Competitors See Opportunity in Chipotle’s Troubles

The Chipotle food-safety saga has been impossible to ignore for the last few months, as everyone from hungry college students to Wall Street traders are forced to reckon with the chain’s downfall. For other fast-casual and fast food restaurants, however, the news is an opportunity to snatch some new guests. As we wrote earlier, Sweetgreen has already earned the moniker “the new Chipotle” to some, and they’ll undoubtedly benefit at least somewhat from the Mexican chain’s decrease in sales. Others are hoping that they can improve their image by highlighting food safety practices – and surreptitiously reminding everyone that they haven’t caused any norovirus outbreaks recently.

Canadian chain Freshii is twisting the knife by offering half-priced Mexican food while Chipotles everywhere are closed for an all-hands meeting and regroup. They claim that this is to “help consumers through these dark hours,” and that “the least [they] could do was look after their customers while Chipotle paused to recalibrate.”

White Castle, while not a direct competitor of Chipotle, has decided now would be a good time to launch a website devoted entirely to advertising their food safety practices. The website is unambiguously named, and it showcases their commitment to “promoting food safety, cleanliness and transparency.”

Chipotle meanwhile is struggling to recover while their stocks are in free-fall. CEO Steve Ells has made repeated statements about their new food safety practices, and promised that they will release any information about the source of the outbreaks last year. This Super Bowl, they are offering $50 currency card and a limited-edition gift from the makers of Tabasco sauce to anyone who uses their catering service.

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Sweetgreen Expects a Full Half of Sales to Come from their App this Year

The fast-casual salad chain Sweetgreen had a big year this year, opening 3 new stores in New York alone, moving their headquarters to California, and being dubbed “the next Chipotle” by CNN and others. One could argue that their success is built on many things – timing, a growing demand for healthy, sustainably sourced foods, their youthful aesthetic (one of their limited edition salads last year was named in honor of a Kendrick Lamar song) – but it would be a mistake to underestimate the role mobile has had in that success.  So far, 21% of Sweetgreen’s sales come through their custom app, and they expect that number to jump as high as 50% this year.

The appeal of mobile ordering is understandable: with lunchtime lines out the door, the Sweetgreen app allows guests to order from the office and pick up immediately, and once downloaded, a rewards system makes it more likely for them to keep visiting. Additional features like the ability to flag dietary restrictions, add favorites, and integrate with the iOS health app, add an additional layer of appeal.

Of course, for many small chains it simply isn’t feasible to build out this kind of ordering system. Sweetgreen has had the benefit of $95 million in total investments in recent years, and they’ve clearly dedicated a fair amount of that to building their mobile presence. But they do serve as a reminder of the kind of return such an investment can have.

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Climate Change Has Repercussions for Coffee and Cocoa


As temperatures heat up across central America, low-lying growing regions which were once ideal for coffee are quickly becoming too warm, at least to grow the kind of quality coffee that is increasingly demanded by consumers. Many farmers in the region are feeling these effects while still trying to recover from a devastating outbreak of roya over the past four years, a disease that affects coffee leaves and is likely also driven by climate change.

Some growers have decided to cut their losses rather than bearing the increased costs of production and are switching to cocoa, which thrives in warmer climates. For many, the decision is a no-brainer, since cocoa futures have increased steadily for the past four years while coffee dropped 24% in 2015. For now, this increased supply won’t do much to ease the fears of chocolate giants like Hershey and Mars, since the farmers switching are mostly aiming to produce higher quality product at lower volumes. Craft chocolate makers can get excited though – in the next few years, it looks like coffee’s loss will be cocoa’s gain.

To read more, click here.

UberEats Launches in Ten Cities


New York, along with 9 other major American cities, can soon benefit from Uber’s extensive network of drivers to satisfy their lunchtime munchies in record time. The company is finally launching UberEats, which they hope will ultimately compete with Grubhub and Seamless, although their existing ten-minute lunch delivery still has a very small user base. New York, Chicago, L.A., San Francisco, Austin, Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C. should all be able to use UberEats by March.

Drivers will be able to opt in to or out of the new program if they prefer not to mix hot foods and New York gridlock, but Uber is charging a flat delivery fee of $5 to encourage more drivers to participate. And true to the sharing-economy, there will also be an UberPool version which allows users to pay only $1 and have their food delivered with other orders in the area. With more and more food delivery companies joining the fray, each will have to work harder to stand out – the promised shorter delivery times Uber offers could go a long way towards doing that, especially with Grubhub and Seamless averaging over 45 minutes.

To read more, click here.

Patio Dining with Pets Under Fierce Debate

Dog owners all over New York have been celebrating the new State law which would allow them to bring their dogs onto restaurant patios while they eat. But the department of health isn’t too thrilled about this doggy dining, and they’re hoping to impose regulations that would make it almost impossible for restaurants to participate. The regulations include extensive signage specifying where dogs can and can’t be, tag checks at the door to ensure dogs are properly registered, and barriers between dining areas and sidewalks to prevent the dogs from touching any pets or people outside.

