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• From CNBC: "Fast-casual restaurant chains like Chipotle Mexican Grill and Sweetgreen have been stealing customers from full-service restaurant chains like Outback Steakhouse and IHOP. To fight back, some casual dining chains have been launching spinoff restaurants that copy that business model."

Examples: Applebee’s Express, Flip’d by IHOP, Aussie Grill by Outback, and Social Monk Asian Kitchen, created by Cheesecake Factory.

The advantages of such an option: "Fast-casual restaurants are smaller in size, with less seating and fewer employees serving customers, which means that they are cheaper to operate than a full-service restaurant. Menus are usually designed for convenience and fast service, and customers order at a counter, sometimes moving along an assembly line."

But it doesn't always work, according to CNBC: "Cracker Barrel announced in October that it planned to scrap Holler & Dash, the fast-casual spinoff it launched in 2016, after it acquired Maple Street Biscuit, a fast-casual chain with a focus on breakfast and brunch."

I'm a big fan of retailers that test new concepts and formats, looking for ways to reach out to shoppers in ways that extend a brand's equity while trying something completely different.

Fast Company has the story of Fresh Bowl, which "offers vending machine salads and other on-the-go meals in returnable glass to hungry commuters as a way to cut down on our immense food packaging waste." Fresh Bowl launched in New York City less than a year ago, and apparently, if you can make it there you can make it anywhere - the company "has big plans to expand. Currently, there are just five kiosks in the city, but cofounder Zach Lawless says the company aims to have 50 vending machines by the end of this year, and a total of 100 in 18 months."

According to the story, "A big reason Fresh Bowl feels ready to add its kiosks in more subway centers and office building lobbies—and, soon, retail locations—is because so far, its model seems to be working. Fresh Bowl aims to reduce waste and give greater access to healthy food by stocking vending machines with salads, grain bowls, and breakfast oats in reusable glass jars that can be returned for a discount off your next grab-and-go meal. Overall, across its current locations, Fresh Bowl has seen a jar return rate of 85%."

The company just got more than $2 million in seed funding, which will fund the expansion, and it hopes to use customer data being gathered by the vending machines to craft more targeted offerings that also will fuel its growth.
KC's View: