2007 Portability Study: Portability on the menu

Portability continues to be a big part of most foodservice operators’ business, according to the 2007 FoodService Director Study on Portability.

However, portability can enhance other types of promotions, particularly where wellness is concerned. For example, at Benjamin Hays High School in Atlanta, a program called “Walk It Out Wednesday” encourages students to use half of their lunch period for physical activity. Students who sign up for the program are given preferential treatment in the cafeteria line and are encouraged to take healthful items such as pre-packaged salads that can be eaten quickly.

At Magee Women’s Hospital in Pittsburgh, portability helped Sodexho meet a hospital goal that at least 16% of the hospital cafeteria’s items be wellness oriented. So Foodservice Director Greg Brown created Mezza Luna, a station that offers half-portions of foods that can be combined to make a healthful meal that easily can be taken away. Combos include one-half a personal pizza and a small salad, and a half-sandwich combined with a cup of carrot or celery sticks.

When it comes to building business, packaging and merchandising continue to be the primary building blocks, with more than 50% of operators saying they are looking to buy new kinds of packaging materials to enhance portability and maintain food safety. More than 47% of respondents say they plan to improve the way they display their grab-and-go merchandise, while 42% indicated they plan to set up dedicated stations for take-away items.

However, when it comes to packaging portable foods, cost and durability still trump environmental concerns. The most popular forms of packaging continue to be plastic clamshells (62%), plastic salad bowls with clear lids (60%), other types of plastic containers (59%) and foam containers (57%). Almost no one in the survey indicated they were using biodegradable containers, and cost is very likely the reason. Operators with whom FSD editors have spoken say that they would like to see the cost of such environmentally sound packages come down before they make the investment.

One institution that has begun to make biodegradable packaging available is Stanford University. Because students are asking for it, and because the university has a composting program, biodegradable containers are being used in some campus foodservice facilities. But the cost is being borne by the customers themselves; where “green” serviceware—including take-away containers—are offered, customers pay a 15-cent premium for choosing to protect the environment. About one-third of the patrons who can, opt for the costlier containers.

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With consumers living increasingly busy, on-the-go lifestyles, operators who offer grab-and-go items are in the best position to benefit from the snacking public's eating habits. But since most people turn to different snacks throughout the day, operators need to provide diverse options to capture consumers' changing appetites. The ongoing popularity of grab-and-go items reveals trends that could help operators tailor their inventories to increase sales, especially in the workplace.

What do snackers want?

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