaurants sales declined 0.4 percent in May compared to April. Unadjusted sales were up 3.6 percent over April. Compared to May 2012, restaurants and bars chalked up a 4.4 percent increase on an adjusted basis.

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For the first 5 months of the year, the U.S. Census Bureau says restaurants and bar sales are up 4.3 percent compared to the same time period in 2012 on an unadjusted basis.

Keep in mind some limitations and caveats come with this data. First, the figures are an advance number using a very limited sample. They can be, and frequently are, revised. The U.S. Bureau of the Census surveys only restaurants and drinking places. No hotels/resorts or clubs or retail foodservice operations are included nor are any of the "institutional" segments such as healthcare or education. The numbers are not adjusted for price increases.

Economic News This Week:

  • Initial jobless claims fell by 12,000 to 334,000 for the week ending June 7. The 4-week average fell to 342,000, a decline of 7,250, which the Wall Street Journal pointed out was a level last seen in 2008. However, pre-recession levels of claims were significantly less. We have also seen some dips in unemployment claims this year but for almost 6 months claims have been running in the area of 340,000-350,000.
  • The Producer Price Index (sometimes referred to as wholesale prices) grew by 0.5 percent in May. "Core" producer prices, which exclude energy and food prices, increased just 0.1 percent. Overall, producer prices are up 2.8 percent in the first 5 months of the year. Producer prices for food were up 0.6 percent in May led by increases for eggs and cheese. The Consumer Price Index rose 0.1 percent in May with "core" prices up 0.2 percent. In the past 12 months consumer prices are up 1.4 percent on an unadjusted basis. Prices for food at home fell 0.3 percent vs. April, while food-away-from-home prices were up 0.2 percent. In the past 12 months food-away-from-home prices are up 2.3 percent.
  • Industrial production was flat in May after rising 0.4 percent in April. Manufacturing output increased 0.1 percent after declining in March and April. Light truck production was one of the bright spots.
  • Capacity utilization fell 0.1 percent to 77.6 percent which is 0.2 percentage points below its level a year earlier and 2.6 percentage points below its long run (1972-2012) average.
  • The New York Federal Reserve's Manufacturing Survey jumped up to 7.8 in June after reading minus 1.4 May. While the survey is essentially a sentiment index a weird thing was other components of the research such as shipments, new orders, unfilled orders, and employment all tumbled significantly from May leading one observer to suggest some sort of math error.
  • The Reuters/University of Michigan's U.S. Consumer Sentiment Index preliminary study of June fell to 82.7 from the May reading of 84.5, which was a 6-year high.
  • The Gallup US Economic Confidence Index fell this past week to minus 7 from minus 3 the prior. The minus 3 result was the highest reading in the 5-year history of the Index so minus 7 is near the historical high.
  • Gallup's Look at Americans' Financial Future study found that only 57 percent of consumers think they'll be better off in a year while 29 percent think they'll be worse off. These numbers are similar to some months during the recent recession.
  • Doing business in the U.S. is difficult and is becoming more so each year according to a recent Wall Street Journal article. The article's author says that other countries are making it easier for businesses to operate but the U.S. is getting worse due to "excessively complex legislation," aggressive tort attorneys, tax rates and regulation.

Foodservice News This Week:

  • CKE's CEO Andy Puzder gave an interview to the Wall Street Journal that revealed some fascinating facts about doing business in various places. For example, a California law says that if managers spend 50 percent of their time doing non managerial tasks, such as working the cash register or the grill, they must be paid overtime. The result is restaurants and other retailers are making their managers hourly paid employees. Some managers who don't report their overtime hours — because it affects their incentive pay — end up being fired because of the legal risk to the employers. Puzder also expanded on a topic that we reported on earlier, the time and expense to get a building permit in various locations. He stated it takes 60 days in Texas, 63 in Shanghai, 125 in Nvosibirsk, Russia, and 285 days in Los Angeles.
  • Restaurant spending in the first quarter of the year was up in Australia, Canada, China, Germany, Japan, and the U.S. while spending declined in France, Italy, Spain and the U.K., according to The NPD Group. Only three countries had traffic increases — Australia, Canada, and China with others flat or down.
  • Lending to restaurants fell dramatically during the recession but now is picking up according to RBS Citizens. The catch is that loans are being made to major players but not to smaller franchisees. Further, the franchisers may be quite willing to see the smaller guys sell out for lack of capital because the larger franchisees "tend to uphold brand standards better."
  • Retail foodservice operations, namely supermarkets and c-stores, pose a significant competitive threat to restaurants, especially fast casual, according to a recent report from Technomic, Inc. Meanwhile, The NPD Group reported that both the number of visits and consumer spending increased at convenience stores in the first quarter of the year.
  • Fast food chains have impersonal and frequently poor customer service and that leads to a lack of differentiation and loyalty prompting consumers to switch brands. This is the finding of consultancy Dunhumby. The company says value and service are not enough to assure loyalty and points out McDonald's effort to improve service. Dunhumby says their new Customer Centricity Index found Outback and Panera led the rankings in restaurant chains.
  • The number one food truck in America is the Red Hook Lobster Truck in NYC, based on research by the Daily Meal that weighed critical reviews, social score and originality for 270 food trucks. Of the top 101 trucks in the U.S., Los Angeles had 16.
  • Frozen yogurt shops are the rage in New York according to the Wall Street Journal and while the chains themselves think the market is over saturated, the story claims that yogurt that sells for 55 cents an ounce costs less than a dime. Even allowing 20 cents for the bowl, lid and spoon the seller enjoys a 500 percent markup on a 10-ounce serving. Thus, frozen yogurt is a very attractive business.
  • Growth Chains: Old Chicago Pizza & TapRoom will remodel their 20 restaurants in Colorado. White Castle will introduce food trucks called "CraveMobile" in Columbus, Ohio and Louisville, Ky. Dunkin' Brands has signed an agreement with an existing franchisee that will bring 5 traditional Dunkin' Donuts restaurants and 1 Dunkin' Donuts/Baskin Robbins combination unit to Houston. McAlister's Deli has signed agreement with 4 groups to open 21 new restaurants in 7 states. Starbucks plans to roll out a program in Europe called Corner Café which has vending machines selling Starbucks beverages. Smashburger, which had 197 US stores at the end of 2012 plans on having 250 by the end of this year. Sonic Drive In, which has been expanding into the Eastern US, plans on opening 5 units in Rochester, N.Y., in the next 4 years. Bryn & Dane's, which positions themselves as healthy fast food purveyors, is planning on opening 10 to 15 restaurants in the Philadelphia area.
  • Comparable Store Sales Reports: Dave & Busters (up 1.8 percent), Logan's Roadhouse (down 1.4 percent), and Luby's (all concepts down 0.1 percent, Luby's Cafeteria down 0.1 percent, Fuddrucker's up 0.5 percent & Koo Koo Roo's flat.)

For details and same store sales of other chains, please click here for the Green Sheet.

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