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Restaurants, Suffering From Poor Turnout, Look to Retail

These days, chain restaurants are looking for any way to eke out a profit, from offering cheaper steaks to haggling with customers. But given the economic downturn, many are no longer expecting to fill tabletops at dinner — instead, they're counting on customers at the grocery store. Restaurants from Jamba Juice to California Pizza Kitchen and even Tony Roma's plan to introduce new licensed food products in the next year. Yesterday, Starbucks unveiled its new Super-Premium Ice Cream. The new line of ice cream, created in partnership with Unilever, is inspired by coffeehouse drinks with flavors like caramel macchiato and java chip.

Healthy drink chain Jamba Juice has been sorting through production and logistics on a ready-to-drink smoothie made by Nestle that will be carried in convenience stores in addition to supermarkets. Certain chains that already have licensed, branded items in grocery stores are looking to aggressively expand them. California Pizza Kitchen recently introduced flatbread sandwiches made in partnership with Kraft, and the company plans to expand its product line. Rib specialist Tony Roma's is also broadening its line of heat-and-serve meals beyond baby back ribs to include pulled pork, pot roast, and other items.

Since consumers are dining out less and eating in more, it makes perfect sense for restaurants to move in this direction, but if the past is any indicator, I've found licensed food products are usually nothing but a letdown. Do you feel the same way? Could you see this being the moneymaker for restaurant chains this year?

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