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News Briefs for October 17, 2011

October 17, 2011

•Online local deals site LivingSocial is launching LivingSocial Gourmet, an invitation-only service that “creates exclusive offers for leading restaurants to reach LivingSocial’s most frequent, discerning and high-value restaurant patrons,” according to the company. The new gourmet offers will be more expensive and more exclusive than those already offered on LivingSocial, ranging from $100 to $200 per person for fine-dining establishments. Group deals will also be available to users. The service will begin with 100,000 users in Washington, D.C., and is slated to expand to 10 additional cities by the end of the year, including Chicago, New York and San Francisco. The site’s first event, going live today, is a wine and cheese tasting at Washington, D.C.’s CityZen restaurant for $250 per guest. LivingSocial currently has more than 35 million active users in the U.S.

•Spanish wine grape prices are expected to rise 15%-20%, according to an October 14 report from U.S. wine and grape broker Ciatti Co. Climbing grape prices have been influenced by poor weather conditions and a recent 90,000-hectare uprooting program that has eliminated approximately 10.5 million hectoliters of Spanish wine production over the past three years. International varietal wines—particularly white grape varietals—are predicted to see the biggest jumps. The looming price increases follow recent news that Spain’s overall wine production is set to decrease 7.5% to an estimated 38-39 million hectoliters this year.

MillerCoors’s Tenth & Blake craft and imported beer division has taken a minority stake in Athens, GA-based craft brewer Terrapin Beer Co, a MillerCoors spokesperson confirmed to Shanken News Daily today. The stake, which is “less than 25%,” was converted from a portion of an existing loan MillerCoors had provided to Terrapin. “The loan conversion will allow Terrapin access to more capital from the banking market to fund a $4.5 million expansion to double our brewing capacity,” said Terrapin founders John Cochran and Spike Buckowski in a company email provided to SND. Currently available in nine states, Terrapin’s brands include Hopzilla and Moo-Hoo.

•Palm Bay International has named Tom Schlachtenhaufen as vice president, national sales, spirits. He will report to Tony Bonavita, Palm Bay’s senior vp, sales, and be a senior member of the company’s spirits division, headed by Alain Barbet, president of Palm Bay Spirits. Schlachtenhaufen spent 13 years with Diageo in various state, regional and national sales positions, most recently serving as vp, sales, national accounts. In his new role he will be responsible for driving growth for a Palm Bay Spirits portfolio including Aperol, Frapin Cognac, Voli Light Vodkas and 901 Silver Tequila among others.

•Japanese restaurant operator Benihana Inc. has reported a 5.6% year-on-year rise in total restaurant sales to $75.8 million for its fiscal second quarter of 2012, ended October 9. Company-wide comparable sales jumped 6.4% to $75.6 million, despite being hit by severe August weather associated with Hurricane Irene. Comparable restaurant sales were up 7.7% at Benihana Teppanyaki, 5.3% at RA Sushi and 0.6% at Haru, due primarily to increases in dine-in traffic. During the twelve-week period, Benihana Teppanyaki represented roughly 67% of total sales, while RA Sushi and Haru accounted for 24% and 9%, respectively. Headquartered in Miami, Benihana Inc. operates 96 restaurants nationwide—including 63 Benihana restaurants, eight Haru restaurants and 25 RA Sushi restaurants—and 18 franchised Benihana outposts in the U.S., Latin America and the Caribbean.

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