Experts in Experiences

Winners of FARE 2013 Leaders in Retail Foodservice awards demonstrate how it's done

Samantha Oller, Senior Editor/Fuels, CSP

Abbie Westra (left), Dan Henroid, Camp Howard, Bob Pascal, Michael Sherlock

SCHAUMBURG, Ill. -- Despite the diversity of settings, customers and needs, retail operators can all recognize the hallmarks of an excellent foodservice program. It defies expectations, transcends the typical and improves the quality of the entire industry with each meal served. To honor the A-list, CSP presented its 2013 Leaders in Retail Foodservice awards to four operators at Wednesday's general session of the Foodservice at Retail Exchange (FARE) conference. Each has broken the mold of what hospital, college, ballpark and convenience store food can be.

The honorees:

  • Dan Henroid, director of nutrition and food services for the University of California's San Francisco Medical Center, is the master of creation and renovation. He oversees patient meal services at two hospitals, five retail food operations and a catering service, as well as inpatient and outpatient nutrition services. As the driving force behind the hospital's $8 million renovation of its retail foodservice operations, Henroid introduced a sleek, modern setting for UCSF Medical Center's food, with technology behind the scenes to streamline replenishment and help customers eat healthy.
  • Camp Howard, director of campus dining for Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn., encourages students to practice "thoughtful eating" at the school's two large dining centers. This is embodied by Vanderbilt's meal plan, which supplies students with a set number of meals per week--one entree and three sides per meal--with no seconds, as well as large-scale sit-down eating events meant to build a sense of community.
  • Bob Pascal, as chief marketing officer at Centerplate, is responsible for "executing extraordinary experiences" at 300 sports, entertainment and convention venues in North America and the United Kingdom, including hosting events such as the Super Bowl, World Series and U.S. Presidential Inaugural Balls. Centerplate delivers by capturing the essence of a city or region through its food, and giving back to its communities.
  • Michael Sherlock, vice president of fresh food and beverage for Wawa Inc., directs the Wawa experience through its "fast-casual-to-go" offer of hoagies, breakfast items, soups, salads and made-to-order hot and cold beverages.

While they serve different customers under different circumstances, Henroid and Sherlock have common goals for their foodservice offer: Both want their establishments to be viewed as a restaurant first. For the UCSF Medical Center director, his Moffit Cafe and Moffit Cafe Express may not be top priority when lives are at stake. "I'm competing for capital dollars with an MRI machine," he told attendees.

But the foodservice operations can have a big impact on the well-being of his customers. Consider not only the features--a wood stone pizza oven and a salad bar that brings in three-quarters of a million in sales each year--but also UCSF Medical Center's dedication to health. The operator's Smart Choice program tallies up the nutritional data of items on each receipt. It also partnered with the smartphone app MyFitnessPal, which helps users track the nutritional content of their food intake, to include 200 foods sold in the hospital cafés in the app.

Wawa's recent move into the Florida market gave it license to reinvent itself, both from a store and a foodservice perspective. The Florida site opens with outdoor seating and large glass windows, all the better to showcase its foodservice program, which is placed up front near the entry. An open kitchen further underscores the first impressions. And unlike other c-stores in Florida, Wawa does not sell hot dogs, choosing made-to-order sandwiches as the vehicle to communicate freshness.

"The most important thing we took to Florida is our culture and people," said Sherlock. "The customer engagement and connection is our biggest point of differentiation."

Pascal's challenge at Centerplate is to provide a sense of place in large venues filled with masses of people. "One size fits all concept is over," he said. "Who is that audience? We've done a ton of guest research on how to define success from the hospitality perspective." His team relies on extensive consumer research and collaborates with local, up-and-coming chefs to personalize food to place.

Of course, Centerplate also has to balance trend with tradition in its foodservice offer. Consider that 80% of foodservice sales in the sports venues it serves come from traditional favorites--hot dogs, pizza, pretzels and the like. The vendor introduces variety with items such as sushi, but that's not where it makes the biggest impact. "Our clients and sales are most impacted by the fan favorites. Here, we have the greatest opportunity to color their experience." To accomplish this, Centerplate executes a "lift and stretch" strategy: lift the level of quality for traditional items with introducing related items to stretch from that core.

Howard at Vanderbilt has to satisfy the needs not only of the average college student but also a large contingent of international students who have different expectations. While the school has a successful meal program--36% of off-campus students voluntarily purchase a meal plan—it also recognizes that both on- and off-campus students like to eat out at restaurants. To make the best of this competitive situation, the university's meal service allows students to use a portion of their meal plan toward food purchased at area restaurants.

The Vanderbilt meal services team also must confront customer tastes that shift by the daypart. "Their expectations are higher during the day," said Howard, noting that fresh and healthy food sells best in the morning and afternoon day-parts. "Once the sun is down, all bets are off."

The 2013 Leaders in Retail Foodservice awards at the Foodservice at Retail Exchange (FARE) are sponsored by Tyson.