Fast Casual Executives Share How Their Brands are Adapting to Stay Successful in Today's Market

The fast casual segment looks much different today than it did 10 years ago. The concepts in this sector continue to disrupt the foodservice space, but they have to find new ways to do this.

Fast casual concepts are often the pioneers or the first adapters when it comes to new trends.

On the IOChangeMakers live stream, we sat down with Donna Josephson, SVP and CMO at Corner Bakery Cafe and André Verner, Partner and co-founder of Dog Haus to see how these brands continue to pivot in today's market to stay successful.

According to Foodable Labs, over 30 percent of the U.S. Restaurant industry is using some form of on-demand third-party ordering solution. But to handle the influx of these orders presents a new challenge. So this is influencing established chains to jump on the virtual restaurant bandwagon.

Both of these restaurant brands see potential in ghost kitchens or virtual kitchens due to the recent third-party delivery surge.

"We see that as an opportunity for us. We have a big physical plant right now and we may not always need that," says Josephson. "And instead of shunning it and pushing away third-party delivery, let's get in fast and put our arms around it and bring it in close."

Dog Haus announced earlier this month that the restaurants are starting to utilize ghost kitchens. By prepping some of these delivery orders off-site, it allows in-store kitchens to focus on in-store orders.

"We are committed with our Kitchen United relationship. It's something new for franchisees as well. To get a brick-and-mortar, at least for our size, it's about $600,000 to build a store, then you have to sign a 10-year lease and hire 40 new employees right away. You're committed," says Verner. "On a Kitchen United location, you sign a one-year deal. All the kitchen equipment is there. They do everything, they do all the equipment maintenance. They do everything except for staffing the three people in the kitchen."

So there are are less overhead costs involved in these virtual concepts.

Want to learn more about what these successful brands are doing to compete in today's market? Check out the video above or the full interview is also now exclusively available on Foodable On-Demand here.

Panera Bread Names New CEO

Shutterstock

Shutterstock

The fast casual bakery cafe chain Panera Bread has announced late last week that it has appointed Niren Chaudhary as the company's new Chief Executive Officer and President.

The restaurant industry veteran previously held the role of COO and President at the quick-serve chain Krispy Kreme International since 2017. Prior to that, he has had different executive management roles at Yum! Brands for 23 years.

"Niren is a recognized industry leader with an impressive track record of establishing brands and leading companies to achieve growth in markets around the world," said Oliver Goudet, Panera Chairman and JAB managing Partner and CEO in a press release. "He is passionate about serving the people he works with as well as his customers, and has shown a keen ability to develop growth strategies that appeal to consumer needs no matter where they reside. These qualities make him perfectly suited to lead Panera into the next phase of global growth in the US and abroad, while maintaining its mission of doing good in the world and serving food as it should be."

Chaudhary will be taking over Blaine Hurst's former role as he retires and transitions to the Vice Chairman of the Board of Panera.

"Blaine played a significant role in making Panera a leader in the industry including his tireless efforts to lead Panera through its omni channel journey including Panera 2.0, digital, delivery, catering, brand evolution and his commitment to diversity and inclusion," said Goudet. "To that effect, we are excited that Blaine has agreed to join JAB to help accelerate the technology transformation of our other food portfolio brands such as Pret a Manger."

Panera Bread started 30 years ago, making it one of the oldest fast casual brands on the market. Today, there are 2,300 Panera Bread stores In the U.S. and Canada.

However, now that the fast casual sector so saturated, the brand has much more competition.

In 2017, JAB Holdings bought the chain for about 7.2 billion with the goal of expanding the restaurant by focusing on quality and convenience. Panera has been ahead of the curve when it comes to incorporating technology with its popular mobile app and loyalty program, along with its massive employment of kiosks in the last few years. Last year, the chain launched its own delivery service.

Back in 2016, we spoke to Ron Shaich, the founder and former CEO about how he started Panera Bread and learned about his story as a game-changer in the industry who helped to build the fast casual movement. Check out the Fast Casual Nation documentary trailer below or watch the full film now available on Amazon Prime Video.

What Makes these Fast Casual Innovators the Best in the Business

Fast casual is a term I coined in the mid-’90s at the time to create a way to identify the segment compared to the bulky titans of fast food and casual dining. It wasn't rocket science for me to come up with the term or to even launch fastcasual.com, it was at a time when I saw the culmination of a few strong-minded individuals willing to push the status quo with the right ideas that were starting to connect with an emerging new consumer.

I had the opportunity to meet and work with these fast casual innovators early in my career when I started to see the hidden gems of restaurant brands that they were forging. But the most important aspect that I understood back in the ’90s was not my connection to food, it was my connection to technology consumer adoption and my understanding that technology would someday be the guiding force of the restaurant business.

