By most accounts, 2012 has been a solid but not spectacular year for the foodservice industry.
The National Restaurant Association's monthly performance index reports 14 consecutive months of positive same-store sales growth. And, according to the Manufacturers' Agents Association for the Foodservice Industry, independent manufacturers' reps have posted sales gains for seven consecutive quarters after experiencing three years of decline.
While the industry continues to enjoy some much needed growth, the fact remains that it's happening at a pretty moderate pace. For example, while 49 percent of dealers report an increase in the business booked for 2013, the average net growth rate is +2.41 percent. And the fact that 69 percent of dealers project their 2013 sales increases will come from operators renovating existing facilities or replacing old and outdated pieces of equipment instead of building new facilities shows that the industry is poised for another year of moderate growth.
On the following pages, the operator and dealer communities share their thoughts about the 2012 business environment and what they expect in the coming year.
For many foodservice operators, 2012 has had its ups and downs, but for the most part things seem to be trending in a more positive direction and the community seems better prepared to deal with some of the uncertainties of the present day. Along those lines, 34 percent of operators surveyed said 2012 will be a better year than expected and 51 percent said this year will meet their expectations. In addition, 51 percent of operators say their sales volume will exceed 2011 levels and another 27 percent expect their sales volume to be flat. In contrast, only 21 percent of operators project their 2012 sales will be less than the previous year. Among those operators projecting an increase in sales for 2012, the anticipated net change is +3.37 percent. And among the operators projecting an increase in sales for 2013, the anticipated net change is +4.12 percent.
When it comes to gross profit expectations, the outlooks of operators is optimistic, but seems to be a little more tempered compared to their sales projections. For example, only 32 percent of operators project an increase in gross profit for 2012. And among those projecting a gross profit increase, the anticipated growth rate is +.67 percent. In contrast, 42 percent of operators expect their gross profit levels to remain flat in 2012 and another 26 percent project a decline in this all-important business metric.
For 2013, foodservice operators' gross profit projections remain fairly consistent with this year's results, with 37 percent projecting an increase. In addition, 40 percent of operators predict their 2013 gross profit levels will remain consistent with this year's levels and 23 percent expect a decline. On a more interesting note, operators seem to be learning some lessons from this year's challenging business climate and are ready to apply this knowledge as evidenced by the fact that the anticipated net change in gross profit is +1.55 percent.
Foodservice operators will continue to grapple with a series of business issues that challenge their ability to remain profitable. For example, 52 percent of operators expect their labor costs to increase in 2013, while only 16 percent expect to decrease expenditures in this area. And 32 percent of operators expect their 2013 labor expenditures to remain consistent with this year's levels. It is also worth noting that 55 percent of operators report allocating a larger portion of their budgets to labor in 2012.
Another part of operators' budgets demanding increased funds is food costs. In fact, 50 percent of dealers project increasing their food expenditures in 2013, while 41 percent project their food expenses to remain consistent with 2012 levels. Only 9 percent project a decline in food expenses. When examining this cost center, 91 percent of operators cite rising food costs as the primary reason they will need to spend more in 2013. Some also factor in new menu items or adjustments to their product offerings as part of the reason why food expenses will rise. Make no mistake, though, operators remain very wary of rising food costs. And if food costs do continue to rise, 68 percent of operators say this will impact their ability to invest in foodservice equipment.
Without question, the uncertain business climate continued to impact foodservice operators' purchasing behavior this past year. In fact, 98 percent of operators said they repaired specific pieces of foodservice equipment instead of replacing them. While 50 percent of dealers report their customers' interest in purchasing used foodservice equipment is on the rise, 46 percent of operators said they bought used equipment instead of new. Interestingly, 47 percent of operators say they are more likely to purchase a piece of used equipment if it saves them money up front.
Heading into next year, 74 percent of operators plan a number of different activities that will impact their equipment purchasing. For example, 59 percent plan to replace a piece of foodservice equipment, while 29 percent plan to replace specific items in their dining rooms, 24 percent plan a kitchen renovation and 23 percent plan projects that require new construction.
