Sunday, June 30, 2024

Why Olive Garden is Floundering


Olive Garden, once a beloved staple in the casual dining sector, has experienced a notable decline in recent years. Steven Johnson the Grocerant Guru® at Tacoma, WA based Foodservice Solutions® said, it's crucial to dissect the factors contributing to this downturn. Let's delve into the data, industry standards, and key insights to understand why Olive Garden is floundering.

Declining Sales and Traffic

1.       Sales Decline: In 2023, Olive Garden reported a 3.4% decrease in same-store sales, marking the third consecutive year of declining sales. This trend is alarming for a brand that once enjoyed steady growth.

2.       Reduced Customer Traffic: Foot traffic has also diminished. In the first quarter of 2024, customer visits to Olive Garden dropped by 5.2% compared to the same period in 2023. This decline in traffic is a significant indicator of the brand's waning popularity.

Changing Consumer Preferences

1.       Health Consciousness: Today's consumers are increasingly health-conscious. A 2023 survey by Nielsen found that 49% of Americans are actively trying to eat healthier. Olive Garden's menu, which is heavy on pasta, breadsticks, and creamy sauces, does not align well with this trend.

2.       Shift to Fresh and Local: There is a growing preference for fresh and locally sourced ingredients. According to the National Restaurant Association, 70% of consumers prefer restaurants that use locally sourced products. Olive Garden's standardized menu and reliance on mass-produced ingredients do not resonate with this shift.

Competition and Market Saturation

1.       Rise of Fast-Casual Dining: The fast-casual segment, offering higher quality food with quick service, has surged. Brands like Panera Bread and Chipotle have capitalized on this trend, with Panera's sales growing by 7.1% in 2023. Olive Garden, positioned in the casual dining sector, struggles to compete with the convenience and perceived quality of fast-casual options.

2.       Market Saturation: The casual dining market is saturated, with many competitors vying for the same customer base. Darden Restaurants, Olive Garden's parent company, operates over 850 locations in the U.S. alone. This saturation limits growth opportunities and intensifies competition.

Operational Challenges

1.       Labor Costs: Rising labor costs have impacted Olive Garden's profitability. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a 4.6% increase in wages for restaurant employees in 2023. Olive Garden's large workforce and reliance on full-service dining make it particularly vulnerable to these increases.

2.       Supply Chain Issues: The global supply chain disruptions in 2022 and 2023 have led to higher costs and difficulties in maintaining consistent menu offerings. Olive Garden's menu relies heavily on imported ingredients, making it susceptible to these challenges.

Strategic Missteps

1.       Marketing Ineffectiveness: Olive Garden's marketing strategies have not kept pace with changing consumer behaviors. While their "Never Ending Pasta Bowl" promotion was once a hit, it has lost its appeal. Modern consumers are looking for more innovative and health-conscious dining options.

2.       Failure to Innovate: Unlike competitors who have embraced digital innovation and delivery services, Olive Garden has been slow to adapt. In 2023, 60% of restaurant orders were placed online or through mobile apps, yet Olive Garden's digital presence remains underdeveloped.

Financial Performance

1.       Stock Performance: Darden Restaurants' stock has underperformed compared to industry benchmarks. In 2023, Darden's stock grew by only 2%, while the S&P 500 Restaurants Index grew by 6.5%.

2.       Profit Margins: Olive Garden's profit margins have been squeezed. In 2023, the restaurant's operating margin fell to 11.2%, down from 13.5% in 2022. Rising costs and declining sales are primary contributors to this contraction.


Olive Garden's struggles are multifaceted, stemming from shifting consumer preferences, intense competition, operational challenges, and strategic missteps. To reverse its fortunes, Olive Garden must innovate, adapt to changing consumer demands, and streamline its operations. Embracing healthier menu options, enhancing its digital footprint, and focusing on sustainability could be crucial steps in revitalizing the brand.

