The Clash (and Mash Up?) of the Titans
Although Chain Store Guide moved its massive databases online many years ago, we still publish print directories for some of our old-school customers who prefer to have a paper document to review and a library of books to consult. I am therefore pleased to report that the 2014 Directory of Foodservice Distributors is at the printers now and will publish on May 27.
As Chain Store Guide enters its ninth decade of providing market intelligence to its thousands of customers, the restaurant industry continues to be a bright spot in the slowly recovering U.S. economy. The National Restaurant Association’s (NRA) annual Restaurant Industry Forecast projects food and beverage sales of $683.4 billion for this year, up 3.6% from a year ago. The NRA’s report discusses some lingering post-recession anxiety on the part of consumers and their personal financial situation, suggesting a significant level of pent-up demand that will eventually be released. In our annual survey of Foodservice Distributors, Chain Store Guide noted a 6% increase in industry sales in the most recent fiscal year for all U.S. distributors and a 9% increase in sales among the top 100 companies. Given the optimism many restaurateurs express in the NRA’s monthly Restaurant Performance Index, the outlook is rosy for the coming year for both the retail and wholesales side of the foodservice business.
Major acquisitions within the restaurant industry, primarily by private equity firms, will have a ripple effect on the distribution marketplace as new owners review existing suppliers and providers, integrate new operations into existing structures, and set new goals for efficiency and cost-effectiveness. Among the chains undergoing this scrutiny are Carl’s Jr., Hardee’s, Checkers and Rally’s Drive-Ins, Chuck E. Cheese’s, and Captain D’s.
On the wholesale side, there were a few acquisitions, but unlike the restaurant industry, most of the deals involved one distributor taking over another distributor. Reinhart FoodService bought Southern Foods, US Foods acquired Quandt Foodservice Distributors, and The Chef’s Warehouse purchased Allen Brothers. However, the biggest deal is the one that hasn’t happened yet, i.e., the agreement and plan of merger reached between #1 distributor Sysco Corporation and #2 distributor US Foods Inc.
The proposal was announced on December 8, 2013, and is still making its way through all the “customary conditions,” including but not limited to approval under Federal anti-trust regulations. Closing is expected in the third quarter of 2014 if all barriers can be eliminated. A new homepage (http://bestofbothinfood.com) has been created to provide information and updates for interested parties. If finalized, the behemoth company will control nearly 60% of the total distribution sales generated by the top 10 U.S. distributors.
It’s too soon to know what the impact of this proposed merger will be if finalized. The Federal Trade Commission is reviewing the documentation, and presumably comments from concerned parties will be welcomed into its inquiry. Attorneys General from Florida and Indiana as well as other states are reviewing the proposal. Closing the deal is far from a foregone conclusion.
Nevertheless, business journals and analysts have been speculating about the outcome and its impact if completed. Most agree that smaller distributors and operators are less likely to be impacted than their larger competitors because not everyone wants to do business with a colossus like Sysco. However, because Sysco and US Foods are the only two truly national distributors, the impact of a combined operation could be devastating for larger operators who play the two giants off against each other during negotiations. The combined purchasing power of a merged operation could also significantly adversely impact other large distributors such as Performance Food Group and McLane Foodservice.
Throughout its 80+ years in business, Chain Store Guide has strived to provide its customers with the highest quality and most actionable information available. No other source combines the breadth and depth of CSG data or has it in more user-friendly formats. For anyone who does business in the foodservice industry, Chain Store Guide is a one-stop shop with databases for Chain Restaurant Operators and High Volume Independent Restaurant operators. CSG also maintains databases for the retail side of food distribution, giving customers a detailed view of the supermarket and convenience store industry in addition to the Wholesale Grocers database.