Steve Easterbrook doesn’t seem like the sloganeering type. He’s cool, a rational technocrat rather than a fiery head coach. Yet Easterbrook has two slogans he regularly employs. The phrases—“Act first, talk later” and “Progress over perfection”—hint that beneath his reserved exterior he’s aiming for real change. ... In a year and a half at the helm he has begun paring costs and decided to move McDonald’s MCD -1.81% headquarters from the suburbs back to Chicago. More important, in the U.S. market he launched McDonald’s successful All Day Breakfast, removed high-fructose corn syrup from the company’s buns, ended the use of key antibiotics in the company’s chickens, and embarked on a 10-year plan to liberate the birds that lay its eggs from the cages in which they have long been confined. The latter two changes are potentially transformative not only for McDonald’s—where chickens and eggs now account for 50% of the items on the menu—but for the entire American food industry. ... The Golden Arches are touting purity and provenance rather than solely relying on product launches—Shamrock shakes! the McRib!—to generate buzz as the company did in the past. The new approach allows McDonald’s to tap into the nation’s health zeitgeist in a way that it never has before. ... McDonald’s isn’t waiting for the supply—it’s creating it. But the seemingly simple change to cage-free eggs involves complex and expensive logistics, as we’ll see, and there’s a long, long way to go: Right now only 13 million of the company’s 2 billion U.S. eggs are cage-free.
Pizza, like other fast food, proliferated in the US because it was cheap and convenient. Above all else, most Americans expect pizza to cost very little, which can be a recipe for all sorts of culinary shenanigans. While it was beloved for decades — even in the highly industrialized form most of us know today — the big chains lost their way somewhere down the line, in pursuit, perhaps, of efficiency and profit. But what other choice did a pizza enthusiast have? ... At some point, enough people decided they were no longer content to just passively gorge on whatever pizza they were offered. ... The recent explosion of so-called fast-casual chains like Chipotle and Shake Shack — which lie a notch above fast food while avoiding table service and tipping — got many to expect fresh, high-quality, non-GMO, grass-fed, and otherwise ambitious-sounding ingredients, even when they were grabbing a quick bite. It was only a matter of time before customers demanded the same of their pizza. What’s happening in pizza now is all very reminiscent of the chains that have boomed in the last decade by selling tuned-up versions of old-school junk food. ... Each of the three new-school pizza chains have roughly 100 locations, with commitments from franchisees to build hundreds more. There are well over 30 fast-casual pizza concepts — some of which have been around for much longer than these three — testing the market across the country.
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For years, enlightened restaurant-goers, shocked and horrified by Fast Food Nation, pink slime, and the evils of Big Food, have felt an almost religious pull to Chipotle’s "Food With Integrity" mission ... When a listeria outbreak caused by Dole’s packaged salads was linked to four deaths last year, the public outcry was not nearly as intense or sustained (despite an ongoing federal investigation). When Tesla reported its first driver fatality while using its Autopilot feature last June, it didn’t affect the company’s stock price at all. Why were these deaths only blips for Dole’s and Tesla’s reputations? By contrast, Chipotle spent a year in hell even though no one died—and more than 265,000 Americans get sick annually from illnesses linked to E. coli. ... Chipotle has had no choice but to grapple with the reality that its prestige status has evaporated. And there is no obvious road map for gaining it back. ... what’s ailing Chipotle is more pervasive and insidious than any foodborne illness. For Chipotle to win back all it has lost will require a soul-cleansing broader than perhaps even Ells and Moran realize. ... As Chipotle has grown, its operation has evolved to be anything but simple. The company purchases 185 million pounds of what it considers responsibly raised beef, pork, and chicken annually. ... Chipotle goes through more than 200,000 pounds of avocados daily ... The kitchen theatrics that Ells has deftly used to promote his food’s freshness to customers—the sizzling plancha, the tortilla grill—obscured that it was less safe than conventional fast food. The company had disclosed this fact to investors long before the crisis. ... Chipotle’s future hinges less on hourly audits or triple-washed lettuce or rewards programs than a reimagining of what Food With Integrity means for the next 20 years.
In the fancier precincts of the food-service world, where watching a barista spend four minutes prepping a pour-over coffee is a customer’s idea of a good time, robots might not seem like the future of food culture. But spend some time at the restaurants where the majority of Americans eat every day, and you’ll catch a distinct whiff of automation in the air. ... Given job creators’ distaste for organic employees, it’s easy to see how automation might play out in Quick-Service Restaurants, or QSRs—the industry term for both fast-food operations like Hardee’s and slightly more upscale “fast casual” restaurants, like Chipotle. You already have to stand in line, order your own food, and then (in most cases) pick your order up at the counter when it’s ready. Pop a couple kiosks up front, maybe let people order on their phones, and bingo, you’ve automated away all the cashiers. ... More than 14 million people—almost 10 percent of the American workforce—work in restaurants, and almost 2 million of those work for casual-dining chains. ... Besides bumping check averages, the tablets can generate revenue with game fees and display ads, which the restaurants split with the tablet companies. And once the platform is in place, it becomes a powerful tool for data collection.
Handing over control of a company is always tricky—Schultz, 63, officially relinquished the CEO job on April 3—and doubly so when it involves a charismatic, longtime leader who all but founded the company. ... In Schultz’s case, how does a notorious perfectionist who craves total control apply his perfectionism to the act of ceding control? That challenge is all the more fraught because his most notorious professional failure by far was his last attempt to leave as CEO, in 2000, a slow-boiling disaster that eventually concluded with his triumphant return. ... Beyond covering the planet with coffee bars, Starbucks has two main growth initiatives, which Johnson calls the “most critical things for the future of the company.” Johnson will be in charge of one of them: the continuing development of Starbucks’ digital and mobile operations. ... second key area will fall to Schultz. As executive chairman, he’s leading Starbucks’ push to develop a higher-end brand and “experiential destinations” to entice people who have abandoned malls to stop by a store. That strategy involves a three-pronged attack consisting of (1) the Roastery, a handful of massive, ultraluxurious coffee palaces inspired in part by Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; (2) a new brand of rare and single-origin coffee beans called Reserve; and (3) a second line of boutiques—a notch above a regular Starbucks but not quite as over the top as the Roastery—also called Reserve.