Shop Talk

Retailers, consumers and prices

Seasons 52 chef says fat does not equal flavor

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CliffPleauDoes food have to be full of fat, sugar and salt to taste good?

Clifford Pleau, executive chef for Darden Restaurants’ Season 52 chain, where every menu item is 475 calories or less, doesn’t think so.

“I haven’t touched butter in 10 years. You don’t need it,” said Pleau, uttering words that would make the late, great, butter-loving Julia Child roll over in her grave.

“I know there’s a slogan that says fat is flavor. Scientifically that’s not necessarily true.”

Pleau says fat is a flavor “transitioner”. For example, the fat in short ribs can enhance the flavors of a rich, bold wine by taking it to different parts of your mouth. On the other hand, he said, a mouthful of butter or olive oil would desensitize the palate.

Check Out Line: Restaurants offer earnings to digest

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panerabreads1Check out the latest earnings on the menu from restaurant chains. 

Panera Bread and P.F. Chang’s China Bistro have served up higher earnings, although Panera was slightly above expectations and P.F. Chang’s slightly below.

Panera, which sells bread, salads and sandwiches, said revenue rose but predicted lower-than-expected earnings for the current quarter.

Diners say Olive Garden, Papa John’s are tops

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papajohnsPapa John’s and Olive Garden got top marks in their respective restaurant categories in the University of Michigan’s 2010 American Customer Satisfaction Index, while McDonald’s and Chili’s Grill & Bar were laggards.

Papa John’s took the lead in the limited-service category from Domino’s Pizza. Notably, this year’s win for Papa John’s came as Domino’s was getting a sales bump from its reformulated pizza recipe and crowing about how its new pies were beating rivals in taste tests. 

Restaurants fight recession with wine

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wineWine sales at restaurants and bars are falling as diners trade down to less expensive options or skip wine altogether to save a buck.  But some restaurants are cooking up contrarian strategies to squeeze sales from the vine.

California Pizza Kitchen took its wine list more upscale and wine sales followed.

Attack of the snack tax

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obesityA worsening obesity epidemic and lingering recession have state and local governments scrambling for new streams of revenue — including taxes on soda and other sugary beverages.

That’s potentially bad news for the nation’s food and beverage industries, which are on the defensive as the battle rages behind the scenes.

Check Out Line: For Unilever, P.F. Chang’s in a box

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Check Out Unilever’s agreement with P.F. Chang’s.lettucet

Europe-based Unilever, one of the world’s largest consumer products companies, said on Monday that it has inked an exclusive licensing deal with Asian-themed restaurant chain P.F. Chang’s China Bistro to come up with a line of frozen entrees.

Unilever is already known to have products like Knorr soup and the Bertolli range of Italian frozen meals in its portfolio.

Best deals for restaurant meals

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olivegarden1When it comes to getting the most bang for a buck at sit-down restaurants, Olive Garden, Cracker Barrel, Golden Corral, Applebee’s and Chili’s get top marks, according to 5,000 diners recently polled online by BrandIndex.

Brands with the worst perceived value were Ground Round, Benihana, Bahama Breeze, Landry’s Seafood House and Hooter’s.

House-made WHAT?

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tapwater“Sparkling or still?”
 
Remember when that question, asked with a certain downward gaze, would make you feel like a tactless tightwad for requesting tap? Did you try to lessen the shame with a smile and a clever nickname, like “I’ll have ‘New York’s Finest’”?
 
Restaurants and hotels across the country are blurring the lines between these choices, as they stop serving bottled water due to a perception that it is environmentally unfriendly. Critics object to the waste left behind by the plastic and glass bottles, as well as the fuel and other natural resources used to manufacture and ship the bottles all over the world.
 
“In the world of trying to live in a more green, sustainable environment, I think water is the most obvious, simple thing that we can do,” said Joseph Bastianich, a business partner of Mario Batali and co-owner of restaurants including Babbo, Lupa, Esca and Del Posto.
 
Bastianich told Reuters he is in the process of phasing out water across all his restaurants, following in the footsteps of other environmentally-conscious restaurants like Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California.
 
bottled-waterIn its place, Bastianich is installing filters made by Natura Water, which purify a restaurant’s tap water and allow users to get still, sparkling or room temperature tap water. The restaurants can adjust the amount of carbonation, allowing them to tout the water as made in-house.
 
The Natura system, which comes with reusable water bottles for serving, can be rented for about $400 a month. 
 
Company founder Marco De Plano, whose customers also include L.A.’s  Ciudad, San Francisco’s Foreign Cinema and certain Four Seasons hotels, said that with prices of high-end bottled water bubbling as high as $10, high-traffic locations can recoup their losses quickly.
 
“When we started this a year ago, everybody was talking about the green aspect,” De Plano said. 
 
Bastianich says a liter of Natura water costs him about 50 cents and sells for about $4. That profit margin is slimmer than before, when he would pay about 80 cents for a liter of premium bottled mineral water and sell it for up to $9. 
 
“We think the loss of margin is an investment that’s very worthwhile making,” Bastianich said. 

The sacrifice to margins would lessen as sales of house-made water increase.

As the backlash against bottled water heats up across the country a host of local governments have cut bottled water out of their budgets.  Virginia, Illinois and New York are among the states that have banned buying bottled water with state funds.

Check Out Line: Global downturn – burger division

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Check out the slumping global economy for burgers. FOOD BURGERKING
 
Burger King said it had an unexpected slowdown in traffic in March, which cut into the margins at the company’s restaurants.
 
The biggest culprits were Germany, the company’s second-largest market, and Mexico, the only market in Latin America where the company owns restaurants.
 
Burger King is attacking the traffic decline with “value” menus. In Germany, it is offering “King Deals,” which are “value-priced” combo meals. It has also relaunched the 99 euro value menu and is also opening more during breakfast.
 
In Mexico, the company is promoting its “Come Como Rey” (Eat Like a King) value menu. Apparently in Mexico, kings eat Whopper Jr.’s. (Or is that Whoppers Jr.?)
 
The company said it is seeing some improvement in April. 
 
Also in the basket:
 
Wal-Mart CEO doesn’t see quick end to the recession
 
Consumers prices fall as energy demand slumps 
 
Apparel firms partner with Yankee stadium (WWD, subscription required)

(Photo: Reuters)

Check Out Line: Supermarket food vs. restaurant fare

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Check Out Americans’ dwindling faith in supermarket food.LIFE-SINGAPORE/RECESSION

A higher percentage of people doubted the safety of supermarket food in 2008 compared to 2004, even as a larger, but steadier, number continue to have qualms about what they eat at restaurants, according to a study by market research firm NPD Group.

The study’s results come as U.S. consumers cut back on restaurant visits and head to stores to buy items toward cooking more meals at homes to save money.

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