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.

10 Food & Beverage Leaders to Watch in 2019

It’s that time of the year again, where everyone reflects on the year before and plans their goals for the next year.

A leader in the food & beverage industry has unique challenges, but a smart leader never stops learning and soaking up insights.

With that in mind, Zenreach recently released a list of thought leaders in food & beverage to follow to stay informed about the latest trends in the foodservice sector.

This list includes our own Paul Barron, Foodable's CEO, executive producer, and editor-in-chief, along with other entrepreneurs in the business.

The Food Critic and Podcast Host Soleil Ho also made Zenreach's list. This 31-year old is making a difference with her podcast Racist Sandwich, which covers social justice issues in the industry. As the Zenreach blog writes Ho exposes industry problems like as "cultural appropriation, male dominance in the kitchen and culinary authenticity." Ho also is the new food critic for the "San Francisco Chronicle."

Although Gary Vaynerchuk doesn't only cover topics pertinent to the restaurant industry, he is a marketing and branding mastermind who lands on Zenreach's list. He helped grow his family's wine company from a $3 million business to a $60 million business in just a few years by incorporating video content with the channel Wine Library TV. This entrepreneur and speaker has interviewed many of the industry's best too, including Jon Taffer and Danny Meyer.

Zenreach also lists restauranteur David Chang and restauranteur and restaurant industry consultant Aaron Allen. Learn more about these thought leaders at the Zenreach blog now.

We also have a few others to add-on to this list.

The CEO: Clare Reichenbach

Clare Reichenbach |   The James Beard Foundation

Clare Reichenbach | The James Beard Foundation

At the beginning of 2018, the coveted James Beard Foundation named Clare Reichenbach its CEO. Even though she has no culinary experience, she has a long career leading organizations. She was the founder of CJJR Consulting, a business network and was the former EVP Strategy and Business Development for BBC Worldwide North America. Her goal at the JBF is to extend "awareness of the foundation and bringing it greater global recognition through programs dealing with education diversity, women’s issues and childhood nutrition," writes "The New York Times."

The Builder: Sam Fox

This restaurateur launched Fox Restaurant Concepts, a group that now has almost 50 restaurants across the U.S., including Zinburger, Wildflower, and Tucson's Blanco. Fox has been a James Beard Award semifinalist for Outstanding Restaurateur 11 times.

The Rule Breaker: Erik Oberholtzer

Foodable has been following Oberholtzer's career for years now. As the co-founder of the fast casual Tender Greens, he has taken a hands-on approach to make the chain a success. Oberholtzer, along with his partners even dug ditches for the chain's first store's plumbing. The chain is backed by Danny Meyer, who even said in 2015 "that I wish I'd thought of it myself." There are now 29 Tender Greens stores in California, New York, and Massachusetts.

The Trailblazer: Ethan Brown

Brown is the CEO of the plant-based company Beyond Meat that has emerged as a leader in this space. Brown spent his childhood on a farm where he developed the mindset to change of the way the world eats meat. Beyond Meat went public at the end of 2019 and the company's products are now available in 11,000 grocery stores across the country.

We recently sat down with Brown to talk about his company and the booming plant-based market. Listen to the recent episode of The Barron Report below.

The Comeback Artist: Brian Niccol

This industry veteran was hired by the struggling chain Chipotle in early 2018 to help the former fast casual darling to recover. Niccol was formerly the CEO and marketing mastermind of the brand Taco Bell. In 2018, Chipotle's store sales gradually climbed and the company's shares spiked 50 percent. Niccol has directed the chain to upgrade its mobile app and in-store technology. He has also made it his mission to "build a culture of accountability," as he said in July. In 2019, Chipotle rolled out new menu items to cater to those on restrictive diets with the Keto Bowl and Whole30 bowl. With Niccol holding the reins, 2019 is expected to be the year Chipotle makes its official comeback.

How the Emerging Brand and Shark Tank-Backed OatMeals Ventures to Define a New Fast Casual Category

Emerging brands continue to outperform the pack of cornerstone restaurants brands over the past year and the category breakouts are in a race for leadership. Take the crowded fast casual pizza category that now has a clear leader that has prevailed in Mod Pizza.

More and more category challengers are being created in a variety of segments today.

When you analyze the healthy halo category, it’s being dominated by sweetgreen and Tender Greens with new challengers like Lemonade and Flower Child.

Fresh Mex has been holding strong with Chipotle, however, they have seen some fall off in the dominance they once had in meal occasions. This leads us to a much more fragmented field of new category leaders.

OatMeals, on the other hand, is one of these unusual but potentially new category entries that could set a new standard for what it means to innovate at the brand level.

I had a chance to sit down with Founder and CEO Samantha Stephens of OatMeals, a one-unit NYC concept that is aiming to transform what was once a breakfast only menu item into an entire category for menu innovation.

Join me and watch this episode of The Barron Report above as we discuss how consumers are responding to this unusual brand, what it takes to launch a concept like this, and what it was like to present to the sharks on hit TV show "Shark Tank" and actually get a deal with Lori Greiner to build out the brand concept with an entirely new approach to brand building.

Emerging Restaurant Brands Set New Pace for Growth While the Rest of the Industry Implodes in 2018

Emerging Restaurant Brands Set New Pace for Growth While the Rest of the Industry Implodes in 2018
  • Foodable Labs releases the Top 150 Emerging Restaurant Brands report.

  • These emerging brands saw 8.2% spike in social traffic and are millennial favorites.

The industry is facing a major slump in 2018, quite possibly the greatest reduction in traffic for total restaurant locations in the past 30 years.

Foodable Labs research reveals this trend based on a combination of three factors – industry sentiment, a transitioning consumer base and slowing social restaurant visits (SRVs.) These factors combined will attribute to the impending doom for the restaurant business in 2018.

This is where the Emerging Brands come in to save the day.

What seems to be a bulletproof approach to brand building, we have found that there are 150 brands that seem to be bucking the trends of slowing traffic, closing locations and a consumer shift. In fact, these emerging brands are breaking the norms of the restaurant business of the past by creating a new approach for an entirely new type of consumer.

These 150 restaurants are leading the industry in a variety of categories. On average, they are up 8.2 percent in SRVs versus the rest of the top 1,000 brands we have indexed, which is down 5.9 percent.

These brands also have an average Sentiment score of 86.5 compared to the industry average at 76.2.

What is even more impressive is the breakdown of consumer base. These brands average a staggering 63.5 percent of millennial consumers, a segment of the population with super buying power.

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