The DMA Nashville Experience Begins Next Week!

DMA's customers, distributor members and supplier partners will gather in Nashville next week to celebrate an amazing year for the network. It's been three long years since DMA's last Annual Meeting in Florida - and everyone's ready to convene!

The DMA family works hard to deliver the best customized distribution solutions to an amazing group of superior operator partners. The Nashville Experience will celebrate those partnerships through a series of annual awards on Wednesday night after a day of insights presentations and networking opportunities.

Thanks so much to the panelists and sponsors making this year's Experience possible - it couldn't happen without you!


Analysis: Why Consumers Crave Pumpkin Spice

Almost as ubiquitous as the changing colors of the leaves or a crisp chill in the air, the arrival of pumpkin-spice-flavored everything signals that fall is here.

Ever since Starbucks introduced the pumpkin spice latte (or PSL, for short) in 2003, the craze has been on a meteoric rise. In just the last five years, pumpkin spice product sales have increased about 47%, reaching $236 million in the 2021-22 season alone, reported The Guardian.

"For consumers, the arrival of pumpkin products signifies the changing of the seasons, and after a long summer, everyone's ready for fall flavors," Kevin Bryla, CMO and head of customer experience at SpotOn, told The Food Institute.

The Pumpkin Spice Effect

The reason consumers crave these products when fall rolls around is simple – they are only available for a limited time, which makes them feel special.

"Pumpkin spice and other fall flavors aren't available all year round, so there's a sense of urgency for customers to get [them] while they can," Bryla said.

Notably, although Starbucks sells PSLs in 82 countries and pumpkin is available in most parts of the world, pumpkin-spice fever is limited to North America. This could be because the U.S. and Canada are the only countries where pumpkin pie is popular, and the flavor of pumpkin pie is largely defined by its spices – typically cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and allspice.

Selling the Feeling of Fall

Some industry experts suggest that this flavor profile is so popular because it evokes and capitalizes upon positive feelings associated with the fall season.

"Emotions are a powerful motivator for purchase," Northeastern business professor Bruce Clark wrote about the ‘pumpkin spice economy' in 2018. "To the extent you're looking forward to the fall season, here's one reminder of that season. Buying the product reinforces those good feelings."

Simply put, the flavor is the commodification of the feeling of fall, and consumers eagerly await its return every year. So much so, that they're willing to pay a premium for it.

A 2020 study conducted by Magnify Money found an average pumpkin spice tax of 8.8% across 40 items from six retailers. The study also revealed that the average Starbucks pumpkin-spice drink costs $15.9% more than its non-pumpkin equivalent.

It's no surprise then, that new products and menu items under the category umbrella arrive each year.

"By introducing a seasonal, limited-time offer supported by proper marketing to guests, a restaurant can drive sales from late August well into November," Bryla said. Food Institute Focus

QSRs Lamenting ‘Line Balk' Trend

Much like remote working and zoom conferencing, long waits at the drive-thru line are a pandemic vestige that just won't go away. And that's causing line balk among consumers.

As COVID-19 took hold in the U.S. and efforts were made to minimize viral spread while keeping restaurants open, the beloved drive-thru window got its renaissance. Once a convenient service alternative quickly became one of the only options restaurants had to serve safely and efficiently.

Of course, the unintended consequence of that was painfully long lines of cars inching their way through parking lots and streets.

As time has passed and the threat of infection has reduced, this pandemic-era habit is proving hard to break. Long lines around fast-food restaurants continue to be a common sight at peak hours, raising the question about the practicality of the drive-thru and how it can be improved.

Executives for restaurant chains like Starbucks and Chick-fil-A have acknowledged the issues caused by daunting drive-thru lines and how it negatively impacts sales, according to Business Insider.

Other Issues at Play

During a rush, seeing the long line of cars is enough to drive dozens of potential customers away. The phenomenon, sometimes referred to as "line balk," has been a lingering hurdle for restaurants to clear in a more post-pandemic economy.

