2006 Portability Study: Portable meals gain ground

Sixty-eight percent of all operators expect their portable sales to increase this year.

Back to work: Presbyterian Hospital of Plano (Texas) is no exception. "More than 60% of our business leaves the cafeteria," says Mary Spicer, director of nutrition services, "mostly because of employees taking their food back to their offices." In a new tower on hospital grounds, for example, nurses prefer to take meals from the cafeteria to their break room.

Spicer doesn't stock a lot of grab-and-go items "because we have such a good foodservice program with made-to-order items," she adds. Yet, "basically anything we prepare can be packaged to go."

Portable meal volume at Plano, at 60%-plus, is far ahead of both the hospital and non-commercial average. The FSD study shows that portable meals generate 27% of sales in hospitals and 24% across the non-commercial spectrum. Customer counts, study data show, are high: 2,327 portable meal transactions (and $2,600 in total sales) per store, per week.

In some locations, portable meal sales rise so high that operators effect a wholesale change in style of service. According to the FSD study, 68% of all operators expect their portable sales to increase this year; in 2005, 55% felt that way.

For most of them this year (63%), it's because customers are demanding it. "Only 6.5% of our resident students eat a full breakfast," says Jeff DeMoss, executive director of dining services at the University of Kentucky, in Lexington. "Another 10% to 12% grab a muffin and coffee on the way to class and call it breakfast." This fall, he plans to convert two residence dining halls to grab-and-go only for breakfast.

He's also setting up a commissary to support demand for more than 1,500 grab-and-go sandwiches purchased daily. "We realized we need centrally located production to generate more product without using more labor," he adds.

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
vote buttons pins

On every other Thursday of our four-week cycle menu, we allow K-8 students to pick the entree choices. The media center specialist for each of the participating schools sets up the list of entree items on a computer for voting, and the winning entrees are given to cafeteria managers two weeks before the upcoming month to put into production. Students really like this, as it promotes ownership of the menu.

Ideas and Innovation
chalkboard

We highlight our North Carolina products on a large chalkboard in our dining halls, and also list any produce we bring in from our own agroecology farm. It helps tell our story—positive and local.

Ideas and Innovation
raised garden beds

We have raised garden beds that residents can reserve and use to grow their own plants. Whenever a resident brings me fresh produce from their own garden, I try and incorporate it into a dish. If I do end up using it, I will display the resident’s name and what the produce was next to the dish on the menu.

Ideas and Innovation
chartwells teaching kids

Curriculum for the mobile teaching kitchen centers around a single kid-friendly recipe, using ingredients that can provide talking points for nutrition, sustainability and food origins. “The recipe is the lesson,” Saidel says. “Every ingredient is an opportunity to talk.”

Earlier this year, Saidel, Perkins and Harvey did a student demo featuring roasted chicken and white bean tacos with greens and citrus salsa. “We can say, ‘Why are we using chicken instead of beef? Why are there some beans in here?’ You can talk about plant proteins and the sustainability and health message around...

FSD Resources