As the grocerant guru®, I see a path forward for Olive Garden, but it requires bold changes and a commitment to aligning with the evolving dining landscape. The potential for a turnaround exists, but it will demand strategic foresight and a willingness to reinvent the brand for the modern consumer.

Foodservice Solutions® team is here to help you drive top line sales and bottom-line profits. Are you looking a customer ahead? Visit for more information or contact: Remember success does leave clues and we just may the clue you need to propel your continued success.

Saturday, June 29, 2024

Bold menu items can be a game-changer for McDonald's


Steven Johnson Grocerant Guru® at Tacoma, WA based Foodservice Solutions® thinks it’s time that McDonald’s begin to think outside the box to garner new customer while edifying existing customers.   That said, here are some new menu ideations.   Bold menu items can be a game-changer for McDonald's, helping to drive sales and attract new customers. Here are three innovative suggestions:

1. Plant-Based Lobster Roll

Why It Would Work:

·         Trend Alignment: The popularity of plant-based diets continues to soar. A plant-based lobster roll taps into the growing market of vegans, vegetarians, and flexitarians looking for sustainable and ethical dining options.

·         Unique Offering: While many fast-food chains offer plant-based burgers, a plant-based lobster roll would stand out as a unique and premium offering, attracting curious foodies and health-conscious consumers.

·         Coastal Appeal: By offering a plant-based version of a classic coastal dish, McDonald's could appeal to regions known for seafood and to customers who crave a taste of the coast without the environmental impact of traditional seafood.

2. Korean Fried Chicken Burger

Why It Would Work:

·         Global Flavor Trend: Korean cuisine, particularly Korean fried chicken, has seen a surge in popularity worldwide. Introducing a Korean Fried Chicken Burger could leverage this trend, drawing in fans of bold, spicy, and flavorful food.

·         Cultural Fusion: McDonald's has a history of successfully introducing culturally inspired menu items. A Korean Fried Chicken Burger would cater to the growing demand for fusion cuisine, offering a new and exciting taste experience.

·         Social Media Appeal: The visual appeal of Korean fried chicken, often coated in a glossy, spicy sauce, would make this burger highly shareable on social media platforms, driving organic marketing and buzz.

3. Personalized Nutrition Bowls

Why It Would Work:

·         Customization Craze: Consumers increasingly seek personalized dining experiences. Offering bowls that customers can customize with a variety of proteins, grains, and vegetables would cater to this demand.

·         Health Consciousness: As more people prioritize health and wellness, having a menu option that allows for balanced, nutrient-rich meals would attract health-conscious customers who might otherwise avoid fast food.

·         Tech Integration: By integrating this offering with an app or kiosk that provides nutritional information and customization options, McDonald's could enhance the customer experience and attract tech-savvy, health-minded individuals.

Implementation and Marketing Strategy:

·         Seasonal Launches: Introducing these items as limited-time offers initially can gauge customer interest and create a sense of urgency.

·         Celebrity Endorsements and Influencer Partnerships: Collaborating with popular food influencers and celebrities can amplify the launch and attract diverse customer demographics.

·         Sustainability Angle: Emphasizing the sustainability aspects, especially for the Plant-Based Lobster Roll, could attract environmentally conscious consumers and enhance the brand's image.

By tapping into current food trends and customer preferences, these bold new menu items could help McDonald's not only drive sales but also redefine its image as an innovator in the fast-food industry.

Don’t over reach. Are you ready for some fresh ideations? Do your food marketing ideations look more like yesterday than tomorrow? Interested in learning how Foodservice Solutions® can edify your retail food brand while creating a platform for consumer convenient meal participationdifferentiation and individualization?  Email us at: or visit us on our social media sites by clicking the following links: Facebook,  LinkedIn, or Twitter

Friday, June 28, 2024

Kroger: Stuck in the Middle and Facing a Bleak Future


Kroger, one of the largest retail giants globally, finds itself in a precarious position. Whether or not the proposed merger with Albertsons comes to fruition, the future appears uncertain for several reasons, according to Steven Johnson, the Grocerant Guru® at Tacoma, WA-based Foodservice Solutions®. Here are ten key factors contributing to this outlook:

1.       Overabundance of Brands: Kroger's brand strategy is deeply rooted in its commitment to freshness, quality, and customer-centricity. However, managing an extensive portfolio of brands can dilute focus and resources, leading to inconsistencies in quality and customer experience. This overextension hinders the company from capitalizing on its core strengths.

