The Middleby Corporation (MIDD), Brinker International, Inc. (EAT): When Restaurant Competition Heats Up, This Company Benefits

The sandwich chain Potbelly will soon go public. This rapidly growing fast-casual chain has also contributed to another company’s growth. The oven-maker The Middleby Corporation (NASDAQ:MIDD) makes ovens for Potbelly, as well as many other restaurant chains. The Potbelly IPO also helps illustrate the threat to casual-dining restaurants like Chili’s, the main Brinker International, Inc. (NYSE:EAT) property, and this threat could also help Middleby increase sales. Quick-service restaurants and pizza shops also benefit from Middleby’s energy-efficient ovens.

The history
The competition among casual-dining restaurants, fast-casual chains, and quick-service chains has served as a long-term growth driver for The Middleby Corporation (NASDAQ:MIDD). In 2004, Delroy Alexander reported that Middleby benefited from growth at Potbelly and other fast-casual chains, and also made sales to more established restaurant chains, primarily because of the efficiency advantages its products offered. Lots of companies can make ovens, so The Middleby Corporation (NASDAQ:MIDD) needs a unique selling proposition, and energy efficiency works nicely.

The Middleby Corporation (NASDAQ:MIDD)Middleby’s CEO Selim Bassoul specifically selected this focus. The company once manufactured a wide variety of household appliances. Bassoul realized that for Middleby to succeed, the company needed to focus on a market that it could dominate.

According to a Smart Business article, Bassoul decided to focus the company on energy efficiency and casual dining back in 2000. With a market cap of $4.03 billion now, this decision has definitely paid off for The Middleby Corporation (NASDAQ:MIDD). This oven maker has a moat because it helps its customers limit costs in a low-margin business.

Casual dining
Brinker International, Inc. (NYSE:EAT) is currently implementing a strategy that could help its restaurants compete with the rapidly growing fast-casual chains. The company has updated its menu and streamlined its restaurants. According to Brinker International, Inc. (NYSE:EAT) itself, the The Middleby Corporation (NASDAQ:MIDD) ovens help Chili’s prepare additional entrees such as pizza and flatbreads.

In fact, Brinker International, Inc. (NYSE:EAT) was so impressed with Middleby’s ovens, it awarded the oven maker a “Supplier Partner of the Year” award. Barilla America, Danish Crown USA, and The Wasserstrom Company also received this award in 2013.

This turnaround effort shows promise, but Brinker International, Inc. (NYSE:EAT)’s most recent results don’t look all that impressive. Chili’s restaurants actually reported 0.2% lower sales in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2013 than in the fourth quarter of 2012 because fewer customers showed up. Nevertheless, Brinker still reported that Chili’s restaurants achieved higher margins during the quarter, partially because of new kitchen equipment. The Middleby Corporation (NASDAQ:MIDD) could help Brinker International, Inc. (NYSE:EAT) improve its bottom line even if sales don’t improve much.