Muscle Maker Inc. (NASDAQ: GRIL) Pivots Towards Global Agricultural Commodities Market
As someone who has been trading obsessively both before and since being laid off at the start of the COVID crash in March 2020 , I’ve seen my fair share of consumer trends rise and fall. This is especially true when it comes to health food/meal prep and restaurant equities, which have been successively slammed by both the pandemic-induced selloff initially as well as the worsening of the global macroeconomic environment in the months and years that have followed. While I’ve written off a lot of my health food/restaurant plays as unrecoverable losses at this point, one that has seemingly risen from the dead with a bold new direction is Muscle Maker Inc. (NASDAQ: $GRIL). Here’s why this health food/restaurant player is looking particularly bullish in 2023:
Muscle Maker Inc. is the umbrella owner of multiple health food/eating brands that operate franchise-based restaurants across the US and beyond that also provide food-prep and delivery options. Though sporting dozens of locations and an expanding product line, this highly competitive and relatively oversaturated sector dealt GRIL a bad starting hand that has raised more than one question about its long-term visibility.
For the fuller backstory, Muscle Maker went public in Q1 2020, less than a month before COVID wiped out the market and dramatically altered consumer habits and the overall face of the global economy. Initially listing at ±$4, GRIL shed ±70% of its share price by end-Q1 ’20 and has tracked a net downtrend since, leaving it stagnant in the <$0.50 range for the better part of 2022. Financially, GRIL’s TTM financials as of end-Q3 ’22 showed ±$11M revenue and $1.2M profits, which are green but nothing to brag about. Just as its looked like GRIL was approaching the end of the line, company management announced an ambitious new direction in November 2022 that is looking like a game changer for its LT prospects.
On 11/18, Muscle Maker announced that it had formed a new, wholly-owned subsidiary called Sadot LLC that engages in “activities such as sourcing, distributing and production of agriculture products.” Under the day-to-day management of AGGIA, an international consulting firm with significant backgrounds in the food and agricultural supply chain industries, Sadot LLC has given GRIL a foot in the door of the global agricultural commodities market, introducing Muscle Maker to a whole new ballgame of opportunities.
GRIL is expected to release its annual financials in two weeks, but to watchers its already clear that Sadot is proving to be a golden goose for its mother company. On February 6th Sadot announced that it had generated nearly $210M in revenue over the preceding 3 months, dwarfing GRIL’s above-mentioned TTM financials by a factor of nearly 20X. All the while, GRIL share price has tracked a steady ascending support, rising from a historic low of $0.30 on 11/15 to Friday’s $1.44 and representing a cumulative growth of nearly 400% over a quarterly time frame.
One main reason I can cite that supports this bullish price action prediction over an intermediate/longer-term horizon is macro-global. Take a look at the sectoral level from Q1 ’20 through the present. Below I’ve graphed 1) S&P500, 2) S&P AgriCommodity Index (SPGSCI), 3) Vanguard’s Consumer Discretionary Index fund (VCR), and 4) the AdvisorShares Restaurant ETF (EATZ) as a way to test measure the performance of GRIL’s business components, namely restaurants/food-delivery vs. agro-commodities vs. a market baseline.
EATZ (an ETF focused on restaurant chains, operators, and franchises) has posted declined by ~20% since live in May ’21, which mirrors the performance of the restaurant industry as a whole. In contrast, VCR has closely tracked the S&P500 index (~5% variation), indicating a tight correlation between consumer discretionary spending and overall market performance. The outlier in play here is the S&P GSCI Agriculture index (SPGCSI), which has outperformed the others as a result of historically high agricultural commodity prices in 2022 due to the global food supply chain pinch caused by the Ukraine-Russia War and historically poor harvests in other global breadbaskets like India and the Midwest. Note how SPGSCI pulled away from SPX/VCR in early 2022 and has been trading consistently higher thanks to sky-high commodity prices.
The key take-away from this chart is that the agricultural commodities have unequivocally outperformed consumer discretionary, restaurants, and the baseline index funds (S&P 500) over the past three years. The causal basis of this dynamic is macro-global, powered first by the Q1 ’20 COVID crash and thereafter by the impact of Russia’s Q1 ’22 invasion. And the fun’s not over yet–though 2023 agro-commodity prices are expected to be lower than 2022, they are forecasted to remain significantly higher than the 5-year historical average, as indicated in the table below:
While these findings do not permit more accurate price modeling, the big-picture conclusion is that Muscle Maker’s recent pivot towards vertical integration via aggressive penetration of the agricultural commodities market has given the company a second wind. Effectively breaking a years-long share price slide while generating more profit in 10 months than the company’s restaurant segments would produce over the next 5 years, Sadot LLC has infused Muscle Maker with the capital and bullish momentum needed for a hard-reset of priorities and strategy in order to brace for scaling and long-term returns.
Looking forward, 2023 earnings for GRIL are expected on March 16th so stay tuned for the details on how Sadot has impacted Muscle Maker’s bottom line. Even so, GRIL’s penetration of the agricultural commodity market has set a formerly sleepy restaurant penny stock on a dynamic and highly-profitable new course moving into 2023 as its strives for vertical integration and an increasingly global footprint.
Disclaimer: the author does not hold positions in any of the securities mentioned herein, and this analysis represents his personal opinion rather than financial or investment advice.