COVID-19 didn't create the issue of the long drive-thru, but it did exacerbate it. While it's true many consumers grew far too comfortable with not leaving their cars to pick up food during 2020, other factors have led to a more nuanced problem.

It goes without saying the fast-food industry, and restaurants in general, continue to struggle with retaining staff. Many businesses simply don't have the man-power to accommodate the high demand for drive-thru service. Having inexperienced staff also leads to longer wait times.

The fact that fast-food restaurants have largely reopened their dining areas recently didn't necessarily solve the issue, it just got more complicated. Faced with labor shortages and evolving consumer demands, the fast-food industry has had to re-evaluate and reprioritize its approach to service.

Throughout the pandemic, not only did the drive-thru see an uptick, mobile pickup orders and third-party delivery services also saw an increase in demand. Restaurants have had to focus more effort toward fulfilling these orders, sometimes at the expense of their in-house patrons.

According to a CNN report, that leads to the perception in many consumers that ordering at the counter is simply always going to be the slowest option. In some cases, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as restaurants must delegate resources to wherever will yield the most profit: the drive-thru and online orders.

The issue raises larger questions about how restaurants can adapt.

While the lunch rush is great for sales, an influx of cars in such a limited space creates a logistical nightmare for these businesses and their neighbors.

Recent Solutions

Some major franchises have already adopted multiple drive-thru lanes or having staff take orders out on a mobile device; anything that helps make the lines more speedy and efficient. Still, with so many drivers bogging down the lines, restaurant companies are exploring other alternatives to take some of the pressure off the drive-thru staff.

Ordering for pickup via an in-house mobile app has seen a gradual rise in usage, plus it can help build customer loyalty. Places like Chipotle and Panera Bread utilize this practice, and fast food has been taking the same approach to help the drive-thru.

Some companies are even turning to AI technology to help with the ordering process. Last year, Kentucky Fried Chicken introduced a "Quick Pick-Up" option for customers to order ahead and have assigned parking spots for mobile orders, according to CNN, and McDonald's has already begun testing automated order-taking systems.

How effective some of these changes will be remains to be seen, nevertheless, companies have a large task at hand of balancing their operating logistics with the promised convenience of the drive-thru experience. Food Institute Focus

Pickles Surging in Popularity

Pickles have been around for thousands of years, yet they appear to be as popular as ever. Whether as a side or as a burger topping, pickles have become a true staple at restaurants, especially in 2022.

In fact, 43.9% of restaurant menus mentioned pickled ingredients in the second quarter of this year, according to Technomic data. That represents a rise in popularity for pickles during the last couple years.

It begs the question: How, exactly, have pickles become more popular than ever?

It's all about reinvention. Even though classic pickle pairings aren't going anywhere, restaurants are finding new ways to present the ingredient. Think Sonic's Pickle Juice Slush, Diller's pickled-pineapple lemonade or Crane's pickled foie gras, as noted by Restaurant Business.

"There's an interesting dynamic going on with pickles. About a decade ago we saw a resurging popularity for fried pickles, even though they had been around since the ‘60s," Allen Bixby, author and restaurant owner at, told The Food Institute. "Couple that with the Pan-Asian food boom, which brought new ranges and styles of pickled veggies, and you have a food thousands of years old, re-inserting itself to our culinary diorama.

"The last layer was both a positive health image, along with an introduction into the adult beverage scene."

Why pickles? Why not find something new? Well, pickles are a very cost-effective ingredient and can be used many ways. For example, Bixby suggests never dumping the pickle brine.

"This is free money, usable as a beverage or sauce base among a number of outlets," Bixby says. "Base a bloody Mary in that for example, and the natural garnish is the pickle itself. Same for a pickle beer and pickle martini. Add a couple ingredients and you have a versatile coleslaw or salad dressing."

