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McDonalds Loses Its Taste for Novelty

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You could say 2013 was a year of experimentation for McDonald’s (MCD): Fish McBites came out in February, McWraps in March, and Mighty Wings in September—all relative novelty items for the fast-food giant. All that innovation amounted to a 0.2 percent drop in U.S. same-store sales over the year. Maybe that’s why for its first permanent addition to the menu in 2014, McDonald’s is sticking to basics: a new burger.

The Bacon Clubhouse, available in beef or chicken this week, is the chain’s first burger besides the Big Mac to be topped with special sauce. It comes with leaf lettuce—not the shredded stuff—and a thick slice of tomato. Taking a cue from Wendy’s (WEN) fancy bread strategy, the Clubhouse is served on an “artisan roll.” A reviewer on Grubgrade.com called it “the most satisfying burger I’ve ever had from McDonald’s.”

The company recently slowed product launches as it works on improving operations and service. “We acknowledged last year that we probably did things a little bit too quickly in terms of the Egg White Delight and then the McWraps and then the Quarter Pounders with the various toppings,” McDonald’s Chief Financial Officer Peter Bensen said at a conference on Tuesday, “and that was a big stress to the restaurants.”Mcdonalds

As part of its turnaround, McDonald’s plans to “refocus on the core,” Bensen added—meaning favorites like the Big Mac, Quarter Pounder, French fries, Chicken McNuggets—as well as breakfast. Any new items introduced this year will be easier to prepare with the chain’s new kitchen equipment. McDonald’s spokeswoman Tyler Litchenberger says the Bacon Clubhouse Burger will be a “core menu item.”

The new sandwich shouldn’t be too unfamiliar for McDonald’s kitchen workers. Burger Business describes it as basically a Clubhouse Angus—a sandwich the chain tested in 2012—with a quarter-pound patty, lettuce, tomato, and a new bun. The emphasis on sandwiches was also a prominent theme in the new Dollar Menu and More launched in November, which includes new items like the BBQ Ranch Burger, Buffalo Ranch McChicken, Bacon McDouble, Bacon Cheddar McChicken, and Bacon Buffalo Ranch McChicken.

McDonald’s 2014 menu pipeline “is designed to introduce new products and limited-time offers at the right pace and price points,” Bensen said. Executives are certainly hoping a milder form of menu innovation will go down easier than last year’s bold experiments.

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Beyond mommy guilt: Is Canada’s growing meal-kit mania here to stay?

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TORONTO — Celebrities like Beyoncé, Oprah Winfrey, and NSync’s Lance Bass are now in the meal kit business, and for some that’s a sure sign the online subscription-based food startup phenomenon has hit its peak.

A plethora of the new e-commerce meal companies have popped up in Canada and the U.S. in the last couple of years, and subscribers have been joining the services in droves.

While the biggest player in the space, New York-based Blue Apron, does not operate in this country, a number of meal kit services are available locally and nationally for Canadians seeking a quick meal fix: Chef’s Plate, Goodfood, MissFresh, The Jolly Table, Cook It, Kuisto, Fresh City Farms, One Kitchen, Dinnerlicious, Fresh Prep and Germany’s Hello Fresh, to name a few.

There’s even a subscription-based startup for breakfasts, Montreal-based Oatbox, which delivers granolas, ‘overnight’ oats and granola bars to customers.

The convenience factor is undeniable. For about $10 to $13 per meal, customers receive a box of chilled, portioned food and recipes for an easy meal assembly.

The whole industry in the U.S. was founded on mommy guilt

Home chefs are able to cook dishes that evoke an au courant restaurant menu in less than half an hour: lentil mushroom tacos with jicama carrot slaw; mint sumac chicken with sautéed snap peas and carrot, parsnip and cucumber salad; Cajun tilapia over quinoa with a corn and tomato succotash.

But two recent initial public offerings by meal kit companies — including Blue Apron, the biggest player in the United States and Montreal-based Goodfood Market Inc. — ended up looking like a failed soufflé. Skeptics have drawn parallels between the spate of subscription startups and the faddish dot-com failures of the early 2000s.

Indeed, on Friday, Blue Apron announced it is cutting almost a quarter of its staff as it struggles to become a profitable business.

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‘Toronto’ New Restaurant is a Paradise for Bao Lovers

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This cleverly named restaurant makes a dizzying array of bao and banh mi, from pork belly to Japanese fried chicken. There’s also banh mi and a host of Asian-inspired appetizers like Bulgogi Kimchi Fries that’ll have you eating until you’re stuffed.

Read my profile of It’s a Bao Time in the restaurants section.

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‘Toronto’ At This Toronto Cafe you Can PWYC for Coffee

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One of Toronto’s quirkiest cafes has just become a bit more “kooky” in the words of its founder Liz Haines. Formerly called the Intergalactic Travel Authority, the espresso bar was designed to support Story Planet, a charity modelled after Dave Egger’s 826 Valencia, which provides writing and communication workshops for kids from age six to 18.

Operated as a social enterprise, the Intergalactic Space Authority was never about making tons of money, but the cafe was the economic engine that made running Story Planet out of a storefront space possible. Now, just over three years since it opened, the concept has proven insufficient to fund the operation.

Rather than close up shop, Haines has decided to try something unconventional. “While our social enterprise (formerly known as the ITA) has been an amazing community hub, it has not been financially viable. We have let the espresso machine go and are operating it, for the next little while, as a pay-what-you-can, serve-yourself community lounge,” she notes.

Aside from the loss of the espresso machine, the space remains the same as before, and there’s still drip coffee on offer. The space has always been available to rent ($30 an hour), so the new model isn’t radically different than before, but the notion of a PWYC cafe and lounge is intriguing.

“We’ve been surprised by the incredibly warm reception to this slightly kooky idea,” Haines writes in a blog post.

It will, however, need plenty of support to remain viable. Story Planet is trying out the concept for the month of April, after which time it will decide whether to keep the storefront space at 1165 Bloor St. West or close up shop and continue its programming in schools and community centres.

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