In a statement to the press, the department of health said that these regulations “explain to restaurants owners how to protect the health and safety of their patrons, and passersby.” But proponents of the original bill, including members of the restaurant industry, feel that the regulations completely neuter its intent.

The Department of Health is encouraging feedback through January 26th on their website, and will hold a public hearing on that day at their Long Island City offices.

To read more, click here.

Donut Fest NYC

donut-day-facts-ftr.jpgOn January 23rd, you can fight the winter doldrums with the best donuts and coffee from all over New York at the 2016 Donut Fest at Verboten in Greenpoint. Tickets range from $35 to $50 for VIP tickets (which include early entry and goodies to take home). All proceeds benefit the Food Bank For New York City, so you can break your New Year’s resolutions knowing it’s for a good cause.

For more information, click here.

Dutch Start-up Wants to Bring You a Better Vegan Steak


Photo via Fast Company

Demand for meat substitutes has been growing steadily in the U.S. as more consumers become aware of the environmental and animal welfare impacts of farmed meat, and the recent report from the World Health Organization labeling processed meat as carcinogenic will likely drive that trend faster. Although there are still very few true vegetarians in the United States – only 2 to 5% of adults in the states currently eat no meat, and many of those will return to their carnivorous lifestyle at some point in the future – many more people are now making attempts to eat more meatless meals.

But although the demand for plant proteins is there, the supply still has a long way to go. Because of processing costs, meat substitutes still run about as much per pound as organic meat, and taste and texture turn off many would-be herbivores. In the Netherlands, where a small landmass and substantial environmental awareness makes the push toward vegetarianism even stronger, companies are using engineering to solve this problem. Most notably is Vegetarian Butcher, a Dutch company which has developed “the world’s first vegan steak.” The machine responsible for this steak is called the Couette shear cell device, and it uses rotating cylinders and temperature variation to spin liquid soy protein into a slab with the texture of steak. Besides better mimicking the taste and mouthfeel of a  good tenderloin, this process is much cheaper than current vegan meat production.

Although it’s still impossible to get this faux steak in the States, Vegetarian Butcher is currently expanding and hope to be available here soon. Although they’ll have some competition from companies cropping up here, they hope to work more in partnership than opposition. As costs come down and demand goes up, there may just be enough room in the market to me that happen.

To read more, click here.

2016 Food and Enterprise Summit

Tickets are now available to the 2016 Food + Enterprise Summit in Brooklyn, sponsored by Slow Money NYC. See below for the announcement:

Food + Enterprise Summit 2016 aims to catalyze capital flows to the local food system by connecting investors and entrepreneurs. 

Food + Enterprise is a B2B social impact gathering animated by a new investment philosophy valuing place, planet, purpose and people alongside profits — financing a better food system for all.

Get your early bird ticket to enhance your food entrepreneur intelligence and investor diligence through 1-on-1 coaching, hands-on workshops, Jeffersonian dinners, a trade show, pitch presentation, and countless connections.

Offer expires 2/18/16

Friday + Saturday, April 8-9, 2016

630 Flushing Ave, Brooklyn NY (“Pfizer Building”)



Save 17% when you purchase your tickets January 18th!




Producers Pay Billions to Prevent Chocolate Shortage

Patchi_Chocolate_Pieces.jpgControversy over $10 remelted chocolate bars aside, the real price of chocolate increased by leaps and bounds in 2015, due in part to El Niño-related droughts, ebola outbreaks in exporting countries, and other supply chain issues. Some chocolate companies weathered the increase by upping prices or using less chocolate in their products, but industry leaders think this is only a stop-gap measure. With ever-growing demand for chocolate in China and India, there’s simply no price increase now that could prevent a shortage in the near future. As the chief sustainability officer at Mars explains, there are “still one to two billion consumers around the world that don’t eat chocolate today, and we think they will.”

With this fear looming, some chocolate companies (including Mars) have already invested billions to increase chocolate supplies, doing everything from paying agronomists in Indonesia to experiment with plant grafting, to sending instructors out into the fields to teach better agricultural practices. These measures have already caused some tensions between multinational chocolate corporations and the governments in these regions, who see the “help” as mostly interference. All something to keep in mind as you estimate the price of your chocolate addiction – and maybe buy Valentine’s gifts early.

To read more, click here

Papa John’s Goes “All Natural” With Ingredients

works-ingredients.jpgPapa John’s, whose motto of “Better Ingredients, Better Pizza” you likely know even if you’ve never touched a slice, is making moves to uphold that promise by removing a host of artificial ingredients from its pizzas. “We closed out 2015 announcing our commitment to serve chicken raised without antibiotics and are ringing in the New Year artificial-flavor and synthetic-color free,” said Sean Muldoon, Papa John’s Senior Vice President of Research and Development. This might lead one to wonder what made the ingredients “better” before the change, but to its credit Papa John’s is the first national pizza chain to make a move like this.

It’s unclear whether going all-natural will help Papa John’s recover from a season of poor sales and falling stocks, but it seems like management is banking on the consumer demand for transparency (or at least the appearance of transparency) in ingredients that once helped Chipotle rocket to the top. Hopefully they can do so on a national scale without the same food safety issues that plagued the Mexican chain.

To read more, click here.