2.       Failed Grocerant Fresh Food Expansion: Despite significant efforts to expand its fresh food offerings, Kroger has faced challenges in implementing this strategy effectively. In markets like Florida and Oklahoma, the company's attempts have met with mixed results, highlighting a need for a more tailored approach to market entry.

3.       Misplaced Marketing Messaging: Kroger’s marketing campaigns emphasize competitive prices and quality products. However, this messaging often fails to resonate with modern consumers who seek more personalized and value-driven experiences. This disconnect between brand image and customer perception is a critical issue.

4.       Outdated Store Design and Operation: Many Kroger stores still operate under outdated models, failing to adapt to the evolving retail landscape. This lack of modernization deters customers who crave a contemporary shopping experience. Investing in store redesign and operation upgrades is essential to stay relevant.

5.       Inefficient Use of Technology: While Kroger has made strides in incorporating technology into its operations, such as automated checkout systems and self-driving delivery vehicles, these initiatives are not fully optimized. Inefficiencies in technology deployment lead to customer dissatisfaction and operational challenges.

6.       Inadequate Online Presence: Despite launching initiatives like Kroger Ship, the company’s online presence pales in comparison to competitors like Amazon and Walmart. Enhancing the digital experience is crucial as the retail market becomes increasingly digital-centric.

7.       Lack of Localized Strategy: Kroger’s broad national footprint sometimes hinders its ability to cater to local tastes and preferences. Developing a more localized strategy would enable the company to better meet the needs of diverse markets and enhance customer loyalty.

8.       Inconsistent Customer Experience: With its wide range of products and services, Kroger struggles to maintain a consistent customer experience across its various brands and store formats. This inconsistency can erode customer trust and satisfaction.

9.       Weak Supply Chain Management: Inefficiencies in Kroger’s supply chain management lead to issues like stockouts and overstocks. These problems negatively impact customer satisfaction and the company's bottom line, emphasizing the need for robust supply chain optimization.

10.   Slow Response to Market Trends: Kroger has been slow to respond to emerging market trends, such as the growing demand for organic and locally sourced foods. This lack of agility can put the company at a disadvantage in the fast-paced retail industry.

Grocerant Guru’s Recommendations for Kroger’s Incremental Success:

1.       Streamline Brand Portfolio: Focus on a core set of brands that align with Kroger’s commitment to quality and customer-centricity. This will help in delivering consistent quality and a unified customer experience.

2.       Enhance Fresh Food Strategy: Adopt a localized approach to the grocerant fresh food expansion. Understand the unique preferences of each market and tailor offerings accordingly to increase market penetration and customer satisfaction.

3.       Modernize and Innovate: Invest in modernizing store designs and operations. Implement cutting-edge technology to streamline processes and enhance the shopping experience. Prioritize customer feedback to ensure that these innovations meet their needs.

Kroger has a rich history and a strong presence in the retail market, but significant challenges threaten its future success. To overcome these obstacles, the company must reassess its strategies and make necessary changes to remain competitive in the evolving retail landscape. The Foodservice Solutions® team is here to help drive top-line sales and bottom-line profits. Are you looking a customer ahead? Visit for more information or contact: Remember, success leaves clues, and we might have the clue you need to propel your continued success.

Thursday, June 27, 2024

American Express and Tock: A Strategic Move Towards Integrated Payment Leadership in the Restaurant Industry

Once again, Steven Johnson, the Grocerant Guru® at Tacoma, WA-based Foodservice Solutions®, is bringing you the latest insights from the intersection of foodservice, technology, and consumer behavior. Today, we're diving into the strategic move by American Express to acquire Tock, a reservation, table, and event management technology provider.

