Whole Foods 365: It’s All About Efficiency

The Washington Post: We’re inching closer to the launch of 365 by Whole Foods Market, a new, lower-priced grocery store that the organics giant is betting will help pull it out of a rough patch … The first 365 store is slated to open May 25 in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles … Jeff Turnas, president of 365 … said in an interview that he and his team have ‘looked and turned over every stone to find efficiencies.’ That includes, for example, trying to lay out stores in a way that reduces the time it takes for a worker to get from the stockroom to the shelves.”

“Even the product assortment in these smaller format outposts is designed in part with an eye toward greater efficiency … with a center-aisle grocery item like olive oil, Turnas said, they tried to narrow the offerings … prepared food bars will be ‘a little more get-it-yourself, self-serve’ than those in a traditional Whole Foods … There will also be a kiosk called TeaBot built by a company of the same name that allows shoppers to create customized tea blends that are served up hot to the user in less than 30 seconds.”

“365 is also building its stores around a program called Friends of 365, in which it will turn over a small section of its square footage to like-minded retailers to make shopping more of an experience … Speculation has been running wild about what kinds of retailers might be included … Turnas said they’ve received video pitches or other inquiries from at least one tattoo parlor, more than one marijuana dispensary, and a pet grooming business. The thought process for choosing the Friends will vary from location to location.”

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Breadsticks & The Olive Garden Comeback

The Wall Street Journal: The Olive Garden’s turnaround began when Dave George, its president, “and members of his senior management team flew to different Olive Garden restaurants around the U.S. to work alongside busboys, dishwashers and cooks … Busboys said they cleared tables and set them with napkins, cutlery and glasses for a full party. If a hostess seated two people at a table for four, she would remove the extra settings, undoing their work. Cooks said they spent too much time filling cups of precisely measured basil for garnish—a regimen created to save waste. They also complained of having to weigh servings of uncooked pasta to fill 8-ounce bags.”

“We were spending a lot of labor hours on preparation and production and it added no benefit to the guest,” said Mr. George.

Then there were the breadsticks: “The quality of the breadsticks at Olive Garden … had declined, with the popular appetizers often cooling and hardening after sitting at the table for more than seven minutes … Managers were told to stick to the policy of delivering more breadsticks only on request. As the chain grew over the years to more than 800 restaurants with 90,000 employees, the policy wasn’t consistently followed, with some servers bringing out more without being asked.”

The chain also introduced “tabletop tablets for customers to order and pay for meals … to reduce wait times,” which allowed ” restaurants, on average, to close out checks seven minutes faster.” In addition: “Last summer, the chain began offering guests waiting for a table a 50% discount on a glass of wine, encouraging some guests to order a second glass.”

Since the moves, which followed “a rare shareholder coup 18 months ago” by Starboard Value LP, “the previously struggling stock has risen 47%, versus 6% for the S&P 500; much of its real estate has been spun off, giving shareholders a second stock; and year-over-year sales at existing locations of the Olive Garden chain have increased for six straight quarters.”

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Wafu Chuka: Probably Not The Next Ramen Noodles

The New York Times: The restaurant Saburi has been an unassuming presence on a quiet street in the Manhattan neighborhood of Kips Bay for 10 years … From evening until 3 a.m., Saburi becomes a lively canteen filled with Japanese businessmen, Japanese expatriates and American enthusiasts of Japanese culture … The cuisine is called wafu chuka and is, simply put, Japanese-style Chinese food, or rather, Chinese dishes modified for Japanese sensibilities. It involves putting a Japanese spin on Chinese cuisine by using fewer spices and oils and adding fresh Japanese ingredients.”

Wafu Chuka “emerged in the early 1900s during the Meiji Restoration period, when Japan was opened up to international trade. It originated in cities including Nagasaki, Kobe and Yokohama … and is eaten throughout Japan … At the restaurant, female bartenders wear short Chinese dresses. Shadow puppets, the paper-thin figurines used in the ancient Chinese storytelling form, are framed on walls … And customers can store unfinished bottles of shochu, a Japanese liquor, behind the bar for future consumption — a tradition in pubs in the island nation.”

