FULL CIRCLE: Gold Plate winner Jon Luther (c.) flanked by Tyson's bill Lovette (l.) and IFMA head Michael Licata.
ENERGIZERS: sparkplug honorees billy boswell (c.) and rick Tucker (r.) receive their awards from Michael Licata.
It's impossible to say with precision that one successful restaurant operator is demonstrably superior to another. But no one is arguing with the selection of Dunkin' Brands chairman and c.e.o. Jon Luther as the 2007 Foodservice Operator of the Year. The International Foodservice Manufacturers Association presented the award—i.e., the IFMA Gold Plate—to Luther at the recent 53rd annual Gold & Silver Plate Celebration in Chicago.
A quick survey of his accomplishments shows why. In 2004, he took over Dunkin', a high-carb business, at the peak of the low-carb fad. It was also a period when the ever-expanding Starbucks juggernaut had taken dead-aim at Dunkin's coffee business. But under Luther's leadership, Dunkin' Brands has now grown to more than 13,000 stores and $6.4 billion in systemwide sales.
Simultaneously, he pumped new life into Dunkin's ice cream brand, Baskin-Robbins, to the point where NPD Group/Crest ranks Dunkin' Donuts #1 in regular hot coffee, #1 in iced coffee, #1 in donuts and bagels, #2 in muffins and #3 in breakfast sandwiches, while BaskinRobbins is #1 in hard-serveice cream. It's a track record of which any foodservice executive would be justifiably be proud. Internationally, the two brands Luther oversees now have more than 4,900 points of distribution in 49 countries.
However, it's not the first turnaround Luther has engineered in foodservice. Prior to joining Dunkin' Brands, he ran Popeye's Chicken and Biscuits, doubling the size of the company during his five years on the job.
His formula for Dunkin' Brands has been to recast the company to better attract customers in what he dubs the "Quick Quality" segment. The goal is to set a higher standard for the quick dining experience by emphasizing best-in-class products, clever concepts, convenience, value pricing and speedy service.
IFMA also recently recognized two other executives for their contributions to the industry. Named winners of IFMA's Sparkplug Award were Billy Boswell, director of foodservice marketing for Tabasco Brands/McIlhenny Co., and Rick Tucker, vice president of client services for Product Evaluations, Inc. The pair were honored during IFMA's annual Foodservice Sales & Marketing Conference in late May in Chicago.