Longtime foodservice industry observer Jerry Stiegler shares some economic and foodservice industry-related data. This week's article includes the Knapp Track Report, financial results for a number of chains and more.

The Economic Census of Retail Trade from the U.S. Commerce Department advance sales data for April indicates the restaurant market is doing moderately well. Overall retail sales increased just 0.1 percent last month over March. Restaurants and bars did better, with April sales up 0.3 percent over March. On an unadjusted basis, April sales increased 6.1 percent. Adjusted for weekends, holidays and other factors, April this year increased by 8.5 percent compared to the same time period in 2011. None of the figures above are adjusted for inflation.

The usual caveats apply: These are "advance" numbers subject to revision. The data covers restaurants and "drinking places" only. Hotel dining, theme parks, clubs and "institutional" operations are not covered.

The Economy This Week

First time jobless claims for the week ending April 27 were 367,000, virtually identical to the revised 368,000 claims from the previous week. Most economists and labor experts believe that the acceptable level for new jobless insurance filings is around 350,000 to 360,000 so stats for the last two weeks are not that bad.

A closer look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics' April shows that the number of new jobs reported in both February and March were revised upwards, which somewhat offsets the low number of new jobs created last month.

Consumer credit shot up last month, indicating that the people are confident enough to take on more debt. This feeling was also reflected in the preliminary May Reuters/University of Michigan Consumer Index, which rose to 77.8. This represents a pre-recession high, the best reading since January 2008. The Current Situation component rose to 87.3 (vs. 82.9 in April) while the Expectation Index component fell from April's 72.3 to 71.7. The Gallup Poll's version of economic confidence has been trending up as well. However, both the numbers remain significantly below the levels seen in "good times."

Gallup's survey of small businesses — which probably includes a lot of restaurant operations — found that more people in this group feel that credit will be easier to obtain than believed this in 2009 and 2010.

U.S. home prices edged up in March according to CoreLogic. While there has been some improvement in the housing market, there is still a lot of disagreement as to the overall condition of the industry. While some believe there is starting to be a long, slow climb back to normalcy, one observer quoted in Monday's Wall Street Journal looks for home prices to fall 20 percent over the next several years.

The Producer Price Index fell by 0.2 percent in April but this was the result of a major drop in gas prices. The so called "core" index which excludes food and energy costs, rose 0.2 percent.

One more poll from Gallup — when asked whether the United States benefits from having a class of rich people, 63 percent of Americans said yes. This is virtually identical with the answer Gallup got back in 1990 when they first asked the question. Eighty percent of Republicans answered yes while 52 percent of the Democrats agreed. When asked if they themselves would like to be rich, political preference didn't matter. Sixty four percent of both Republicans and Democrats said if they had the choice they'd be rich.

This Week in Foodservice

Thanks to an "abbreviated form" the Knapp-Track Report for April is available early. Casual dining restaurants racked up a gain of 0.8 percent in comparable store sales for the month. Guest counts dropped by 1.9 percent while check averages rose by 2.7 percent. Both statistics are on a comparable store basis. It is believed that casual dining restaurants are continuing to lose share of market to quick-service restaurants and quick-casual restaurants. Mr. Knapp's data is courtesy of Bank of America Merrill Lynch

An examination of the Bureau of Labor Statistics employment data for April shows that foodservice and bar operations added 19,700 employees. From April 2011 through April 2012, foodservice operators have hired 260,000 more employees.

Commodity prices, which have been on a rampage since 2009, have drifted downward this year. Even corn, which at one point last year was forecast to hit $10 or even $12 a bushel, is now around $6. The experts are divided on whether this is a major retreat in prices or just a speed bump.

Dollars spent on eating out rise as household income rises but age is a different matter. The Food Institute says the average American spends 40.9 percent of their food dollar on food away from home but 25-34-year-olds spend 45.2% of their food dollar away from home while those 75+ years of age spend just 31.8% of theirs.

In the past week the Wall Street Journal named the most successful financial analyst for each industry. For restaurants, they selected Mark Smith of Feltl & Co. Mr. Smith's recommendation for Domino's and Buffalo Wild Wings proved solid advice. Mr. Smith currently likes Denny's and Kona Grill.

Speaking at the NRA Show, a foodservice consultant to C-stores said, given the decline in fuel consumption, the future of the convenience store industry will depend on their foodservice operations.

Middleby Corporation reported that their foodservice equipment sales increased 16 percent in the company's last fiscal quarter.

Einstein Bros. Bagels celebrated the grand opening of 13 locations in the Portland, Ore. area. The Corner Bakery Café will open 22 locations in Rhode Island and Connecticut over the next eight years. The chain also plans to open 30 units in Florida and New Jersey in the next seven years. KFC and Pizza Hut will open 150 locations in China in the stores of one of the country's largest appliance retailers.

Comparable store sales reported for restaurant chains:

  • Carrols Restaurant Group (Burger King up 5.9%, Polo Tropical up 9.4%t, and Taco Cabana up 6.1%)
  • Jamba, Inc. (System up 11.6%, company owned up 12.7%, and franchised up 10.5%.)
  • Tim Horton's (U.S. up 8.5%) 

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