Sadly, Saburi is closing because of “lease difficulties” and its husband-and-wife owners, Jun Cui (who is Chinese) and Mika Saburi (who is Japanese) “desire to move back to Japan.” Kiara Phillips, a regular, comments: “The problem is it’s not like the ramen boom. Everyone is crazy for ramen now. And the wafu chuka style never quite took off that way. But is that a bad thing? It means people didn’t take it over and start doing it wrong,” she said. “No one else is trying to make it the best. No one is trying to make it something it’s not. The way it is here is just the way it is done.”

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Burger King Re-Discovers its Inner Whopper

The Wall Street Journal: “Following unsuccessful efforts to appeal to a broader, more health-conscious customer base with salads, snack wraps, smoothies and low-calorie french fries, Burger King has returned to its roots as a purveyor of inexpensive burgers, fries and, now, hot dogs.”

“The bloated menu complicated kitchen operations and failed to attract customers as hoped. In 2010, Burger King launched more than 30 limited-time offers and 20 permanent menu items. By comparison, it launched 20 limited-time offers last year and no permanent menu items.” Burger King President Alex Macedo: “In a moment when a lot of brands in quick service are trying to become more fast-casual, we’re taking an opposite view.”

“David Harper, a franchisee who operates 72 Burger Kings in several states, said the chain has learned not to repeat its biggest mistake: copying rivals. ‘We know who we are now,’ he said … The changes are showing results. Burger King’s adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization grew 68% between 2010 and 2015 … Same-store sales at U.S. and Canadian restaurants grew 5.7% last year, better than most big rivals.”

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Slower Is Better for Younger Coffee Drinkers

“Once about speed—sloshed into a paper cup and gulped on the ride to work—quick coffee now signals cheap coffee and not what customers want,” The Wall Street Journal reports. “More coffee shops are betting that a wait of four minutes or more is desirable … Coffee shops are weighing costs and revenues of slower service by evaluating employees behind the counter, longer brew times, and how that effects prices and lines.”

“Consumers in their 20s and 30s who grew up around Starbucks and coffee culture’s bolder flavors are helping drive the slower service, says Spencer Turer, vice president of Coffee Analysts, a coffee consulting firm in Burlington, Vt.” He comments: “That conversation with the barista is a key part of the experience.”

“The extra minutes also provide time for the smell and sounds of coffee which add to how consumers perceive their coffee, says Charles Spence, professor of experimental psychology at the University of Oxford, who also researches consumers’ sensory perceptions for food companies … The complex aroma and flavor of coffee comes from about 40 individual chemical compounds, he says.”

“’The sounds of grinding, dripping, spluttering, those are all meaningful,’ he says, and play a role in how the consumer perceives both the flavor and quality.”

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Chik-fil-A Customers Fly The Cell Phone Coop

Business Insider: “Noticing that diners often seemed more interested in their phones than their dining companions, a Chick-fil-A franchisee in Suwanee, Georgia named Brad Williams decided to take action … Williams and his team developed the Cell Phone Coop: a small box that sits on each table at his restaurant that issues a simple challenge for customers. If diners can enjoy their meals without removing their cell phones from the coop to check for calls or texts, they can let the staff know and receive a small ice cream cone.”

Says Williams: “The challenge has completely taken off. We have families who aren’t successful the first time and come back to try again. We even have people asking to take the boxes home with them!” Chik-fil-A has now “announced that more than 150 restaurants had decided to offer customers the chance to take the Cell Phone Coop challenge.”

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Loyalty Is a Two-Way Street at Starbucks

What defines loyalty in the customer-brand relationship? Until this week, Starbucks defined it as the number of times the customer bought a cup of coffee; buy 12 cups and you get one for free. The retailer has now re-defined loyalty as the amount of money spent. This has caused upset among some of its “loyal” customers, who now must purchase 32 cups of coffee to get that free cup. Starbucks apparently was inspired by certain airlines — Delta and United — that now award loyalty points based on the amount of dollars spent, and not on the number of miles traveled. This might telegraph as: We want your money but we don’t want you.

