GRAPEVINE, Texas -- While all four winners of the FARE Leaders in Foodservice awards are different in their own right, one common theme resonates with each: “the idea of reinvention,” said Abbie Westra, director of the retail content group for Winsight Media.
Sheetz was recognized for looking beyond the state of the industry toward a food-forward future; Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen for its brand reinvention; Taco Bell for its ability to reinvent its menu; and Yale Hospitality for its role in influencing major change in campus dining.
Westra and Kristin Bird, vice president of foodservice channel development for Tyson, presented each award winner with a plaque at the 2016 FARE conference, held June 20-22 in Grapevine, Texas. Upon accepting the awards, representatives from each company sat down to share both their strengths and their struggles.
Pictured above (from left): Abbie Westra, Ian Baines, Rafi Taherian, Frank Tucker and Courtney Williams
For Altoona, Pa.-based Sheetz, the convenience-store company’s strength lies in its made-to-order-food program. What started out as fresh-prepared subs has now grown to salads, hot dogs, breakfast sandwiches, pizza and more.
The chain even rolled out a new food-forward concept in Morgantown, W.Va., that is a stand-alone store with an expanded grocery, beer and wine set. The store survives mostly on pedestrian traffic and has no fuel.
But one of the biggest hurdles for the company is still getting people to try their food, especially as the company expands to areas where Sheetz hasn’t always had a presence.
“But once you try our food, you’re pretty much hooked,” said Courtney Williams, prepared foods manager for Sheetz. And as more convenience stores roll out foodservice programs, “the more people [will] think about c-stores as a real food option,” she said.
Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen
Irving, Texas-based Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen was “founded on the principles of providing good food from scratch from great recipes with ample portions and reasonable prices,” said its president and CEO, Ian Baines.
The 37-year-old company, originally known as Cheddar’s, changed its name to Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen last year, emphasizing its made-from-scratch offerings.
“It’s not really a rebranding; it’s just highlighting what we’ve always been and letting consumers know,” Baines said.
While made from scratch is what makes the company successful, it also can be a challenge.
“It’s difficult to do,” Baines said. “Each restaurant that we open, we’re hiring 170 people. Scratch cooking takes a lot of people to do it.”
With that, the company is looking for ways it can use technology to create efficiencies within its operation.
Irvine, Calif.-based Taco Bell has been reinventing itself through its food for more than 50 years. It has added breakfast and unique menu items such as the Doritos Locos Tacos.
“Our ability to stay relevant has really helped us continue to grow and evolve,” said Frank Tucker, chief people officer for Taco Bell.
But every new product must stay true to the company’s core: spicy, cheesy and crunchy.
“As long as we stay true to being Mexican-inspired, we usually end up with products that really ring the bell with our heavy user, medium user or even our light user,” said CEO Brian Niccol during a video presentation.
Taco Bell also has recently started leveraging technology to resolve customer complaints—previously an area of weakness, Tucker said.
“[We’re] really trying to wire in all of the feedback we now get through Facebook and other areas (Twitter, Snapchat, Instragram) … and then acting on it so that we can resolve customer issues,” he said.
Rafi Taherian, associate vice president for Yale Hospitality, has helped transform campus dining to include global foods and bold concepts—all with an emphasis on health and wellness.
“We don’t feel that we are in the foodservice industry; we think we are in the industry of creating memorable experiences for our students,” Taherian said.
The menus, whether it’s student dining, retail, convenience stores, cafés or catering, are also diverse, for which Taherian credits millennials.
“They came into our systems not being happy, wanting different things, wanting to have choices,” he said. “That was one thing we had to adapt to.”
This generation also forced Yale Hospitality to embrace technology. “We were one of the early starters in developing our own app for both Android and Apple platforms,” Taherian said. Through the app, students can access real-time menus and nutritional information, place orders, check their account balance and more.