Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The worst news you haven't heard

The automobile business may not be the only industry to suffer a permanent dislocation from the recession.  A study by McKinsey & Co. apparently shows that one-third of the consumers who’ve cut back on restaurant visits are unlikely to resume their old dining-out habits after the economy rebounds.  

The revelation was shared by ketchup giant H.J. Heinz Co. during its recent conference call with investors. Because the company’s sales are so tied to the fortunes of the U.S. restaurant business, participants pressed officials for their take on the trade’s near-term future.  

The forecast wasn’t a rosy one: A 5% drop in traffic for roughly the next 11 months, after a 5% drop during the just-concluded fiscal year, and a 1% decline in unit counts.     

A transcript of the call quoted CEO William Johnson as also citing “a recent Mackenzie report,” though the translation appears to be an error. Johnson apparently said “McKinsey,” and the translator provided a phonetic translation.   

The report “said about a third of consumers will return to their normal eating-out habits once the economy returns but about a third won’t,” said Johnson, who noted that Heinz’s business strategy is based in part on that research. As one listener put it, the company expects “consumer frugality will stay fashionable.”  

“We’re expecting the worst and preparing for the best,” said Johnson.  

Ironically, indicated North American CEO David Moran, Heinz is trying to offset the foodservice slump in part by delivering “a restaurant experience at home.” The company’s giant packaged-foods business will push more foodservice-quality heat-and-eat meals, including two marketed under the T.G.I. Friday’s brand name.  

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