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.

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