Fast Pizza and Once-Cool Casual Midway through the Year
We’re past the midway point in the year, and the general consensus finds that the foodservice industry faces an increasingly challenging economic environment fueled in part by political uncertainty that has diminished traffic. Sales are beginning to suffer.
However, there have been ample bright spots throughout the year. Government data shows consumer spending remained strong through the second quarter, and early indications are that Chain Store Guide’s US Spending Monitor and Restaurant Spending Index will bounce back when results are released next week, after experiencing their first significant dip for 2016 in August’s report.
Pizza, fired fast and made to order, is obviously having a moment with scores of new concepts and large-scale expansion coming online. The fast-casual segment in general, while faring better than other areas of the industry, hasn’t been immune from downward pressure on traffic and sales in the last few months. But fast pizza continues on the upward trajectory that took shape in the second half of 2015.
MOD Pizza passed the 100-unit mark this year, and RAVE Restaurant Group’s Pie Five is also nearing 100 stores. Other chains like PizzaRev and Uncle Maddio’s are growing at a more measured clip. Amidst all the hussle, though, two chains stand out so far this year.
Blaze Pizza: After starting the year with 105 stores, the company passed the 150 mark in late July and is on pace to reach 200 by the end of the year. Included in the growing store count is a shiny new flagship location that opened in Disney Springs, Florida this month.
Pieology Pizzeria: Making the first major acquisition in the new-school pizza space, 100-unit Pieology purchased competitor Project Pie.
These concepts have appealed to diners; that’s a given. But another reason for their success is that success, for them, is measured differently than for more established chains (see below). Starting from a small base in terms of store count, success here entails telling the world how you’re growing that number by leaps and bounds and reporting exciting, exponential growth in total sales. That’s a different proposition from coaxing a couple points of same-store sales growth out of a 25-year-old fleet of 700 restaurants, for example.
However, it hasn’t been all about fast-fired pizza. As most of the foodservice industry was left wringing its hands, a couple of industry giants have reason to celebrate. Papa John’s posted a Q2 system-wide comp sales increase of 4.8% in the US and 5.8% for its international stores, leading the company to increase its guidance to 3% to 5% for the year – a boost of a point on each end. Not to be outdone, Domino’s posted a 9.7% increase in US comp sales in Q2 and opened its 13,000th store. That’s a win.
The casual dining space has been tough for some time now, but a notable number of once trendy-and-cool concepts and companies have struggled this year. Many place part of the blame on the segment’s history of discounting and value promotions. Here’s a look at the particularly large chains hard hit this year.
Applebee’s: This spring, the company rolled out a marketing effort that was meant to be “game changing,” the largest in company history and focused on its new wood-fired grills and steaks. The efforts, though, have yet to stop the bleeding. Same-store sales are down 3.9% for the year, prompting parent DineEquity to revise same-store guidance for the year to -3.0% to -4.5%, down from the previous projections of -2.0% to +2.0%.
Bloomin’ Brands: The company had a miserable second quarter, following a lackluster first quarter. Total same-store sales fell 2.3%. By concept, Outback Steakhouse was down 2.5%, Carrabba’s fell 4.8% and Fleming’s was down 0.8%. Only Bonefish Grill posted same-store gains, 0.9%.
Brinker International: Chili’s and Maggiano’s same-store sales dipped 2.4%, and total traffic fell by 3.7% for the fiscal year that ended in June.
Ruby Tuesday: In August, Ruby Tuesday announced a “Fresh Start” initiative that will close 95 company-owned stores by September in addition to the stores already closed this year which includes all 11 Illinois stores by the sole franchiser in that state. The company closed a fiscal year on May 31 that saw a 3.1% drop in revenue and a net loss of $50.6 million.