Every year, the National Restaurant Association (NRA) Show highlights the trends, advances and key operating tactics of importance to all foodservice retailers. The 2016 show, held May 21–24 at Chicago’s McCormick Place, highlighted the fact that boundaries between foodservice channels and the products and experiences they offer are blurring more than ever before as both foodservice operators and consumer tastes evolve.
The quick-service segment in particular is changing rapidly as consumers seek higher-quality, better-tasting, better-for-you food — at the same price and level of convenience — and as certain foodservice operators prove they are capable of delivering that, according to panelists of the “Emerging Trends: How Fast Food Is Disrupting the Way America Eats” education session.
“Disruption” is a term more often used in the technology industry, but successful quick-service restaurant (QSR) chains are disrupting the status quo for the better. Dan Kish, Panera Bread’s head chef and senior vice president of food, told the audience that valuing a long-term vision over short-term profit is disruptive. His company took steps toward this when it announced the removal of all artificial ingredients and sweeteners from its products by the end of this year.
Along with upping the quality of their products, foodservice operators should be thinking seriously about how to practically implement technology solutions. This includes preparing in-house systems and giving consumers the option to order takeout through their mobile devices — something that will essentially become mandatory in today’s on-demand society, the panelists advised.
“If you’re not thinking about mobile ordering, you’re behind already,” said Carl Howard, CEO of Italian-American fast-casual restaurant chain Fazoli’s.
BUILDING A BETTER TOMORROW
Many exhibitors on this year’s NRA Show expo floor were showcasing ways they, too, are responding to the evolving foodservice landscape.
The Broaster Co.’s new lineup of dipping sauces for its chicken program made its official debut at the event. Consumers’ changing flavor profiles were a direct driver of the overhauled sauce line after the company performed “deep-dive” research, according to Chad Vendette, director of marketing. Although the company has more than 60 years of experience, “classic” flavors had to be reviewed in order to meet new consumer wants and expectations.
Complex flavor profiles and adventurous consumer tastes likewise inspired four new meats from Hormel, whose Fast ‘N Easy Bold Sausage Patties were designed to help distinguish a foodservice program. Sweet & Smoky BBQ Pork, Citrus Chipotle Chicken, Chorizo Pork and Spicy Asian Chicken can be used in sandwiches, wraps and more.
On the foodservice equipment side, Hatco Corp. introduced the Rapid Cuisine Induction Range, a durable unit constructed of black ceramic glass that is intended to be suitable for both convenience store and restaurant foodservice programs. The silent-running range is small enough to fit in a prep area with limited counter space and includes a USB port that lets multiunit retailers transfer programmable preset modes.
For c-stores and other foodservice operators that are serious about investing in a quality foodservice program, Hamilton Beach displayed its Expeditor family of culinary blenders. These durable units are specifically meant for outlets “with a focus on fresh” as they allow for efficient, easy creation of everything from smoothies to sauces to dips.
THE RISE OF RRTAIL FOODSERVICE
Retail foodservice outlets, which include convenience stores and supermarkets with prepared food programs, are competing against traditional restaurants more than ever these days. In recognition of this, the 2016 NRA Show held the first-ever Foodservice at Retail Conference.
With profits in traditional c-store categories such as cigarettes and gasoline declining and the quality of c-store foodservice rising, the channel is in a state of flux. During a panel entitled “Culture Club: Bringing the Gap Between Foodservice and Retail at Work,” Phil Lempert, Supermarket Guru and Foodservice at Retail program consultant, moderated a discussion between four retail foodservice experts.
Participants included Mike Sherlock, vice president of fresh food and beverage, Wawa Inc.; Ryan Sheetz, director of brand strategy, Sheetz Inc.; Steven Petusevsky, co-chair of CIA Appetites & Innovation Initiative, Culinary Institute of America; and Nicolas Granucci, vice president and general manager of global food retail, Ecolab.
According to the panelists, despite the advancements made in convenience foodservice, the industry’s biggest challenge is still consumer perception. Retailers must convince consumers they can get quality, fresh prepared food at a convenience store.
The presence of gasoline on-site contributes to the stigmatized perception, as some consumers envision c-store food as having a “petroleum residue over it,” said Sheetz. However, he also acknowledged the positive role that gasoline plays in bringing people to the store, dubbing it both a blessing and a curse.
The good news is that millennials and members of Generation X see no difference between c-stores and other foodservice destinations. “I love millennials,” said Sheetz, explaining that these consumers don’t have the same hangups about buying food from a site with a gas station.
The changing opinion of younger consumers provides a real growth opportunity for c-stores, especially those willing to invest the time and money to become a premium source of prepared food.
“The power of really good food allows you to become a destination,” said Sheetz. In an extremely competitive environment, “[it] can be a differentiator.”