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Restaurant prices are rising faster than grocery prices for the first time since inflation ran hot

For the first time since inflation began accelerating in mid-2021, restaurant prices outpaced grocery prices on a 12-month basis, according to the Labor Department.

It’s a blow to the restaurant industry, which has already seen lagging traffic numbers as budget-conscious consumers cut back. For months, restaurant CEOs like Cheesecake Factory’s
Matthew Clark and Wendy’s
Todd Penegor have touted their meals as a relative bargain compared with eating at home, based on consumer price index data.

March food prices rose 8.5% over the last 12 months, fueled by the jump in the cost of eating away from home, which was up 8.8% over that period. For the third consecutive report, the price of food away from home rose 0.6% month over month.

The National Restaurant Association’s chief economist, Bruce Grindy, attributed the increase to the surge in food prices at schools as free lunch programs instituted during the Covid pandemic expired.

“As a result, this price index rose sharply in recent months, which is putting upward pressure on the overall food-away-from-home index,” he wrote in a blog post Wednesday, adding that it’s expected to keep distorting the overall food-away-from-home index until the fourth quarter.

The price of food at home is up 8.4% in the last 12 months and actually fell 0.3% from February. The price of eggs fell 10.9% in March from the prior month, while the fruits and vegetable index dropped 1.3%.

For months, grocers have been putting pressure on food and beverage manufacturers to keep prices down as shoppers deal with sticker shock, trading down to private-label brands and putting fewer items in their shopping carts. Some suppliers have listened as their volume shrinks: Conagra Brands

and PepsiCo
have said they won’t raise prices any more this year, while Old Bay seasoning owner McCormick
said it’s trying to hike prices but is facing pushback from retailers.

The overall consumer price index has risen 5% over the last 12 months as inflation continues to cool. That was below expectations for a 5.1% increase. Likewise, many restaurant companies have also reported that inflation is moderating, although food, labor and construction costs remain elevated.

Olive Garden’s parent company, Darden Restaurants
, for example, said in March that prices for chicken, dairy and grains remained high in its fiscal third quarter, although they improved sequentially. Darden is forecasting low single-digit inflation for its ingredients in fiscal 2024. The restaurant company has kept its menu price hikes below the inflation rate to attract diners and win market share.

But most restaurants have instead chosen to hike prices to avoid a squeeze on their profit margins. As a result, consumers have been cutting back on their restaurant visits or spending less money when they do dine out.

Restaurant industry tracker Black Box Intelligence reported that the industry saw traffic growth in only two months — January and February — over the last year. Those two months lapped last year’s omicron Covid outbreaks, which led to a sharp drop in restaurant sales and traffic in early 2022.

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Amid the AI hype, don’t forget about no-code

No-code startup Softr, which allows its customers to build apps from their existing data, announced Tuesday that it has added Google Sheets to its integration list.

Previously, Softr focused on Airtable databases. Its move to support data from Google’s spreadsheet product likely expands its potential customer pool. Even before that expansion, CEO Mariam Hakobyan told TechCrunch+ that her company grew its annual recurring revenue 3x from December 2021 to December 2022.


Softr’s quick revenue expansion is a good reminder that while the tech world seems completely consumed by all things AI, there’s quite a lot of work going on in other areas that are worth keeping an eye on.

That said, there is an interesting connection between AI and no-code worth writing down: Both are potentially great expanders of human capability. AI tooling could operate as a second brain of sorts for the digitally busy, and no-code services may allow nondevelopers to build the tools they need to complete their work. In both cases, the genres of new tech development have a shot at helping regular folks do a lot more, more quickly and often at a low cost.

Something else that modern AI tooling and no-code share is accessibility. Softr, for example, grew its base of signed-up users from 35,000 to 150,000 in 2022. That’s really quite a lot for a service that was, until recently, Airtable-specific. On the AI side, I don’t need to reiterate just how much market demand there is for modern LLM tooling.

Let’s dig into Softr’s progress since we last covered the company and chat about what we can learn about no-code progress as a method of building more accessible software.

Softr, no-code and empowering the regulars
Ask anyone who works at a company that builds software and isn’t part of the engineering or product orgs how long it will take them to get something built for their own needs. Without even making Jira ticket jokes, we all know what the answer will be. And to a degree, the standard situation makes sense: What nondeveloper employees need is often pretty basic software, and expensive engineers need to focus on the company’s core offering not internal tooling.

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Twitter’s legacy blue checkmark era is officially over

Twitter appears to have officially killed off its legacy blue checkmarks, one of the last remaining vestiges of the pre-Elon Musk owner era.

The legacy blue checks, which Twitter doled out to journalists, celebrities and other public officials for free to help curb impersonations and spam, were supposed to end April 1.

Musk took to Twitter on April 11 — days after the legacy checkmarks should have disappeared — to shift the end date to April 20 or 4/20. Yes, that’s the day when folks honor weed because Twitter is now owned by a middle schooler.

With the legacy checkmarks gone, Twitter will have verification marks only for paid users and businesses as well as government entities and officials. Now, if a user sees a blue checkmark and clicks on it, the label reads: “This account is verified because they are subscribed to Twitter Blue and verified their phone number.”

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Autotech Ventures’ new $230M mobility fund adds fintech, circular economy to its investment strategy

Autotech Ventures will use its newly closed $230 million fund to expand beyond its foundation of early-stage ground transportation startups and invest in what the firm believes are the next big opportunities in automotive and mobility.

Fintech, logistics, supply chain and the circular economy are at the top of the list.

The $230 million fund, its third since launching in 2017, will be used to invest in seed through Series C mobility-related startups, according to the company. A mixture of financial and corporate LPs, including Allison Transmission, American Axle, Iochpe-Maxion and Shell participated in the fund.

“We’re still a ground transportation-focused firm and we have a very similar strategy [with this fund],” Alexei Andreev, Autotech Ventures managing director told TechCrunch. “On a high-level, it’s same as Fund 1 and Fund 2. However, one of the fastest areas of growth is SaaS-enabled fintech. Auto commerce is inefficient and there are large pockets of profit to capture.”

The firm is particularly interested in transportation-related fintech ventures that are poised to grow during a recession.

“We made a prediction that sooner or later there will be a recession and we identified areas that benefit when the economy softens, Andreev said, noting that this latest fund invested in Yendo, a Dallas-based startup (formerly known as Otto) that lets customers borrow against their vehicles at the same interest rate as standard credit cards.

Autotech Ventures’ previous fintech investments include U.K.-based buy now, pay later startup Bumper and Carpay, a buy here, pay here loan servicing SaaS platform for car dealers.

Andreev said the firm is also investigating investment opportunities in the circular economy, a nascent industry focused on finding ways to reuse materials and products. Circular economy startups have garnered an increasing amount of attention and investment as automakers transition away from gas-powered vehicles and towards EVs.

Autotech Ventures is also cautiously wading into generative AI, although Andreev was quick to note that the company has not made any investments in that area.

Autotech has more than $500 million under management and has invested in more than 40 companies.

Some of the firm’s investments include computer vision startup DeepScale (which was acquired by Tesla), Lyft, used vehicle marketplace operator Frontier Car Group, Drover, Outdoorsy, Swvl, parking app SpotHero and, which Apple acquired in January 2020. Five of those startups have gone public, including indie Semiconductor and Volta Charging.

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