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Restaurant Performance Index slides in December

BY Dan Berthiaume

Washington, D.C. – As a result of softer same-store sales and customer traffic levels, the National Restaurant Association’s Restaurant Performance Index (RPI) registered a moderate decline in December 2013. The RPI, a monthly composite index that tracks the health of and outlook for the U.S. restaurant industry, stood at 100.5 in December, down 0.6% from November and the first decline in three months.

Despite the decline, the RPI remained above 100 for the 10th consecutive month, which signifies expansion in the index of key industry indicators. The Index consists of two components – the Current Situation Index and the Expectations Index. The Current Situation Index, which measures current trends in four industry indicators (same-store sales, traffic, labor and capital expenditures), stood at 99.5 in December, down 1.7% from November and the lowest level in 10 months. Although restaurant operators reported net positive same-store sales in December, softness in the customer traffic and labor indicators outweighed the performance, which resulted in an overall Current Situation Index reading below 100.

Restaurant operators reported net positive same-store sales for the 10th consecutive month in December, but results were much softer than recent months. Forty-four percent of restaurant operators reported a same-store sales gain between December 2012 and December 2013, down from 57% who reported higher sales in November. In comparison, 41% of operators reported a decline in same-store sales in December, up from 29% in November.

Restaurant operators also reported softer customer traffic levels in December. Thirty percent of restaurant operators reported customer traffic growth between December 2012 and December 2013, down from 47% who reported a traffic gain in November. In comparison, 46% of operators reported a decline in customer traffic in December, up from 35% in November.

Despite the dampened sales and traffic levels, restaurant operators continued to report positive capital spending levels. Fifty-two percent of operators said they made a capital expenditure for equipment, expansion or remodeling during the last three months, the eighth consecutive month in which a majority of operators reported making expenditures.

The Expectations Index, which measures restaurant operators’ six-month outlook for four industry indicators (same-store sales, employees, capital expenditures and business conditions), stood at 101.5 in December, up 0.4% from a level of 101.1 in November. In addition, December represented the 14th consecutive month in which the Expectations Index stood above 100, which indicates that restaurant operators remain generally optimistic about business conditions in the months ahead.

Restaurant operators are generally positive about sales expectations in the coming months. Thirty-eight percent of restaurant operators expect to have higher sales in six months (compared to the same period in the previous year), unchanged from the proportion who reported similarly last month. Meanwhile, 13% of restaurant operators expect their sales volume in six months to be lower than it was during the same period in the previous year, while 49% expect their sales to remain about the same.

In comparison, restaurant operators are somewhat less optimistic about the direction of the economy. Twenty-eight percent of restaurant operators said they expect economic conditions to improve in six months, while 16% expect the economy to worsen. The remaining 56% expect economic conditions to remain generally unchanged in the next six months.

Despite mixed economic outlook, a majority of restaurant operators are planning for capital expenditures in the coming months. Sixty-one percent of restaurant operators plan to make a capital expenditure for equipment, expansion or remodeling in the next six months, up from 55% who reported similarly the prior month.

"The December decline in the RPI was due to a dip in the current situation indicators, which in turn was partly caused by inclement weather in large parts of the country," said Hudson Riehle, senior VP of the Research and Knowledge Group for the Association. "Despite the softer December results, restaurant operators remain generally optimistic about business conditions in the months ahead."

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J. M. Smucker appoints new corporate officer

BY CSA STAFF

The J. M. Smucker Company has named Kevin Jackson as VP and GM of foodservice effective May 1. Jackson succeeds Ken Miller, who is retiring on June 15, after 34 years with the company.

Jackson has been with the company for 12 years in marketing leadership positions within the U.S. retail business, most recently in the role of VP of marketing for the coffee business, which includes the Folgers, Dunkin Donuts, Millstone, Cafe Bustelo, Cafe Pilon, and Life is good brands.

The 115-year-old company families is a leading marketer and manufacturer of fruit spreads, retail packaged coffee, peanut butter, shortening and oils, ice cream toppings, sweetened condensed milk, and natural foods products in North America. Its family of brands includes Smucker’s, Folgers, Dunkin’ Donuts, Jif, Crisco, Pillsbury, Eagle Brand, R.W. Knudsen Family, Hungry Jack, Cafe Bustelo, Cafe Pilon, truRoots, White Lily and Martha White in the United States, along with Robin Hood, Five Roses, Carnation and Bick’s in Canada.

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Returns and refunds at online retailers need improvement

BY CSA STAFF

In a study of the returns and refunds performance of the 25 largest online retailers, StellaService found that the majority of retailers evaluated aren’t meeting consumer expectations.

StellaService analysts ordered the same product from each retailer to be delivered to the three separate regions of East, West and Midwest. They then returned the product, tracking metrics such as the presence of a prepaid, adhesive return label, total time to receive a return authorization and refund speed. The average refund speed of was 10.7 days.

In a survey on consumer expectations during the holidays, StellaService found that 69% of consumers expect to receive a refund in less than 10 days. Only 36% of the top 25 met those expectations for returns requested by StellaService analysts during the study period.

The two fastest refund speeds came from the same companies who topped a similar study in November 2012, Shopping.HP.com and Amazon.com, respectively. Shopping.HP.com was fastest with an average of about two days, followed by Amazon.com at four days. The average refund speed of the bottom five performers was more than 17 days. That’s about four days slower than the bottom five performers from the November 2012 study.

The five fastest retailers, who all processed refunds in less than seven days, were: Shopping.HP.com, Amazon.com, Costco.com, Store.Apple.com and Macys.com.

StellaService analysis found the key to Shopping.HP.com’s swift refund process is that once the returns were scanned by the carrier, the retailer initiated the refund immediately. What slowed most retailers was a long processing time once the product hit the warehouse. In one case, an order sat in the warehouse for 15 days before a refund was issued.

Only three retailers included prepaid labels in all packages: HSN.com, Nordstrom.com and VictoriasSecret.com. Also of interest, Store.Apple.com was the only retailer to use express shipping for returns.

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