2005 Portability Study: Meals on the move

FoodService Director's first annual portability study.

Marketing Matters

So you offer foods to-go—but do your customers know you do?

Foodservice operators often say that demand for portable meal options is not difficult to spot. It’s often the case where customers make their needs known clearly—stating them verbally as well as with their dollars.

In fact, 58% of operators expecting portable sales to increase say that’s in response to stated customer demands, according to FSD’s Portability Business-Builder Study.

But that doesn’t mean operators just sit back and expect the pre-packed salads, heat-and-eat burritos or other portable items to fly out the door on their own. The need to market portable meals may not be necessary with respect to customers already familiar with it, but what about new hires? What about diehard “brown-baggers?” Or the fact that you offer portable items for catering?

Alan Lamoureux, corporate foodservice manager for J.M. Family Enterprises, a vehicle distribution and processing firm in Deerfield Beach, FL, says portable meal options available at his cafes are marketed in several ways: at new-hire orientations, in posters and table-tent cards, and via intranet postings.

On the run: At headquarters, there are two cafés, each averaging 335 meals a day; at three separate facilities in Jacksonville, daily lunch volume is 100. Of that, 7% of sales are portable items. “We offer a variety of portable menu items in grab-and-go and take-out styles,” Lamoureux, says, “allowing associates to get a quick, wholesome meal on the run.

“We also have an order form on our cafeteria’s home page [allowing] customers to order meals to go, which are based on our daily lunch menu.”

In addition, the cafés offer packaged and refrigerated dinners for take-home (or back-to-office) in display merchandisers. “Sales are growing as we increase availability, variety and healthier choices” of portable items, he continues. “We expect this piece of business to continue to grow as we listen to feedback on what [customers] are looking for regarding convenience, quality and value. We continue to improve the execution of our preparation and packaging processes to make the por­tability concept easy and effective.”

Electronic marketing—namely, Web site postings and e-mail advertising—is tailor-made for the typical portable meal customer, several operators suggest. “E-mail is probably our biggest advertising [method] right now,” says Regina Toomey-Bueno, director of food, nutrition and transport at The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, NJ. Messages to employees communicate menus, specials and service changes.

All menus are posted on the hospital intranet and sent out in paper form weekly. “Plus, there’s a weekly hospital newsletter and we put in ‘teasers,’” she adds.

All on its own: Other operators say portable meal sales grow through less-specific marketing efforts. Dave Bayne, director of nutrition services at Grand Strand Regional Medical Center in Myrtle Beach, S.C., is one such operator.
Portable sales grew last year for the fourth year in a row, he says, most likely due to “general marketing” efforts. “We’re looking at our entire program again, but we’re not looking to re-invent the wheel,” he notes.

More From FoodService Director

Menu Development
ramen bowl spoon chopsticks

Asian noodle soups are a popular lunch option at YouTube’s San Bruno, Calif., campus, says Trent Page, the GM at Bon Appetit Management who runs the company’s three corporate dining venues. But Page noticed an increasing preference for customizable dishes and vegan preparations among the 1,000 customers he feeds daily. Inspired by a recent visit to Japan, he introduced tsukemen to the menu—a dish that features most of the traditional ramen ingredients (noodles, eggs and vegetable garnishes) served separately so diners can mix and match. “Separating the components makes it more customizable...

Ideas and Innovation
chicken dinner

For the last three years, we’ve hosted an event called Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner. We sponsor the local chapter of Future Farmers of America to raise the chickens, and we have to arrange all the transporting from farms to the distributor, which keeps the birds in a freezer until we’re ready. We build hype by having students vote on the proprietary spice blend they would like on the chicken. It helps the nutrition team get involved in the educational process and showcase local food purchasing.

Ideas and Innovation
employees generation multicultural

We are no longer short staffed, ever. On a given day, missing two team members from a team of 50 would leave us 96% staffed. The actual choice of wording places a positive emphasis on those that did come to serve our guests and patients. We no longer use the phrase “short staffed”; this is a game-changer when we are challenging ourselves as culture facilitators or leaders.

Ideas and Innovation
food symbols allergens

To make safe food as accessible as possible for our guests with allergies, we are creating an allergen-friendly kitchen this summer. Students and community members will be able to use our mobile app to place orders for allergen-friendly food and pick them up at the central kitchen. The kitchen will also produce grab-and-go options that will be distributed across campus.

FSD Resources