FARE 2013: Romance Your Customers

Foodservice specialists encouraged to look outside--literally--for inspiration

Mitch Morrison, Vice President of Retailer Relations

Michelle Barry

CHICAGO -- From lotus to fresh lettuce, Big Data to small steps, three creative thinkers challenged commercial and noncommercial foodservice operators to think differently and look to competitors and to nature for new ideas.

An eclectic general session at CSP's Foodservice at Retail Exchange (FARE 2013) took an even more surreal twist as the presenters were each capped to 15 minutes in what was titled FARE Lightning Talks: Innovation, Take Three--Decoding the Retail-Foodservice Customer Experience.

Michelle Barry, president and CEO of Seattle-based Centric Inc., whipped through a witty 50-slide set that moved the audience from the farm to Orwellian uniformity to oversized, personalized sandwiches.

"In the past five to 10 years, we've seen incredible changes of how people think about food," she said, citing the rise in healthy, sustainable, eco-conscious trends. Yet, she lamented, only a small percent of convenience retailers have truly embraced this opportunity; most operators still consumed by lower-quality, on-the-go options.

To that, Barry offered several instructive points:

  • Personalize Foodservice: "It's not just about customer service, quality is also about [knowing] that someone cares." She noted hand-scribbled menu boards and other personal touches, as well as distinctive sandwiches and packaging that is creative and, ideally, biodegradable.
  • Differentiation: Stay away from mass uniformity, where your foodservice looks like it's coming from an assembly line. "Food is going through a revolution--not an evolution," she said. Blame it on the Millenials and Baby Boomers, she quipped, noting both care about healthier, tasty and, for the former group, value-based.

"If we don't innovate around convenience and quality," she said, "we will … die."

Barry offered several incremental steps toward improvement, including adding fresh condiments, reduced packaging, enhancing store ambiance, delivering personalized service and looking at adjacencies. "Why is there motor oil next to the bread?"


Yes, that is a big word and in short it means look to Mother Nature for inspiration.

Eric Stangarone, creative director at San Francisco-based The Culinary Edge, knew he was possibly taking the audience into a heady topic, acknowledging that only 2% of them might embrace this approach.

The concept is premised on the reality that in nature there is no such thing as waste--anything left over from one animal or plant is food for another species. He pointed to the lotus flower and then to BP's brand moniker, commenting, "an oil rig as a logo would be a lot less sexy."

Another idea--think about bananas. The exterior tells its story: unripe, ripe, getting moldy. Instead of expiration dates, could there be a more visual barometer to declare a product's freshness, Stangarone wondered. "Some people want to view the world in a new way."

Big Data

Ninety percent of the world's digital data originates from just the past two years. Remarkable.

Justin Massa, founder and CEO of Chicago-based Food Genius, sees data as a barrage of factoids capturing things long held to be unempirical. "But there's a problem with all this data," he acknowledged. "You don't care about most of it."

Most operators and their management team want the granular goodies pertinent to their particular business. Businesses don't have the time or resources to weed through constellations of numbers to pull the one point they seek.

Massa suggested retailers embrace a Moneyball mindset, based on the popular book and movie--marry perspective with data.

In other words, avoid the hype and the talking heads. A good example, he cited, was Poutine, the french fries drizzled with brown gravy and cheese curds.

So many restaurants and foodservice establishments sell them and so-called experts predicted a new sensation. But the data shows customer palates have pooh-poohed on poutine. Thus, follow the data and not the talk.

With that, Massa encouraged retailers to know who you are, and if you're going to take on a big challenge, to jab into that elephant one bite at a time. "Don't eat that elephant in one bite."

Mitch Morrison Winsight CSP By Mitch Morrison, Vice President of Retailer Relations
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