The Drive-Thru: Conference chaos, McDonald's franchisees' chicken sandwich dreams, and the rise of the 'charcuterie influencer'
I'm Kate Taylor, back after leaving The Drive-Thru in Shoshy Ciment's capable hands last week.
Shoshy and I, as well as the entire BI Retail team, had a conference-filled week. We held our first ever retail-centric IGNITION conference on Tuesday in New York City. I was in Orlando, Florida, at the ICR Conference. And, there was the NRF Conference, also in New York City.
Read on for a roundup of all the conferences this week, plus everything else that happened in the world of retail. If this is your first time reading and you want news about restaurants, shopping, and more in your inbox every Friday, subscribe here!
Business Insider held its first retail-centric conference
We had our very own retail conference for the first time! Highlights included:
- Rent the Runway COO Anushka Salinas told Rent the Runway aficionado Cadie that the company is partnering with an unnamed influencer to launch a new brand made out of recycled materials.
- Instagram Shopping's product lead, Layla Amjadi, told Hayley that the three features Gen Z values in brands are real-time engagement, products that resonate, and authenticity.
- Lively founder and CEO Michelle Cordeiro Grant told Áine that pop-ups are clutch because people "are fatigued of looking at their phones."
You can get the full rundown from Business Insider's IGNITION: Redefining Retail event here.
Worker and delivery drama in Florida
Meanwhile, I was in Orlando for the ICR Conference. With three days of interviews, presentations, and gossip, a few themes stood out. Here is what people couldn't stop talking about:
- Labor. Every year, CEOs say that labor costs are the biggest challenge to their business. Unemployment remains low, making it hard to retain talent and even fully staff restaurants. TGI Fridays CEO Ray Blanchette offered one solution. "We need immigration reform," Blanchette told me. "Think about who we serve, who our team members are, and having access to a healthy flow of talent."
- Benefits. As the conversation around labor continues, I noticed somewhat of a shift towards finally discussing benefits (and, to a lesser degree, wages). Experts referenced Taco Bell's six-figure manager salary test, Shake Shack discussed its four-hour workweek, and Noodles & Co.'s CEO name-dropped several of the company's benefits.
- Delivery and off-premise. Sorting out delivery is on many restaurants' to-do lists for 2020. To quote Fred LeFranc, CEO of the restaurant-industry consulting firm Results Thru Strategy: "Delivery is still a mess."
- Everyone wants to be Chick-fil-A. Executives tend to shy away from name-dropping rivals. However, during the conference and in interviews over the past year, I've noticed that that rule doesn't apply to Chick-fil-A, which rarely attends industry conferences itself. Some chains want to jump on the chicken-sandwich bandwagon, but the biggest story is executives' envy of the tech and customer service at Chick-fil-A.
- Baby Yoda. Okay, this isn't really what people in the restaurant industry are discussing - but Build-A-Bear is debuting a Baby Yoda stuffed animal! I got a glimpse of it, and it is extremely cute.
An Amazon Prime Air partner lays off 1,600 workers
Hayley had the scoop on massive layoffs at Amazon partner Pinnacle Logistics. The layoffs come as Amazon opens a new, $36 million, 200,000-square-foot hub for its Prime Air operations in Baltimore.
Several other logistics providers that work with Amazon have also announced layoffs in the past several months. Letter Ride, Inpax, Urban Mobility Now, and Sheard-Loman Transport announced upwards of 2,000 layoffs in October.
McDonald's franchisees still want a chicken sandwich
I got my hands on an email from McDonald's National Owners Association, an independent group of franchisees. As McDonald's battles some bad press, these franchisees are apparently desperate for a winning chicken sandwich.
"We need to stay focused on coming up with a Chicken Sandwich our customers are going to crave," the message reads. "A chicken sandwich that gives our customers another reason to visit McDonald's. A McDonald's Classic to go with our classic sweet tea."
Instagram is driving a massive charcuterie trend
Bethany wrote a delightful piece on the trend of meat-and-cheese boards taking over social media, propelling some enthusiasts to the status of "charcuterie influencer."
"We've gone from showing off our designer handbags and expensive makeup to now we're showing off [charcuterie]," charcuterie connoisseur Samantha Birkholtz said. "I keep looking at these boards and they're so beautiful and I'm thinking, 'My goodness, that person's an artist.'"
Come for the photos of cheese, stay for Bethany's insightful reporting.
Store tour: Ross vs. TJ Maxx
Shopping at Ross and TJ Maxx stores can be an overwhelming experience. However, both stores are thriving as many more upscale brands struggle.
Shoshy compared the two and broke down why Ross is dominant - despite the mess.
Taste test: Taco Bell vs. Del Taco
Irene went to Del Taco to see how it measured up against Taco Bell. The larger chain reigned supreme. However, Del Taco did have the advantage in one area: its chips and guac.
Irene's take: "Instead of focusing on its strengths, Del Taco tried too hard to innovate. There's nothing wrong with trying something new, but as my art teacher always told me, you have to get the basics down before you can break the rules."
Everything else you need to know
- Why Costco is Amazon-proof. Plus, employees debunk Costco rumors.
- Walmart ramps up automation.
- Amazon is opening a mystery store!
- Payless is back.
- Why the myth of MSG being bad needs to die.
- The best shopping mall montages in movie history!
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