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Robin Lee Allen of NRN

Seeking a silver lining

Editor's Letter

Three, two, one, … happy new year! (Insert noisemakers and confetti here.)

OK, who am I kidding? Yes, it’s 2013, and the year is bursting with possibilities — no one really knows what will happen between now and Dec. 31. But to pretend that we are kicking off a new 12-month cycle with light, celebratory hearts would be a fallacy.

Talk with restaurant operators and industry observers — as we did in the Forecast & Trends special report that’s central to this issue — and you’ll likely find the mood remains serious and somewhat subdued. It’s only a new beginning in that we are back at January — and facing tough year-to-year winter comps, at that. In fact, many of the current economic and political concerns are the same ones we enumerated last year. So much so, it’s starting to feel like we’re trapped in the Bill Murray movie “Groundhog Day,” reliving the same events and feeling the same emotions.

“I think it’s going to be a lot like 2012,” said Dennis Lombardi, executive vice president of foodservice strategies for WD Partners, listing several environmental and geopolitical issues casting their shadows into our Champagne: heightened tensions in the Middle East, continuing problems in the European Union, harsh weather that could further impact commodities costs, and a Congress that some would argue is the country’s worst enemy.

 “There’s not much on the horizon that’s going to create a substantial number of new jobs,” he added, pointing to an unemployment rate that remains concerning.

But just when I felt my spirits sinking, Lombardi added, “If 2013 is a mirror of 2012, it’s not the end of the world.”

True. The housing market finished up in 2012, as did the stock market. Unemployment, while still high at 7.8 percent, was down slightly for the year.

“We’re not a 5-percent-growth economy anymore,” Lombardi said. Still, he predicted, on the macro level we’ll keep seeing modest economic growth in 2013 and adding 150,000 to 175,000 jobs per month. Meanwhile, on the micro level value is here to stay, and growth will come more from increased prices than increased traffic.

But here comes the bright spot: That’s not to say that some operators won’t see double-digit growth and that all operators won’t keep chasing it. Operators are still searching for and finding opportunities despite all of the enduring challenges.

Take Starbucks, for instance. The Seattle-based coffeehouse chain is looking to take the country back to its tea-drinking roots — talk about reliving history. As Howard Schultz stated after Starbucks acquired the 300-unit Teavana retail tea brand, the company wants to do “for tea what we did for coffee.”

In a story beginning on page 3 and jumping to the Business Intel section, we look at the environmental and societal factors Schultz sees fueling America’s next tea party, including a profusion of specialty teas, the beverage’s health halo and a growing interest in tea service.

Also on the topic of libations, some operators are lifting after-dinner drink sales with flights. In the same vein of wine and beer flights, the series of samples are helping to boost incremental sales and customer engagement. That story appears in the Food & Beverage section.

And in the Marketing section we dive into the continuing importance of deals, consumer choice and control as ways to drive traffic throughout the coming year. 

So there you have it: 2013 will not be easy, but at least we’re expected to continue our recovery at the pace of shifting tectonic plates. And if we’re doomed to relive a year, better it be 2012 than 2008 or 2009.

Happy new year!

Contact Robin Lee Allen at [email protected].
Follow her on Twitter: @RobinLeeAllen.

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