Roundup On Competitors …

Seattle-based coffee giant Starbucks announced plans to close 600 stores this week, while big-box retailer Wal-Mart said it’s stepping up efforts to bring more U.S. farmers into its supply chain as a way to keep food prices down.

Dunkin’ Donuts, meanwhile, added a new Southwest Chicken Flatbread sandwich to its oven-toasted menu.

Wal-Mart said it’s bringing more American farmers into its supply chain to keep food prices down amid rising fuel costs, The Morning News in Northwest Arkansas reported.

Wal-Mart’s partnerships with U.S. farmers have increased 50% in the past two years, resulting in more locally grown produce in its stores. The company told the newspaper that fruits and vegetables grown in-state will account for about one-fifth of the produce in its stores this summer.

The retailer first announced its plans to increase local sourcing last month when it began looking for ways to reduce transportation costs while supporting its goals to sell products that are Earth-friendly and ethically sourced, The Morning News reported. "We’re taking it to a new level with a pledge to grow our partnerships with local farmers," said Pam Kohn, Wal-Mart’s vice president and general merchandise manager for grocery. The massive retailer expects to buy about $400 million in locally grown produce from American farmers this year.

Less good news came from Starbucks, however, as the company said it’s closing 600 stores, or 8.5% of its company-operated portfolio in the U.S., the Seattle Post Intelligencer reported.

The company has been pummeled by the sluggish economy, rising gas and food prices and stiff competition from Dunkin’ Donuts and McDonald’s, the newspaper reported. The closures will affect about 12,000 Starbucks employees, or 7% of its global work force, based on estimates that each store employs 20 people full and part time. News of the closures was not a surprise – the company warned it was keeping a "watch list" of stores and might close more than the 100 previously announced – but the number “600” was much larger than expected, the newspaper reported.

In other news, Dunkin’ Donuts said this week that it’s adding a new Southwest Chicken Flatbread Sandwich to its oven-toasted menu.

The new sandwich will be available year-round at Dunkin’ Donuts restaurants. The sandwich features a grilled chicken fillet topped with cheddar cheese, grilled peppers and onions and a maple-chipotle sauce, all “perfectly pressed in a tasty flatbread,” the company said.

The introduction of the Southwest Chicken Flatbread sandwich provides customers with an exciting new all-day menu choice at a time when both chicken sandwiches and southwest flavors are growing in popularity among consumers seeking options to burgers and fried foods, according to market research.

Dunkin’ Donuts Brand Marketing Officer Frances Allen said the new Southwest Chicken Flatbread Sandwich provides busy, on-the-go customers with bold new flavors and ingredients.

"Today’s time-starved consumer wants a wide variety of quick, delicious foods and beverages, available all day and every day, without compromising quality or taste," she said. "With our new Southwest Chicken Flatbread, we are continuing to break down the limitations of traditional menus and offer Americans exciting and unique choices for keeping themselves running whether it’s 8 AM or 8 PM."

Dunkin’ Donuts launched its oven-toasted menu earlier this year, the most significant change to its product lineup since the company launched espresso-based beverages in 2003.

Other exciting Dunkin’ Donuts’ oven-toasted menu items include:

  • Flatbread Sandwiches, easy to hold and eat. In addition to the new Southwest Chicken, these hot, crispy sandwiches are available in three classic flavors: Turkey, Cheddar & Bacon; Ham & Swiss; and Grilled Cheese.
  • Personal Pizzas, available in five-inch servings. Customers can choose from three varieties: Supreme (Italian sausage, pepperoni and green and red peppers); Pepperoni (mozzarella and diced pepperoni) and Cheese (asiago, mozzarella, parmesan and romano.)
  • Hash Browns, lightly seasoned and served as bite-sized medallions. The special hash browns container was specifically designed to fit neatly into a car cupholder, perfect for on-the-go occasions.
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