The Starbucks switch was at least partly motivated by profits; obviously it is more profitable to motivate its most profitable customers. However, it also suggests a change in culture. As reported in The New York Times, the Starbucks loyalty program previously was premised on a warmer, fuzzier idea, as articulated by a Starbucks marketing manager in a 2012 blog post: “At Starbucks, our rewards program comes from a different philosophy. At its simplest, we like seeing you, regardless of whether your purchase is a short-brewed coffee or four Venti White Chocolate Mochas. My Starbucks Rewards is designed to show our appreciation simply for stopping by.”

This would be consistent with the way Starbucks famously welcomes everyone to hang out as long as they like at their stores, even if they buy nothing at all. Sadly, such “customers” are the poor cousins of those who gamed the Starbucks loyalty program by asking cashiers to ring up each item separately to artificially inflate their number of visits. This subterfuge also caused lines to slow, making the Starbucks experience worse for everyone else.

The Starbucks-customer relationship in total calls into question the very meaning of “loyalty,” and whether it even exists in a commercial context. As the Times article notes: “Starbucks fell into a trap that is common with loyalty programs: establishing not just an exchange relationship with its customers based on mutual benefit, but a communal relationship based on mutual caring and support … If customers are going to take a ‘hey, it’s just business’ approach to their relationship with Starbucks, they should expect the company to do the same — and it has.”

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Starbucks Gallery & Café Features New Artists

The Art Newspaper: “Starbucks has started selling art from a new coffee bar in Chelsea … with an exhibition of paintings and drawings by the young US artist Robert Otto Epstein, each of which was on sale for between $1,000 and $3,000 … A spokeswoman for Starbucks described the initiative as a ‘pilot programme’ and declined to give any more details on whether the company plans to expand its sales of art. She added that the company will commission ’emerging artists to make site-specific works—mostly murals—or to help us build a catalogue of works for customers to enjoy and discover through display in our cafes around the world.'”

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Ikea Reinvents Its Dining Experience

The Washington Post: “While for decades it has been part of the Ikea experience to get your new couch with a side of Swedish meatballs, Ikea’s U.S. president Lars Petersson said in a recent interview that ‘Ikea food is becoming a core business’ for the privately-held, Sweden-based company.”

“That’s why all 41 of its stateside stores are getting restaurant makeover in the next several months … the goal is to create three zones for different types of diners. One area will be outfitted with high tables and barstools suited for scarfing down a quick bite. A second will aim to be family-friendly, with activities for kids and tables for their parents to dine nearby. The third area they call ‘Fika,’ which is a Swedish word for a coffee break that involves socializing.”

“It makes sense that Ikea is investing in its food business at this particular moment: In 2015, the Commerce Department reported that restaurants saw 8.1 percent sales growth, even as the broader retail industry saw an increase of just 2.1 percent and as home furnishings stores posted a 5.8 percent increase. There’s clearly momentum in the dining category, and perhaps a fresher look and menu can help Ikea get a piece of that.”

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Kola House: Pepsi Generates a New Experience

“Known for its beverages, Pepsi is now moving into the restaurant business,” The New York Times reports. “The 5,000-square-foot space — on the same block as Milk Studios in Chelsea … will become Kola House, a restaurant-bar-event space that the company hopes will be both social hub and testing ground for new products.”

Kola House “will not be plastered with the Pepsi logo or filled with Pepsi products. Everything at Kola House will be centered on the kola nut, a bitter fruit that contains caffeine and gives cola beverages their name. Essentially, Pepsi is trying to market its product without marketing its product.”

Pepsi design chief Mauro Porcini: “Consumers will love your brand because your brand enables you to have the experience, but they don’t want to have the brand in their face. It needs to be very subtle, elegant, sophisticated.”

Pepsi marketing chief Seth Kaufman: “We are in a time where we have to transform how we connect with and engage consumers. If brands don’t do that today, they will be irrelevant tomorrow, whatever tomorrow is.”

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