CSP Magazine

Opinion: Foodservice Evolution and Revolution

Foodservice has in some ways evolved a great deal in the past 20 years I have been in the convenience industry. However, in other ways, foodservice has moved at a snail’s pace.

I recently found an article I wrote in 1996 for FoodService Director (now a publication of CSP Business Media) about trends in c-store foodservice.

“More c-store operators see opportunity in a mobile, time-starved customer’s need for food … attractively and conveniently available,” I wrote. “Chances are there won’t be one type of foodservice execution developed for c-stores because of the nature and character of c-store operations. Each chain and unit will tackle foodservice from specific viewpoints, based on store size, demographics and competition. Foodservice offerings will continue to be tested and developed to fit specific characteristics of c-store retailing.”

Executed in June, FARE 2014 had the tagline “A Foodservice Evolution.” (Click here for our coverage.) Although we used the term “evolution,” which may be appropriate for the food business, FARE is a revolutionary platform in the conference business for the entire foodservice industry. Just as we live in a global world, we live in a single foodservice world. He who delivers to the consumer wins.

But let’s step back in time a bit. While working for Circle K in 1991, I asked a vendor to bring me information about a specific product line. My title said I was the buyer for foodservice. The vendor came to see me ready to sell me foodservice components. Well, my vision was to include the company’s branded product in my open-air refrigerated case, parlaying the brand equity and superior product, allowing us to offer refrigerated quality, ready-to-eat food. The vendor, after working hard to convince me to use his components and create my own foodservice item, finally told me he could not sell me the product I desired because he was with the foodservice segment of his company, and what I desired was a retail product.

How shortsighted he was. Hunger and thirst satisfaction are the drivers for consumers to buy food and beverage at c-stores and other outlets. Consumers don’t care about our channels or how we get great products. They simply care that we offer them quality products, when and where they desire to satisfy their hunger or thirst. FARE was created to foster our ability to provide consumers what they desire.

FARE is revolutionary. In one highly engaging location, we brought together non-commercial foodservice operators from health care, senior living, college and university, and business and industry; we also attracted retail channel attendees from convenience, fast casual, QSR and grocery, along with non-traditional segment buyers from airport restaurants and entertainment venues. (See photo at left.) We experienced the magic of interaction and different vantage points, people looking at common issues and learning what works or does not work in a competitive channel. Manufacturers received endless requests from channels they did not consider key in their growth strategy but now see as a new opportunity.

Everyone is looking for growth. It is important to know what your competitors are doing, and it is also important to source from all options. This is how we as an industry forge new territory: by thinking outside our retail boxes.

Nearly 1,000 attendees strong, FARE is a horizontally positioned event for all venues that provide food to go. As Abbie Westra and I shared in our opening session at the event, more than 70% of all restaurant traffic is consumed off-premise, according to the National Restaurant Association. That reflects a major flip in the past 50 years, and it’s indicative of the consumer’s need for quick, convenient, on-the-go options. This is a huge opportunity for c-store operators, who must deliver on the consumer’s needs, desires and wants. Savvy manufacturers will determine ways to assist convenience operators with products and position c-stores as a viable option for winning in the battle for share of stomach.

Don’t live in a silo. Plan to attend FARE 2015, which will be held June 22-24 in Nashville, Tenn. We’ll see you there!

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