C-store and retail operators looking to take in more dollars from foodservice—and swipe more traffic away from restaurants—gathered intelligence during the sixth annual Foodservice at Retail Exchange held earlier this week. Restaurant Business and Monkeydish editors participated in the sessions and roundtables. Here are some of the ideas, trends and smart strategies we heard that could help all foodservice operators, regardless of their channel.
- Communicate quality cues. In consumers’ minds, quality means someone cares, said Michelle Barry, president and CEO of Centric. Although quality translates to fresh, premium ingredients, it also means personalization through service, handwritten signage or menus, cozy décor, the aromas of bread baking or garlic sautéing…in short, experiential eating. Several speakers reiterated the importance of food as an experience, not just as means to fuel up.
- Reinvent the drive-thru experience. Create multiple touch points for customers waiting in line to order at the drive-thru. There’s a long lane leading up to the window; fill it with columns that tout the menu; structural banners generated by solar energy that list promotions, and other marketing and branding messages, recommended Patrick Benasillo, VP of Visual Graphic Systems, Inc.
- Change menus by day of the week—not daypart. Most foodservice operations organize their menus into breakfast, lunch and dinner selections, but about 50% of meals are eaten outside of standard meal occasions. At the Puzzle-Solver Roundtables during FARE, one group came up with the idea of planning menus according to the day of the week. At the beginning of the week, customers lean toward sensible eating and are looking for healthier options, but by Thursday or Friday, they’re ready to celebrate and indulge.
- Partner with a college or health care facility. Several retail and non-commercial foodservice operators tap local restaurants and chefs to innovate and differentiate their programs. Camp Howard, director of campus dining at Vanderbilt University, enlists local Nashville restaurants to participate in Vanderbilt’s meal plan. He described it as a win-win for students and the restaurants. At the University of California San Francisco Medical Center, Dan Henroid brings in “guest chefs” from local eateries to man action stations or introduce a new cuisine.
- Apps add value. Henroid has also partnered with MyFitness Pal, a smartphone app that can provide nutrition data on a food product or dish with a quick scan. Customers can walk through his café and get instant calorie and nutrient information before they commit to an item.
- Outside seating boosts image…and sales. When c-store chain Wawa expanded to Florida in 2011, it wanted to differentiate the brand with a fresh look as well as fresh food, explained Michael Sherlock, Wawa’s VP of fresh food and beverage. One of the elements was the addition of external seating. “It gives people the immediate impression that we’re a restaurant,” he said. The move has proven so popular, according to Sherlock, that Wawa now wants to integrate outdoor seating into its mid-Atlantic locations.
- Pay attention to beverages. C-stores rate far higher than quick-service restaurants on beverage quality and variety, reported Tim Powell, director of research and consulting for Technomic. Tune into what consumers are looking for—innovation and flavor—in both hot and cold beverage selections. Healthy drinks are in demand too, but they have to taste good or they won’t sell. When beverages do sell, gross margins are greater than 70 percent.
- Regional items rule. Regional ingredients and dishes are important to foodservice sales. So found Don Burke, senior VP of management science associates in research he conducted with several operations. Whether you’re a convenience store, QSR or casual concept, items that reflect American regional flavors differentiate the menu and attract customers.
- A flattening out of flavor. As the world gets flatter, America is pushing more of our trends out to other cultures, noted Eric Stangarone, creative director of The Culinary Edge. He cited several examples of what he calls “antiglobal trends”:
- A premium burger category is emerging in China—a country where burgers are far from a tradition.
- The Cajun Kings, a new Orleans-style seafood restaurant, is rocking Singapore.
- The gluten-free craze has moved into Europe. VIPS grocery chain in Spain boasts a “Nueva Carta sin Gluten”—a long aisle of gluten-free products.
- Jamie Oliver opened a southern BBQ restaurant in London that is gaining fans.
- Keywords of the future. Ever heard of biomimicry? It’s the study of emulating nature to fix problems. Among the examples given by Stangarone are edible packaging, and packaging juice in a container that looks, feels and tastes like fruit. “It is posed to come to foodservice within 10 years,” he predicts.
How about dreamketing? It’s the marketing of dreams—another new word shared at FARE.
FARE is presented by CSP Business Media, the parent company of Restaurant Business magazine, Monkeydish.com and Monkeydish Outbound.