Exclusive news and research on the wine, spirits and beer business

News Briefs for December 6, 2011

December 6, 2011

Darden Restaurants, Inc. says it expects combined U.S. same-restaurant sales growth in its fiscal second quarter ended November 27 to be up approximately 1.8% for Red Lobster, Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse and 3.9% for its Specialty Restaurant Group. Individually, the group anticipates U.S. same-restaurant sales to be +6.8%, +6.0% and -2.5% for Red Lobster, LongHorn Steakhouse and Olive Garden, respectively. This marks the second consecutive quarter that Olive Garden has shown a decline in sales (-2.9% in the first quarter ended August 28), due mainly to lower consumer traffic. The company will release its finalized second quarter results December 16.

•Starbucks is set to expand beer and wine sales to as many as seven locations in the Chicago market by the end of 2012. Starbucks rolled out the concept late last year, introducing beer, wine and small plate options to six stores in Seattle, Issaquah (Washington) and Portland (Oregon) after 2pm in an effort to boost off-peak sales. The company said those test-run locations have since increased same-store sales after 4pm by double-digit percentages.

•Hampered by high unemployment and low consumer confidence, U.S. restaurant traffic remained flat in the first three calendar quarters of 2011, according to a report from market research firm The NPD Group. For the quarter ending in March, restaurant traffic was up slightly with a 0.2% increase, but then fell 0.4% in both the second and third quarters. Consumer spending, meanwhile, experienced a modest increase, with the average per person check rising 1% in the first quarter and 2% in the second and third quarters.

•Mintel Menu Insights, a research database that tracks U.S. restaurant menu trends, has released five trends that will impact the restaurant industry in 2012. Mintel Menu Insights predicts that menus next year will highlight regional specialties—such as Memphis barbeque and New England clam chowder—and that menus will be “doubled-sided,” offering both healthy options and more decadent choices, as well as offering “home style” and “handmade” food. Flexibility will also be key, as consumers push for their specific needs to be met by customizing their meal choices.

•Minneapolis-based restaurant chain CRAVE has opened a new unit in Coral Gables, Florida, marking the brand’s seventh nationwide outpost and second Florida location since debuting in 2007. At more than 9,000 square feet, the newest CRAVE features multiple dining rooms, an outdoor patio with a full bar and a lounge area, all of which are available for private or semi-private dining parties. The restaurant will have two happy hours—3pm to 6pm Sunday through Friday and 10pm to 12am Sunday through Wednesday—as well as live entertainment on Fridays and Saturdays.

•Diageo is set to expand distribution of Turkish liquor Yeni raki to global markets including the U.S., Germany, Russia and Turkey’s neighboring countries beginning in January, reports Turkey’s Hurriyet newspaper. Raki is an aniseed spirit that compares with French pastis and Greek ouzo. Yeni, the best-selling brand in Turkey—and part of Turkish drinks giant Mey Icki, which Diageo acquired for $2.1 billion earlier this year—sold 3.91 million cases in its domestic market in 2010, according to Impact Databank.

•Legendary wine writer and educator Robert Lawrence Balzer died December 2nd at his home in Orange, California, reports Wine Spectator. He was 99. “He was clearly California’s first truly great wine writer and a pioneer,” said Marvin R. Shanken, editor and publisher of Wine Spectator. Along with being an early contributor to Wine Spectator, Balzer was also one of the founders of the California Wine Experience. “He was the first real wine educator for California wine. I owe a lot of my knowledge about California wine to him.” Balzer, who also wrote an influential column for the Los Angeles Times magazine, published 11 books on wine during his lifetime, the first, California’s Best Wines, in 1948. He continued teaching wine classes and taking students to Napa and Europe into his 90s.

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