Whether energy efficiency and other environmental considerations factor into an operator's purchasing decision seems to depend on the product type. For example, the top five categories where operators place a significant emphasis on energy efficiency or other green attributes are: refrigeration/ice machines, primary cooking equipment, warewashing/safety equipment, food prep and paper goods/disposables (tie) and storage/handling equipment. In contrast, areas where operators place significantly less emphasis on "green" attributes are more front of the house oriented, notably furnishings, tabletop and smallwares.
It is interesting to note that 75 percent of operators say they believe purchasing energy-efficient equipment will improve their bottom line and 68 percent show a willingness to pay more up front for energy-efficient equipment because it will save their businesses money in the long run.
Looking past environmental issues, price remains the most important factor when making a purchasing decision, followed by the perceived quality or performance of the specific piece of equipment, service and support, experience with the manufacturer and the brand and the reputation of the manufacturer and the brand. Issues such as design and appearance, length of warranty and the equipment's ability to increase throughput are pretty low on the list of factors that influence purchasing decisions.
When breaking down this data by operator segments, it was interesting to note that while price remains the most important factor among both commercial and non-commercial operators these communities differ somewhat on the importance of the other factors. For example, non-commercial operators place a much greater emphasis (+12 percent) on service and support than their peers from the commercial segment. Non-commercial operators also place a greater emphasis (+8 percent) on quality and performance of equipment compared to commercial operators. In contrast, for commercial operators the reputation of a manufacturer and brand carries more weight (+23 percent) compared to their non-commercial counterparts.
But for non-commercial operators, past experience with a manufacturer or brand (+8 percent) carries more weight.
For foodservice equipment and supplies dealers, 2012 has been a pretty solid year, with 44 percent indicating their companies' performance to date has exceeded expectations and another 41 percent saying their companies' performance has met expectations. In addition, an impressive 61 percent of dealers project their 2012 sales will be greater than 2011 and another 35 percent expect this year's sales to be on par with last year's levels. The average net sales increase projected among dealers is +4.23 percent. As a result of sales exceeding expectations, the dealer community took a variety of steps, including adding staff, enhancing online/sales capabilities, expanding services, expanding/enhancing/adding social media and expanding marketing efforts.
Conversely, 15 percent of dealers reported that their 2012 sales have failed to meet their expectations. Despite this, only 4 percent of dealers project a decline in sales. In response to sales not meeting expectations, dealers have taken a number of steps including increased marketing efforts, emphasized recruiting new customers, emphasized growing established accounts, froze salaries and bonuses and did not fill open positions.
Looking ahead to 2013, dealers' outlook remains remarkably upbeat with 54 percent saying they expect their sales to increase and 37 percent projecting their sales will at least match this year's levels. Only 9 percent of dealers expect to see a decline in sales next year. Among those dealers projecting an increase, the average net growth rate is +4.58 percent. When asked what factors will drive sales growth in 2013, 40 percent of dealers cited renovations, followed by design/build (31 percent) and replacement sales (29 percent).
Like their customers, dealers face operating pressures that will force them to examine pricing of goods and services again in 2013. According to the dealers FE&S surveyed, the top three product categories that will most likely experience a price increase in 2013 are primary cooking equipment, refrigeration and ice machines, and food preparation equipment.
As a result, dealers appear to be somewhat cautious when it comes to gross profit levels in 2013. Only 36 percent of dealers project an increase in gross profit in 2013, down 8 percent this year. And 56 percent of dealers predict their 2013 gross profit will match this year's levels, up 12 percent from this year. Only 8 percent of dealers project declining gross profit in 2013, which is essentially flat compared to this year's 7 percent. Among the dealers projecting an increase in gross profit for 2013, the average growth rate is +4.38 percent. And for dealers projecting an increase in gross profit for 2012, the average rate of growth is +3.76 percent.