The Acquisition

American Express announced an agreement to acquire Tock from Squarespace on June 21, 2024. This acquisition, worth $400 million in cash, is a significant step towards enhancing American Express's dining platform and expanding its suite of digital tools for restaurants. Tock's innovative technology is set to integrate seamlessly with American Express’s existing services, offering a more robust and comprehensive solution for both diners and restaurant operators.

Why Tock?

Tock, launched in Chicago in 2014 and acquired by Squarespace in 2021, provides reservation, table management, and event ticketing tools to approximately 7,000 restaurants, wineries, and other bookable venues. By adding Tock's network of restaurants and its innovative suite of products, American Express aims to deliver unforgettable experiences for diners and access to highly sought-after reservations. Tock's system has been praised for its ability to reduce no-shows by allowing pre-paid reservations, a feature that significantly benefits restaurant operators.

The Strategy

American Express has been offering unique dining benefits, exclusive access, and special experiences to its Card Members for years through Resy and Global Dining Access by Resy. With the acquisition of Tock, American Express can connect even more premium customers with exciting restaurants, while providing merchants and restaurants more technology to help their businesses thrive.

In 2023, restaurants were one of American Express's largest Card Member spending categories within Travel and Entertainment, with $100 billion in volume. The company aims to offer restaurants the tools to deliver more personalized hospitality, facilitate pre-paid experiences like tasting menus, and provide more convenient ways for customers to pay the bill. This strategic move aligns with the broader trend of integrating technology to enhance customer experience and operational efficiency.

The Impact

This strategic move by American Express is a clear indication of the growing importance of integrated payment platforms in the restaurant industry. As the Grocerant Guru®, I've observed that managing various payment and reservation systems simultaneously can lead to lost revenue, wasted time, and frustrated customers. Integrated reservation systems with secure payment solutions can be a game-changer for restaurants.

By acquiring Tock, American Express is positioning itself as a leader in this space, offering a comprehensive solution that not only simplifies operations for restaurants but also enhances the dining experience for customers. This is a win-win situation that could potentially reshape the landscape of the restaurant industry. According to industry reports, integrated systems like Tock can increase table turnover by up to 20%, reduce no-show rates by 25%, and boost overall revenue by an estimated 15%.

For international corporate presentations, regional chain presentations, educational forums, or keynotes, contact Steven Johnson, the Grocerant Guru®, at Tacoma, WA-based Foodservice Solutions®. His extensive experience as a multi-unit restaurant operator, consultant, brand/product positioning expert, and public speaker will leave success clues for all. For more information, visit, FoodserviceSolutions.US, or call 1-253-759-7869.

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Grocery Stores Battling for a Larger Share of Stomach within the Grocerant Niche


The grocerant niche, is a fusion of grocery store, restaurant, and convenience fresh prepared food meal and meal components has been evolving rapidly, driven by consumer demand for convenience, quality, and variety, according to Steven Johnson Grocerant Guru® at Tacoma, WA based Foodservice Solutions®.

Today consumers' lifestyles continue to evolve and change, particularly post-pandemic, grocery stores are stepping up their game in the grab-and-go segment to capture a larger share of the "stomach market." Among the leaders in this movement are Cingari Family Markets and Saker ShopRites, both of which have implemented innovative strategies to meet the growing demand for ready-to-eat meals and meal components that can be bundled into the perfect family meal.

Cingari Family Markets: Elevating Grab-and-Go

Cingari Family Markets, operating under the ShopRite banner in Connecticut, has made significant strides in the grab-and-go sector. Spearheaded by Executive Chef David Cingari, a Culinary Institute of America graduate with extensive experience in New York's culinary scene, the company has developed a sophisticated grab-and-go program. This initiative not only complements the bakery and deli offerings but also includes a wide range of meals, entrées, and side dishes prepared in a central commissary.