Quick pickling any crispy vegetable is easy and lends itself to creating signature flavors, Bixby adds.

"From traditional to garlic to ginger to ghost peppers; these recipes yearn for distinctive flavors and [are] already trending as a popular statement in boutique restaurants," Bixby said. "Tossed in salads, offered as standalone starters, or served as a side to rich dishes, there are a multitude of places to incorporate them in a menu." Food Institute Focus

Store News:

  • Taco Bell plans to pivot its breakfast to focus more on "ease and familiarity," and has enlisted comedian Pete Davidson to help push this message. The company is facing more competition in the breakfast daypart, with Wendy's on track to get 10% of its sales in the morning and McDonald's breakfast sales recovering, reported Restaurant Business (Oct. 3). Full Story
  • Meanwhile, Taco Bell and Beyond Meat announced a plan to test the Beyond Carne Asada Steak product beginning October 13 in Dayton, Ohio, reported Fast Company (Sept. 21). Full Story
  • Chipotle will test a robotic tortilla chip maker named "Chippy" next month in California. Chippy is an autonomous kitchen assistant made by Miso Robotics that Chipotle hopes will free up workers from tasks like frying tortilla chips, reported CNBC (Sept. 27). Full Story
  • Starbucks and Delta announced on Wednesday that they have linked their loyalty programs, meaning customers can, for example, earn free coffee by flying, reported Axios (Oct. 12). Full Story
  • A group representing McDonald's owners said the company rejected its request to delay changes to franchising policies, including updated standards and adjustments to how the company evaluates potential new restaurant operators. McDonald's unveiled new policy changes during the summer, sparking tensions between some operators and the company, reported CNBC (Sept. 28). Full Story
  • Meanwhile, McDonald's is releasing Happy Meals for adults in an initiative designed to work off the nostalgia of the restaurant's famous red cardboard boxes. The Cactus Plant Flea Market Box is a collaboration between McDonald's and the streetwear brand, and each box will include a full-size meal and one of four collectible figurines, reported CNBC (Sept. 29). Full Story

Executives on the Move:
  • Tyson Foods promoted John R. Tyson to EVP and CFO effective October 2. Additionally, the company named Amy Tu president of international and chief administrative officer, reported The Wall Street Journal (Sept. 27). Full Story
  • Dunkin' has named Jill McVicar Nelson its CMO. She had been the former VP of marketing strategy for the donut chain, reported Restaurant Business (Sept. 23). Full Story
  • Chuck E. Cheese has appointed Mario Centola its executive vice president and chief operating officer of international operations, and Adrienne Gonzalez its new director of international marketing. Full Story
  • Taco John's has named Mark Kocer chief operations officer. The 30-year industry veteran will now oversee day-to-day operations, reported Full Story

Norovirus Cases are On the Rise, Are You Ready?

After a drop in norovirus outbreaks after the first year of the pandemic, cases are going up once again. See the infographic containing interesting data from the CDC and preventative controls that can be put in place to keep the norovirus curve low this season.


Extreme Weather Continues to Threaten Supplies

Extreme weather events are making their impact felt across the globe.

Widespread drought conditions are not only impacting the U.S. but the entire world. That's putting a strain on global food production and distribution.

For example: according to the USDA, China and India are the top two largest rice producing countries in the world that account for more than half of annual global rice production – and they're bracing to underperform this year. Here's the latest:


A tributary of the Yangtze River, in the southwestern region of Chongqing, is running dry as China faces ongoing drought conditions, Reuters reported.

Rainfall in the Yangtze basin has been 45% lower than normal since July and despite little amounts of rainfall expected in early fall, the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze will still be low. The drought could last through late September in the region.

Where there's a lack of fresh water, irrigating crops becomes increasingly difficult, which could impact the autumn rice harvest. Around 2 million acres of arable land has suffered damage, as well as 160,000 head of livestock, Liu Weiping, vice-minister of Water Resources noted.