Fast forward 25 years later and you now have a segment nearing 100 billion in sales and almost every aspect of communication is referring to the term I coined back in the ’90s. My observation and study of the segment, the consumers, the trends and the leaders still drive my curiosity today. If you have not had a chance to check out the documentary Fast Casual Nation, be sure to check it out on Amazon Prime here!

Join me in The Barron Report episode above as I break down some of the pioneers and emerging brand titans of the fast casual sector as I analyze both the pros and cons of some of the best brands in the business.

Farm Burger Rolls Out New Sustainable Catfish Sandwich

Farm Burger Blue Catfish sandwich |   Sara Hanna Photography

Farm Burger Blue Catfish sandwich | Sara Hanna Photography

Not only do we have more vegetarian consumers today, but there are also more flexitarians. These are eaters that only occasionally eat meat to make less of an environmental impact.

The plant-based movement has encouraged eaters to seek more alternative proteins. With that in mind, the fast casual chain Farm Burger is one of the restaurants to recently partner with the plant-based company Impossible Foods to offer the Impossible Burger, a veggie burger that even bleeds.

But the chain is also getting more creative with its menu options and is rolling out the Chesapeake Bay Blue Catfish sandwich, a move to promote a more sustainable protein.

"Farm Burger carries the Impossible Burger in all 11 locations nationwide as a plant-based meat alternative for customers. We had been looking to incorporate seafood onto the menu for a while and wanted to craft a sandwich that would fit well with our menu and match our sustainable ethos. As we learned more about the Blue Catfish and the environmental issues associated with it, it seemed to meet all of our criteria: tasty, sustainable and thought-provoking," said Cameron Thompson, Farm Burger executive chef.

The sandwich, which was strategically launched right before Lent to cater to Fish Fridays, is topped with Farm Burger slaw and house-made pickled jalapeños. The catfish sandwich will be available at Farm Burger stores starting March 5th.

The Southern-based fast casual chain wanted to make sure the sandwich still fit in on the menu with the other items, so the chain took a culinary twist on a traditional catfish sandwich.

"Crispy catfish and slaw, to me, is a classic combination like peanut butter and jelly. The slaw is tossed in our signature FB sauce to add some Farm Burger flair to a classic pairing. We're rounding out the meal with Old Bay fries as a tribute to the Chesapeake region," said Thompson.

Read more about the new menu item at Farm Burger at "Forbes" now.

We visited Farm Burger for a past episode of Fast Casual Nation back in 2015. Watch the video below as Host Paul Barron sits down with George Frangos, owner and operator at Farm Burger to learn more about the up-and-coming brand. Prepare to drool as they showcase some of the most popular menu items.

Chipotle Tests Drive-Thru Lanes to Promote Online Ordering

Chipotle App Welcoem Screen | Shutterstock

Chipotle App Welcoem Screen | Shutterstock

Earlier this month, we reported that Chipotle was making a major investment in digital to improve the guest experience.

Online ordering sales grew by 66 percent in the last three months of 2018 and in the last quarter of 2018, the restaurant's sales grew by 6 percent.

The restaurant's recent moves to recover have prompted investors to buy the chain's stock. Chipotle's shares have increased by 35 percent over the last year.

In the same earnings call earlier in the month, Chipotle also announced that it was also testing having online only pick-up drive-thru lanes.

These lanes are intended to make it even faster for guests to get their orders by pairing the convenience of both digital ordering and drive-thru pick-up.

"Arguably, it will be the fastest way to get Chipotle — going through the Chipotlane," said Brian Niccol, Chipotle's CEO.

The push to promote online ordering certainly appeals to the chain's target demographic– millennials. Similar to Panera Bread's rapid pick-up stations, guests make their orders through their mobile phones and then pick-up the food at the drive-thru lane dedicated to strictly online orders.

However, since this limits human interaction, this is making a negative impact on the staff tips.

"Reliance on technology — in the service industry especially — typically has some kind of human toll. Last year some Starbucks baristas said mobile ordering was cutting into their tips (users typically can set their tip percentage right in the app when placing an order, but may simply choose not to for whatever reason)," writes "Forbes."

Will the chain roll the drive-thrus out to more stores? Read more about the new drive-thru lanes at “Forbes” now.

Chipotle also teased that it has more plans in the works too.

"We're definitely just getting started," said Niccol to "CNN" earlier this month. "There's still so much opportunity in front of us, and there's still a lot of work to be done."

In 2019, the chain started the year out with a bang by rolling out lifestyle bowls. These new menu items are bowls that are keto, Whole30, and paleo-friendly. On a recent episode of The Barron Report, Host Paul Barron explains why he thinks the chain's recent introduction of its Lifestyle Bowls was a slamdunk. Watch the video below to learn more about Chipotle's latest campaign to appeal to health-conscious eaters.