2006 Portability Study: Portable meals gain ground

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

DEMAND DRIVES MENU QUALITY

Can you cut corners with carry-out foods? Increasingly, customers are saying: "No way!"

Grab-and-go and take-out meals generate anywhere from 18% to 28% of non-commercial operators' sales, according to the FSD Portability Study. Obviously customers are willing to sacrifice a comfortable setting such as a dining room for the convenience these meals afford. But sacrifice quality? Perish the thought.

Students at colleges and universities where Sodexo manages foodservice want freshness, speed of service and portability, according to Rob Morasco, vice president of marketing for Campus Services. They also want, no, expect, quality. "Ham and cheese on white bread is not what they want," he says. "Asiago turkey club on focaccia is more like it."

Morasco calls sandwiches and salads "the kings of portability," while yogurt parfaits and veggie crudite cups are also popular carry-out items. In fact, the demand for portable items is so great that Sodexho developed Smart Market, a cold and hot food core menu to build take-away business.

Accounts with the Smart Market concept in place experience portable meal sales increases of up to 25%, Morasco says. The program rolled out in fall 2005; by the end of the year, it was in place at 400 accounts.

Here's what other operators are offering in portable formats:

  • Cyclone Salads wrapped in paper sleeves at Shelton (Conn.) Public Schools. They're salads stuffed into a cone-shaped tortilla, according to Linda Staniszi, foodservice director. And, "sandwiches are really big. Even though we make sandwiches to order, kids pick up sandwiches in less than a minute."
  • Sandwiches, mini sandwiches, desserts, fruit cups, salads, and pepperoni-and-cheese cups at Telcordia, a Whitson Culinary Group B&I account in Piscataway, N.J. There's also a dinner-to-go program, says Mark Kirn, general manager. Dinners are packaged in 11-inch containers that are microwaveable at home.
  • Sushi bento boxes and Indian specialties at the University of California-Berkeley. "I'm amazed that students will buy bento boxes with shrimp tempura or other fried food, and microwave it later," says Shawn LaPean, director of CalDining. "But they do." They're also buying more natural and organic packaged goods.

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