News

Whole Foods Market expands loan program to $25 million

BY Dan Berthiaume

Austin, Texas — Whole Foods Market’s Local Producer Loan Program has reached the initial goal of funding $10 million in low-interest loans to local and independent food businesses, and has now committed up to $25 million in funding. The Local Producer Loan Program (LPLP) has provided 184 loans to 155 companies since its inception in 2007.

Loan recipients must meet Whole Foods Market’s quality standards, use the funds for expansion and have a viable business plan. Typical loans range from $1,000 to $100,000 and have fixed low-interest rates. Previous loan recipients have used their loans for purchasing more livestock, investing in new equipment, expanding production facilities, adapting to more sustainable practices or converting to organic production.

“Expanding the Local Producer Loan Program is a direct result of the innovations and successes of our loan recipients,” said Betsy Foster, Whole Foods Market global VP of growth and business development. “By playing a role in advancing new ideas, growing businesses and realizing dreams, Whole Foods Market stays connected with both our neighborhood producers and our global food community.”

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News

Restaurant performance picks up in November

BY Dan Berthiaume

Washington, D.C. — Driven by improving same-store sales and customer traffic levels, the National Restaurant Association’s Restaurant Performance Index (RPI) hit a five-month high in November 2013. The RPI, a monthly composite index that tracks the health of and outlook for the U.S. restaurant industry, stood at 101.2 in November, up 0.3% from October and the strongest level since June.

In addition, the RPI stood above 100 for the ninth consecutive month, which signifies expansion in the index of key industry indicators. The Current Situation Index, which measures current trends in four industry indicators (same-store sales, traffic, labor and capital expenditures), stood at 101.2 in November – up 0.3% from a level of 100.9 in October and the highest level in six months. Aside from September’s downtick, the Current Situation Index remained above 100 in seven of the last eight months, which represents expansion in the current situation indicators.

A majority of restaurant operators reported higher same-store sales for the second consecutive month in November. Fifty-seven% of restaurant operators reported a same-store sales gain between November 2012 and November 2013, up from 54% in October and the highest level in six months. In comparison, 29% of operators reported a decline in same-store sales in November, compared to 30% in October.

Restaurant operators also reported improving customer traffic levels in November. Forty-seven percent of restaurant operators reported customer traffic growth between November 2012 and November 2013, up from 43% who reported a traffic gain in October. In comparison, 35% of operators reported a decline in customer traffic in November, down from 39% in October.

Along with higher sales and customer traffic, restaurant operators continued to report positive capital spending levels. Fifty-four percent of operators said they made a capital expenditure for equipment, expansion or remodeling during the last three months, the seventh 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 101.1 in November, up 0.2% from a level of 100.9 in October. In addition, November represented the 13th consecutive month in which the Expectations Index stood above 100, which indicates that restaurant operators are generally optimistic about business conditions in the coming months.

Restaurant operators are generally positive about sales expectations in the months ahead. Thirty-eight percent of restaurant operators expect to have higher sales in six months (compared to the same period in the previous year), up slightly from 36% who reported similarly the prior month. Meanwhile, only 9% 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 53% expect their sales to remain about the same.

In comparison, restaurant operators are less optimistic about the direction of the economy. Twenty-four percent of restaurant operators said they expect economic conditions to improve in six months, while 19% expect the economy to worsen. The remaining 57% expect the economy to continue trending sideways during the next six months.

Despite an uncertain economic outlook, a majority of restaurant operators are planning for capital expenditures in the coming months. Fifty-five percent of restaurant operators plan to make a capital expenditure for equipment, expansion or remodeling in the next six months, up slightly from 53% who reported similarly the prior month.

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MARKETING/SOCIAL MEDIA

Pizza Hut launches online promo

BY Dan Berthiaume

Plano, Texas — Pizza Hut will offer 50% off any medium or large pizza ordered online from Jan. 1-10. The online promotion marks the 20th anniversary of Pizza Hut offering online ordering via its “PizzaNet” digital ordering hub.

Participants will also join the brand’s "Hut Lovers" program, which provides members with other exclusive deals. Pizza Hut is launching a YouTube ad featuring 1990s pop artists Ace of Base as part of the promotion.

"We want to celebrate the fact that before consumers could buy books, clothes, music or vacation packages via the internet, they could place an online order for a Pizza Hut pizza," said Carrie Walsh, chief marketing officer at Pizza Hut. "We’re doing so by giving back to our customers who have helped us lead the way with digital innovations over the last 20 years."

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