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VIEWPOINTS : What Consumers Can Expect From New Year

January 03, 1988|MICHELE LINGRE

What changes will consumers find in the marketplace this year? And what businesses will thrive while others wither? To try to find out, free-lance writer Michele Lingre interviewed experts in various industries. Excerpts of the interviews follow:

RESTAURANTS

Charles Bernstein, chief editor of Nation's Restaurant News, a weekly publication based in New York:

"The big trend is takeout or home delivery, ranging from fast food to gourmet. People want to relax at home with their VCRs. Supermarkets are getting more and more into takeout foods, salad bars and microwave oven stuff that people just grab. More convenience stores--7-Eleven, Circle K--are going into takeout foods and competing with the fast feeders.

"People will always be conscious of health and preventing heart attacks. But that is a trend everyone talks about, and then they eat more or less what they want. Still, anything that doesn't have much cholesterol in it has an image of health, and so seafood is on the rise tremendously, chicken is gaining, and lean beef is very strong.

"Ethnic is still in. In New York, there seems to be a little more interest in Russian cuisine. I think it is related to glasnost, but it is not really a mainstream trend. French is still in, but the so-called nouvelle cuisine went down, and now you're back to a more traditional, 'country' French cuisine. Mexican has peaked.

"You'll see a lot more pressure on fine dining. People don't necessarily want to dress up when they go out. They want to relax.

"Also, at what price do you get consumer resistance? In some cases, that point has already been hit. Prices have risen over a number of years. For example, at the Quilted Giraffe in Manhattan, dinner including drinks is likely to go up to $130 or $150 a person. So I'd expect to see almost no price increases. The better restaurants are going to be hurt by the stock market crash because some of the consumers are going to be much more careful.

"Although it's not new, you'll get more and more companies grabbing off other companies. You'll see more openings and more failures of restaurants because of the saturation of the market. Pillsbury in Minneapolis, in a kind of countertrend, is trying to get rid of its restaurants because of the fierce competition. They have Burger King, Steak and Ale restaurants and Bennigan's. These things aren't as profitable as they once were."

ENTERTAINMENT

Harold Vogel, an analyst with Merrill Lynch Capital Markets and the author of "Entertainment Industry Economics":

"There are no hot areas in entertainment. The theatrical box office did very well in 1987. I think it hit a new high of $4.2 billion (in box office receipts) for 1987, and, for 1988, it will be up 5% or 7%. But there is nothing in the industry that will be dramatically different. It's a relatively boring year in that sense.

"With the exception of Paramount, Disney and Warner, nobody is making money in the business right now. It's not an easy business to be in and a lot of people found that out during 1987. So, in 1988, there is no major cause for optimism.

"The smaller, independent movie companies are in trouble and they are going to be forced out of the business. In order to survive on a medium- and long-term basis, they're probably going to have to find merger partners.

"The position of the larger film studios will be enhanced as the production money slows down and the smaller independents have difficulty raising capital. The production glut of the last couple of years will probably be reversing. There will be fewer films and higher profits for companies that remain in the business.

"Every year has its hit films. This year it was 'Beverly Hills Cop II,' 'The Untouchables,' 'Fatal Attraction' and some other things, like 'Three Men and a Baby.' The trend is shifting away from the out-and-out teen-ager movies, the silly kind of a movie that really didn't have a very large market or a big run. There are more adult pictures like 'Broadcast News.'

"Home video is slowing. The market is pretty nicely saturated with tapes, and there aren't that many new titles coming out, just what's being made in Hollywood. The libraries have pretty much been exploited and half the population has a video recorder. It's not a novelty anymore. I feel the price of cassettes will go down, video recorders will probably stay the same or go up because of the weak dollar."

PERSONAL FINANCE

Lawrence A. Krause, a San Francisco financial planner and the author of "Sleep-Tight Money":

"Certainly the market crash has reinforced everyone's belief that you better play your cards close to your chest. In 1988, it's clear we'll be moving even further in that direction.

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