2006 Portability Study: Portable meals gain ground

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

Labor gains: Labor savings, in fact, is another motivating factor in the switch to portable foods. About 10% of operators say they can realize higher profits on pre-packaged items. And, while 41% said in 2005 that portable meal service saves labor in a way that boosts profitability, fully two-thirds are saying that this year.

Why else do operators implement or switch to portable meal service? For one-third of them, it's because their overall customer base is increasing, and take-away service, especially grab-and-go, speeds customer throughput. "We have 1,650 kids in the high school," says Linda Staniszi, foodservice director, Shelton (Conn.) Public Schools, and three meal periods in which to feed them. "They can't leave the cafe, but they get 22 minutes to eat, so they want foods they can grab quickly."

And for 16% of respondents, administrators are taking away seating areas and designating them for other corporate or organizational purposes.

For some operators, it's a chore to get customers to leave their desks or workstations. So they turn the tables, so to speak, and go to the customer.

"We do a lot of desk drops," says Anne Marie Solomon, associate vice president of merchandising and promotional development for Aramark. In the last six to eight months, she has coordinated four promos on portability and convenience, on items such as bite-size scones, mini cookies and pizza roll-ups.

More than 20% of operators surveyed conduct such promos, via coupons, discounts, e-mail and other methods, in order to boost portable meal sales, but double that amount (45%) prefer to set up dedicated destination stations, the FSD study shows.

Almost 50% installed new and improved merchandising displays, but the No.1 method is purchasing new kinds of packaging that enhance portability, maintain food safety and hold up well in transport.

Balancing act: "I don't allow trays to leave the dining area," says Spicer of Presbyterian-Plano. "Packaging has to be covered and sturdy enough that customers can balance a dessert on top of an entree package and carry a beverage in their other hand." To meet different needs, she uses a variety of packaging types, including clear plastic "when it makes sense. Our sushi is sold in clear-top packaging; we also use it for some desserts and salads.

"For the most part," she adds, "we go with the old reliable foam clamshell."

DeMoss at the University of Kentucky agrees about the importance packaging plays in presentation. "It needs to be smart-looking and high quality," he says. "We use black bases with clear lids because people have to see what's in the box. We're getting more requests for half-sandwiches and salads packaged in the same container." He's also looking at new packaging products that sport dividers.

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