TEMPLE, Texas — Foodservice innovation was one of the hottest topics discussed at this year’s McLane Co. National Tradeshow, which took place virtually Oct. 20-22. The forum covered how c-store foodservice—and McLane’s portfolio—has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic, and how retailers can bounce back from the gut punch.
“We started to see sharp sales declines across the entire foodservice category,” said Chad Dewberry, foodservice product director for McLane, Temple, Texas. “A lot of that was attributed to low foot traffic in c-stores as well as a lot our customers—in an abundance of caution—discontinuing their foodservice offering.”
Here are seven foodservice insights from McLane’s 2020 National Tradeshow …
Dispensed beverage declines
Dispensed beverage has been one of the hardest-hit foodservice categories during the pandemic, said Dewberry. McLane’s dispensed beverage portfolio dropped 40% in total volume between late March and mid-April, and although numbers climbed by double digits in May and June, McLane still hasn’t reached its seasonal norm, Dewberry said.
“Like everyone, we were geared up for a great spring break that just never happened this year,” he said. “But we have seen steady growth, so as more and more [operators] across the country turn their fountains back on and as consumers return to their day-to-day activities, we expect to see that volume pick back up.”
COVID-19 logistical challenges
McLane has also dealt with a variety of logistical challenges during the pandemic, including shortages of delivery drivers, longer delivery waiting times, and late purchase orders, Dewberry said. In September, the amount of freight containers moving through the port of Los Angeles—the largest port in the United States—was down 30%, which caused a chain reaction of logistical issues across the country, he said.
The pandemic has drastically changed the SKU rationalization process for c-store foodservice, Dewberry said. Specifically, many retailers started focusing on core foodservice items and cut the size of their menus due to manufacturing delays and slow foot traffic.
“If you’ve got eight items on your roller grill and 90% of your sales are on four of those items, you’re probably going to want to take some of those lower SKUs off to protect that waistline and reduce your costs,” he said.
Transition to warmers
Dewberry also said he’s seen retailers move self-serve food—mainly roller grill items—into heated merchandisers to become clerk-served due to consumer safety concerns amid the pandemic.
“As consumers reentered the market, there was concern about food contamination and what is safe,” he said. “We saw many customers prepare their roller grill items in the back of the house and put them in foil wraps or bags and place them in warmers.”
Delivery, curbside and mobile ordering
Throughout the pandemic, Dewberry has seen retailers jump into delivery, curbside pickup and online ordering far earlier than they expected to—and with encouraging results. As of mid-April, McLane’s c-store partners saw a 208% increase in curbside pickup and online ordering, he said.
“The pandemic put a rush on people having to make curbside and delivery possible for c-store customers,” he said. “The convenience channel has a wonderful opportunity to capitalize on these processes.”
The pandemic has not stalled c-store food innovation entirely. Moving forward, Dewberry sees more touchless service and foodservice vending machines emerging in the c-store space. Both innovations can make consumers feel safer when they enter stores—a sentiment that will carry over into the future, he said.
“This could be a look into the future at how consumers seek their grab and go, fresh, and ready-to-eat foodservice items,” he said.
While McLane had to pause major announcements for 2020 because of the pandemic, it looks to introduce numerous innovations within the near future, Dewberry said. Some include a new chicken program through a partnership with Tyson Foodservice, new grab-and-go packaged salads from Ready Pac and an online web store for c-store operators to purchase their equipment.