I spend much of my time walking around the mall these days. Let me rephrase that: I spend much of my time following my 11- and 13-year-old daughters around the mall these days.
They are old enough to recognize that I am a convenient mode of transportation, but not old enough to be left to their own devices. So I, the embarrassing mother, trail behind them 20 paces, allowing them a sense of protected freedom and me the chance to observe the retail landscape.
About that landscape — it’s crowded. Parking is a nightmare lately, and many stores are likewise, with people queued up for the dressing rooms, cash registers and food court. The restaurants around the mall also are busy — one bar was recently hopping on a Tuesday night — and many strolling shoppers are clutching doggie bags.
Restaurant operators are taking note, with some observing that the cautiously opening wallets and pent-up demand for eating out could help to fuel growth for the industry. In this issue’s Finance section we tune in to the talk at the recent ICR XChange investor conference, where operators and analysts alike expressed optimism that the improved sales trends the industry registered in late 2011 would continue, resulting in new unit growth after two years of little to none.
Many at the event agreed that the brands with the best chance of jumpstarting their growth engines are those that stand out from the competition and give customers what they want. Starbucks officials are betting that juice bars have that potential. After purchasing the premium-juice company Evolution Fresh in 2011 to enhance its line of packaged goods, the coffeehouse behemoth also said it would debut a new juice-bar concept later this year. Starting on page 1, we look at the appeal of the burgeoning niche, as well as a brand called Liquiteria that it is speculated inspired Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz to lift his glass in a new direction.
New directions — namely, across oceans — are top of mind for other growth-oriented operators, as well. For that reason, we debut in this issue a new column called World Views, exploring the ins and outs of different international markets. David Coffer, chairman of The Coffer Group, a 40-year-old London-based consulting firm specializing in hospitality, will pen the column, which this month looks at some of the similarities and differences of the U.K. and U.S. restaurant industries. Find that in the Business Intel section.
In a twist on border crossings, in Food & Beverage we examine how Mexican cuisine has emigrated north and found various incarnations in different regions of the United States. Read about how the burrito came to be, where it picked up rice and which state first deep-fried it.
When it comes to growing sales, another trend working in restaurateurs’ favor is the narrowing gap between supermarket and restaurant prices. Food-at-home prices are projected to rise less in 2012 than they did in 2011 — 3 percent to 4 percent, versus 4.25 percent to 4.75 percent, respectively. Nevertheless, they are still expected to outpace the rate of growth for food-away-from-home prices. The Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture puts that growth at 2 percent to 3 percent for 2012.
While operators contend that they are not directly capitalizing on the price disparity, the number of family meal solutions proffered by restaurant companies is on the rise. In Marketing we look into that phenomenon, and the ever-important messages of value and convenience operators are working to convey.
Back at the mall, both value and convenience are in abundance, and signs touting sales and deals plaster the windows of stores, side by side. My daughters have done their share of buying in recent weeks, exchanging gift cards and gift cash for a plethora of goods. And even as I try to impart to them a sense of responsible consumerism, I, for one, am happy to see so many other people out and about and spending.