The central commissary approach ensures consistency and quality, two crucial factors in the success of grab-and-go programs. "If customers like it, it had better be the same the next time. Then freshness is critical, and it’s got to be restaurant quality," says Cingari. This commitment to quality is evident in their upscale sandwich offerings, such as those featuring prosciutto instead of standard ham, and their diverse menu options catering to various dietary preferences, from vegan to gluten-free.

Cingari's grab-and-go program also addresses the trend of multiple purchasing, which has gained momentum since the COVID-19 pandemic. With families having less time to cook at home, there is an increased demand for multiple ready-to-eat items that cater to different family members' preferences. This approach not only satisfies diverse dietary needs but also offers convenience for today's time-strapped consumers.

Saker ShopRites: Convenience Meets Quality

Richard Saker, president and CEO of Saker ShopRites, highlights how the pandemic accelerated changes in consumer behavior, particularly regarding grab-and-go food. During the pandemic, consumers sought to minimize their time in stores, leading to a rise in the acceptance of pre-cut cold cuts and other ready-to-eat items. This shift was further fueled by the rising cost of dining out and the convenience of grab-and-go options as people returned to their workplaces.

Saker ShopRites has leveraged this shift by offering high-quality, convenient meal solutions. For instance, their clamshell-packaged eggplant parmesan entrées are designed to be easy to prepare and serve, catering to the need for quick, nutritious meals. These offerings are produced in the company's four commissaries, ensuring consistent quality and freshness.

Saker emphasizes the importance of involving culinary professionals in developing grab-and-go programs. Quality assurance is paramount, and Saker even welcomes inspectors to ensure that the standards are maintained. This focus on quality extends to the merchandising of grab-and-go items, which are strategically placed throughout the store to maximize visibility and convenience for shoppers.

Brooklyn Harvest Market: Flexibility and Innovation

Brooklyn Harvest Market, with stores in Brooklyn and Queens, has adapted to changing demographics and consumer preferences by incorporating flexibility into their grab-and-go offerings. Head of operations and merchandising Dan Wodzenski notes that the pandemic spurred a greater willingness among consumers to pick up fresh sliced and store-packaged cold cuts, leading the store to replace traditional service deli counters with grab-and-go sections.

The market has also tailored its offerings to the local community's evolving needs. With a growing Latin customer base, Brooklyn Harvest Market has introduced more Hispanic pastries, baked goods, and savory items like Spanish rice and enchiladas. This responsiveness to consumer trends and preferences is crucial for staying relevant in the competitive grocerant niche.

Industry Insights and Future Directions

The broader industry trends also support the growth of the grab-and-go segment. Bill Heiler, senior manager of customer marketing at Rich Products, notes that shopper demand for innovative grab-and-go items has surged, with a 50% increase in sales of convenient bakery products like parfait cups and cake slices over the past five years. Retailers are becoming more creative with merchandising, placing single-serve items in strategic locations to drive impulse purchases and increase sales.

For grocery stores looking to capitalize on the grab-and-go trend, the Grocerant Guru® offers three key recommendations:

1.       Focus on Quality and Consistency: Ensure that all grab-and-go items meet high standards of quality and consistency. This can be achieved through central commissary production and rigorous quality control processes.

2.       Cater to Diverse Dietary Preferences: Offer a wide range of options to cater to various dietary needs, including vegan, gluten-free, and high-protein diets. This inclusivity will attract a broader customer base.

3.       Enhance Convenience and Visibility: Strategically place grab-and-go items in multiple store locations, including near perishables and high-traffic areas, to increase visibility and accessibility for shoppers.

By implementing these strategies, grocery stores can not only meet the evolving demands of today's consumers but also secure a larger share of the stomach in the competitive grocerant niche.

Foodservice Solutions® specializes in outsourced business development. We can help you identify, quantify and qualify additional food retail segment opportunities or a new menu product segment and brand and menu integration strategy.  Foodservice Solutions® of Tacoma WA is the global leader in the Grocerant niche visit us on our social media sites by clicking one of the following links: Facebook,  LinkedIn, or Twitter