What Foods May Come

As we enter a new year, our resolutions to eat healthier, lose weight and exercise more begin to slowly lose momentum on their way to a slow death by February. But while consumers are busy resisting temptation, the foodservice industry is trying to spice things up expanding menu options, locations and incentives for patrons.

 

A cut in consumers’ paychecks – with the expiration on Jan. 1 of the payroll tax break established during the recession – might mean less traffic for many restaurants, or a reduction in the amount of money people are willing to spend on casual food. To ease consumers’ money concerns, fast-food restaurants like McDonald’s are emphasizing the $1 menu while pizza places are offering deals like the $10 for any pizza size offered by Pizza Hut.

In a slightly higher price range, the casual-dining restaurants are also going after the consumer, targeting their [empty] pockets. Red Lobster’s menu is offering four-course meals for $16 dollars. Olive Garden and Chili’s have $20 and $25 promotions for two meals. But price is only one of the ways fast-food companies are enticing guests to break their new year’s resolutions. Some venues are trying new ingredients or new products in select markets. Wendy’s is testing bacon cheeseburgers made with a heartier pretzel bun in place of the traditional bread in select locations, while McDonald’s is testing consumer interest in chicken wings at its Chicago locations.

Some companies are breaking out of their regional markets, expanding their operations inside and out of the United States. Chicago-based coffee brand Intelligentsia is opening a new location in New York, the company’s first incursion outside the Windy City. Quick-serve pizza restaurant Sbarro is breaking out of the malls, introducing 10 new standalone locations in 2003 in an effort to move beyond the food court environment. This comes after the company’s re-vamped menu boosted its sales with the introduction of its first low-calorie offering, the “skinny slice,” a much-needed break after it filed bankruptcy in 2011.

Other companies are going further away from their original markets. Cosi, Moe’s Southwest Grill and Smashburger are exploring the Central American market with new locations in Costa Rica, while again, McDonald’s plans to open 100 new locations in Italy where the company plans to increase its 2 percent market share to 3 percent by 2015. Time will tell if we’re healthier or in better shape next year and if the pretzel bread and chicken wings become staple items at Wendy’s and McDonald's. We have a whole year to try and fail, or succeed. In the meantime, enjoy the deals!

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