Barney Wolf

Barney Wolf is an Ohio-based freelancer for <em>QSR</em> magazine.

Boom Town

North Dakota’s economic growth a unique opportunity for quick-serve brands.
Quick service companies expand to North Dakota to capitalize on growth.
North Dakota's 7.6 percent population jump since 2010 has been fueled by hydrautic fracturing.

Economic booms are nothing new to regional American economies. From the Gold Rush in California to the post–Industrial Age coal fields of Pennsylvania and West Virginia, history shows that workers and businesses have long rushed to parts of the country where valuable resources were discovered.

Now it’s North Dakota’s turn. The identification of a major oil field in the western part of the state led to a boom that’s created thousands of new jobs in the past five years. And businesses, including quick-service restaurant operators, are cashing in.

Playing with Fire

If there’s one sure sign of summer, it’s the sight of smoke rising and smell of food cooking from backyard grills. Grilling, in its most basic form, is as old as humans’ taming of fire. The concept of having structures hold food above the flames came along later.

Today, flame grilling is a method used by a number of restaurant operators to provide a particular taste that differentiates them from their competitors.

Courting Calorie Counters

The nutritional value of limited-service restaurant food has been the topic of debate among consumers, critics, and operators for some time. Growing concerns over Americans’ high obesity levels have only heightened the debate, leading some observers to encourage increased governmental regulation of food, others to urge more focus on informed, unforced choice.

Much of the talk has been about calories, because consuming too many of those without accompanying exercise results in additional pounds.

Inside Roark Capital

The boardroom at Roark Capital Group’s offices in an Atlanta skyscraper has all the accoutrements of a nicely appointed meeting area, including a large conference table surrounded by comfortable chairs and a wide view of the city below.

There’s just one distinction: Two dozen black-framed notices of the private equity firm’s acquisitions dot the walls along the narrow sides of the room. Lying on the carpet are two more frames, holding announcements for the latest purchases, Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, made last December in a deal valued at about $1.7 billion.

Pigging Out

Pork was promoted for years as “the other white meat” to boost its exposure and dispel consumer perception that it’s too fatty. These days, pork is anything but “other” at many limited-service restaurants, though it’s often under the guise of specific ingredients: Menus mention items like sausage at breakfast, pepperoni for pizzas, and ham on sandwiches. And of course there’s bacon, a foodservice staple made from pork bellies.

Pork is increasingly finding a home on quick-serve menus due to consumers’ evolving tastes and the product’s flexibility and cost-effectiveness.

Smooth Transition

Whether or not consumers are flocking to the better-for-you items they’re demanding from quick-serve restaurants is up for debate, but there’s really no argument about yogurt’s success. The dairy product’s growth is hard to ignore; according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data, yogurt production doubled between 2002 and 2012 to meet demand.

Kick It Up a Notch

Some like it hot. And some like it even hotter. Fiery dishes are heating up limited-service menus as operators increasingly recognize consumers’ growing interest in spicy, hot entrées.

A 2013 Consumer Flavor Trend Report by Chicago-based restaurant market research firm Technomic found that a majority of Americans (54 percent) now prefer hot or spicy foods, sauces, dips, and condiments. That’s up from 48 percent in 2011 and 46 percent in 2009.

Good Stock

Limited-service companies enjoyed a big year on the stock market in 2013.

Pollo Tropical parent Fiesta Restaurant Group topped quick serve stock prices.
Pollo Tropical parent company Fiesta Restaurant Group was the best performing quick-serve stock last year.

During any given year, a restaurant company that records a 50 percent increase in its stock price could expect to crow pretty loudly about the accomplishment. But even that type of gain wasn’t good enough to crack the top 10 among publicly held limited-service restaurant operators in 2013, as equities market soared.

“It’s been a very good year for the market and for many restaurant companies,” says R.J. Hottovy, a dining industry analyst at Chicago’s investment firm Morningstar. “There were some pockets of weakness, but most restaurant [stock] values have had good gains.”

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