The Yangtze is the longest river in Asia, and the third longest river in the world. It supports roughly one third of China's total population, stretching from the mountains of Tibet to the East China Sea. Low water levels are impacting hydropower resources as well as reducing shipping along the river, Reuters noted.

A smaller Chinese grain harvest would boost the demand for imports and add pressure on global markets such as the U.S. and Europe. This would further exacerbate inflation that's already running at multi-decade highs.

Authorities will take emergency steps to "ensure the autumn grain harvest," which is 75% of China's annual total, officials said recently.

According to Global Times, some are forecasting losses of around 20% per mu (806.65 square yards) in harvest due to this year's drought.

What's Being Done

According to AP, China's solution to the lack of rain is cloud seeding to attempt to generate rain. Cloud seeding is a technique that introduces tiny particles of silver iodide into a cloud; which is made up of water vapor. This process stimulates condensation within the cloud until enough moisture is collected to produce rain drops. According to the Desert Research Institute, Silver Iodide exists naturally in the environment at low concentrations and is not known to be harmful to humans or wildlife.

Another strategy being implemented is spraying crops with a water-retaining agent to limit evaporation.

Global Concerns

With India's own domestic rice supply under threat, the government is considering restricting some broken rice exports. Bloomberg recently reported that India accounts for 40% of global rice trade and if they do end up limiting exports, it will make an impact on countries already grappling with rising inflation. Broken rice is mainly used for animal feed, and if restricted, this could create scarcity for feed elsewhere around the globe.

Two-thirds of Europe is under drought alerts prompting what experts at the Global Drought Observatory say could be the worst drought in at least 500 years. The current conditions are expected to impact crop yields, dry up rivers and perpetuate wildfires.

According to the Global Drought Observatory, 45% of Europe is experiencing drought warning conditions, meaning that soil is significantly dry. Severe drought conditions are expected to continue through at least November in some of Europe's southern regions.

Meanwhile, the BBC reported in late August that EU forecasts for harvest are down 16% for grain maize, 15% for soybeans and 12% for sunflowers, compared with the average of the previous five years.

In France, the extreme heat and drought have forced an early grape harvest, according to Reuters. Yields may be 15% to 20% lower in parts of France due to smaller grape size and some grapes being burned by the sun, reported the AP.

The increase in extreme weather events in the past several years have led to smaller harvests from frost, to extreme heat, wildfires and even storm damage. It's feared that smaller producers may not be able to adapt to the ever-changing conditions.

Italy, Spain and Portugal are also expecting 10% to 20% lower production this year due to sun-scorched grapes. Food Institute Focus


Sales Up but Traffic Down in August

Sales growth was up 5.3% in August despite a 1.9% drop in traffic growth, according to Black Box Intelligence. The group noted the strong sales numbers and weak guest counts "demonstrate exactly what happens when larger check growth (due to large price increases that passed onto consumers) is the primary reason for higher sales."

Selected Results:

  • Darden Restaurants, parent company of Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse, said net sales for the quarter rose 6.1% to $2.45 billion, falling short of expectations, reported CNBC (Sept. 22). Full Story
  • Cracker Barrel Old Country Store reported an 8% drop in profit during its most recent quarter as labor and commodity costs outpaced menu price increases. The company said its value-friendly reputation helped it retain customers amid rising inflation, and CEO Sandra Cochran defended the company's decision to not raise prices, reported The Wall Street Journal (Sept. 27). Full Story
  • Subway says its latest menu revamp is driving more sales. The sandwich chain said its restaurants' same-store sales rose 8.4% in the third quarter, with September particularly strong, reported Restaurant Business (Oct. 12). Full Story
  • Domino's Pizza reported better-than-expected revenue for the third quarter on Thursday and stood by its forecast for food costs, even though earnings fell short of estimates. In the U.S., the company said same-store sales rose 2% in the period, reported CNBC (Oct. 13). Full Story

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