Culinary Convenience

Full coverage of FARE 2013.

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Attendees of this year’s Foodservice at Retail Exchange(FARE), held June 18-20 at the Renaissance Schaumburg outside of Chicago, have plenty to feel positive about. Consumers continue to expand their away-from-home eating and need high-quality, convenient meal time options to match their busy lifestyles. Suppliers, meanwhile,are providing operators with innovative solutions to help meet those needs.More than 500 operators, suppliers and distributorsgathered at FARE to discuss strategies tocapture the opportunity for food service-at-retail growth.

This year’s FARE was bookended by a sessionon behavioral design in retail by Kevin E.Kelley of Shook Kelley, and flawless execution by Afterburner. The inaugural Culinary Competition challenged chefs and retailexperts to create a dish that was delicious,creative and convenient. Andit wouldn’t be FARE without some memorable socializing. Attendees celebrated a productive dayeach evening with pooland arcade games in the After-Dark Lounge. New this year, sports enthusiasts followed the Stanley Cupfi nals in the Slap Shot Lounge and theNBA finals in the Slam Dunk Lounge.

Other conference highlights includedthe Food Pavilion of nearly 80 suppliersshowcasing the latest foods, beverages, equipmentand supplies geared toward the foodservice-at-retail buyer; a presentation of exclusive foodservice-at-retail data from ManagementScience Associates; and the FARE LightningTalks, which saw out-of-the ordinary topicssuch as surviving big data, decoding the retail food servic experience, and biomimicry.

Read on for educational and photohighlights from this year’s event. FARE2014 will be held July 16-18 at the Gaylord Texan outside of Dallas/Fort Worth. Stay tuned to for details on nextyear’s show.

The Fantastic Four

Despite diverse settings andcustomers, all retail operatorscan recognize the hallmarksof an excellent foodservice program. Itdefi es expectations, transcends the typicaland improves the quality of the entireindustry with each meal served. To honorthe A-list, CSP presented its 2013 Leadersin Retail Foodservice awards, sponsoredby Tyson Foods, to four operators whobroke the mold. The honorees:

  • Dan Henroid, director of nutritionand food services for the University ofCalifornia’s San Francisco (UCSF) MedicalCenter, oversees patient meal servicesat two hospitals, fi ve retail food operations and a catering service, as well as inpatientand outpatient nutrition services. As thedriving force behind the hospital’s $8 millionrenovation of its retail foodserviceoperations, Henroid introduced a sleek,modern setting with technology thatstreamlines replenishment and helps customerseat healthily.
  • Camp Howard, director of campusdining for Vanderbilt University, Nashville,Tenn., encourages students to practice“thoughtful eating” at the school’s twolarge dining centers. This is embodied byVanderbilt’s meal plan, which supplies studentswith a set number of meals per week,as well as sit-down eating events meant tobuild a sense of community.
  • Bob Pascal, as chief marketing offi -cer for Centerplate, Stamford, Conn., isresponsible for “executing extraordinaryexperiences” at 300 sports, entertainmentand convention venues in North Americaand the U.K., including hosting the SuperBowl, World Series and U.S. PresidentialInaugural Balls. It delivers by capturing theessence of a city or region through its food,and giving back to its communities.
  • Michael Sherlock, vice presidentof fresh food and beverage for Wawa Inc.,Wawa, Pa., oversees the chain’s “fast-casualto-go” offer of hoagies, breakfast items,soups, salads and made-to-order hot andcold beverages. The finishing touch isWawa’s top-notch customer service andstrong employee culture.

UCSF Medical Center’s food operations and Wawa have common goals: Be viewed as a restaurant first. The hospital’s Moffit Cafe and Moffi t Cafe Express’ features include a wood-fired, stone pizza oven and a salad bar that brings in $750,000 in sales each year. Its Smart Choice program tallies up the nutritional data of items on each receipt. And users of the Smartphone appMyFitnessPal can track the nutritional content of 200 foods sold in the hospital cafés.

Wawa’s recent move into Florida gave it license to reinvent itself, from the perspective of the store and the foodservice. The Florida sites feature outdoor seating and large glass windows to showcase the chain’s foodservice program. An open kitchen further underscores the first impressions. And unlike other Florida c-stores, Wawa does not sell hot dogs, choosing made-to order hoagies to communicate freshness.

Pascal’s challenge at Centerplate is to provide a sense of place in large venues filled with masses of people. 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. Eighty percent of foodservice sales in its sports venues come from hotdogs, pizza and other standards. Items such as sushi provide variety, but clients and sales are most affected by fan favorites.“Here, we have the greatest opportunity to color their experience,” says Pascal. To accomplish this, Centerplate executes a “lift and stretch” strategy: lift the quality of traditional items while introducing related items to stretch from that core.

Howard of Vanderbilt has to satisfy not only average college students but also international students who have different expectations. While the school has a successful meal program, it also recognizes students like to dine out. 

Romancing the Customer

Three creative thinkers challenged foodservice operators to think differently and look to competitors and to nature for new ideas.

This eclectic general session took a surreal twist: 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 and oversized, personalized sandwiches.

“In the past five to 10 years, we’ve seen incredible changes in how people think about food,” she said, citing the rise in healthy, sustainable, eco-conscious trends. Yet, she lamented, only a small percentage of convenience retailers have truly embraced this opportunity; most operators still are consumed by lowerquality, on-the-go options. To that, Barry offered several points:

Personalize: “It’s not just about customer service; quality is also about[knowing] that someone cares.” She cited 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, in which the foodservice looks like it’s coming from an assembly line. “Food is going through revolution—not an evolution,” she said. Blame it on the millennial and baby boomers, she quipped, pointing out that both care about healthier, tasty and, forth former group, value-based.“If we don’t innovate around convenience and quality,” she said, we won’t last long.

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?”

The Skinny on Biomimicry

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

Eric Stangarone, creative director of 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, saying, “an oil rig as a logo would be a lot less sexy.”

He also asked the audience to think about bananas. The exterior tells its story, whether it’s unripe, ripe or getting moldy. Instead of expiration dates, could thereby a more visual barometer to declare a product’s freshness? “Some people want to view the world in a new way,” he said.

Parsing Big Data

Ninety percent of the world’s digital data arose in just the past two years. 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. They don’t have the time or resources to weed through pages of numbers to pullout 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. He cited the example of poutine, french fries drizzled with brown gravy and cheese curds. Many restaurants and foodservice establishments sell the dish, and so-called experts predicted it would be a new sensation. But the data shows customer palates have pooh-poohed poutine. Thus, follow the data and not the talk.

With that, Massa encouraged retailers to know who they are, and if they’re going to take on a big challenge, jab into that elephant a bit at a time: “Don’t eat that elephant in one bite.”


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