2008 Portability Study: Portability rules

Seventy-five percent of operators are looking to grow their grab-and-go business.

However, she adds, employee customers won’t necessarily be looking to take foods back to their desks.

“A lot of employees have expressed an interest in take-home dinners,” she explains. “Whenever we menu chicken dumplings, for example, people will get extra servings to take home.”

Boucher believes a rotisserie station planned for the new servery will feed into the desire for portability, because customers will be buying whole roasted chickens to take home for dinner.

Portable foods are by no means the main driver for any institution or company’s foodservice program. On average, about 22% of a department’s total business is generated by portable menu items. The highest percentage, 25%, is found in hospitals, followed by 24% in schools and 22% in colleges. Interestingly, although every B&I operator surveyed offers portable foods, only 18% of their revenue on average comes from such items.

What people are buying: The basic rule as regards portability is this: If it can fit into a portable container, customers will take it out. According to our respondents, there is no single type of food that dominates as a portable item. Salad items from salad bars and entrées from the main or grill lines are most popular, with 16% of portable business on average coming from these stations.

Beverages, at 15%, are next, followed by deli sandwiches (14%), pre-packaged breakfast foods (9%) and other pre-packaged foods such as sandwiches and salads (8%).

Each market segment obviously has its preferences. For example, colleges are most likely to see entrées taken from the cafeteria, with 22% of take-away business from this category. By contrast, B&I operators report only 9% of portable business comes from entrées. For these operators, deli sandwiches are the hot ticket, making up nearly 19% of business. Hospitals tend to see a healthy focus, with the largest single percentage of portable business—20%—coming from salad bars.

Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind., recognizes that portability can mean any type of food, so Dining Services designed a takeout unit that allows students to get a variety of items at one time. “On The Go!” is arranged so students can select up to five items quickly, bag and pay for them with one swipe of a meal card.

Half of respondents expect portable business to increase this year, and most of the rest expect business to remain steady. Among those who expect business to grow, the increase is projected to be 10%. Overall, about 75% of operators are actively looking to grow the business, either by setting up dedicated stations for grab-and-go foods (52%), purchasing new packaging that enhances portability (48%), improving merchandising of portable items (40%) and promoting portability more aggressively through coupons, discounts and e-marketing (19%).

Some operators say their portable business has plateaued after several years of steady increases. Sarah Johnson, director of dining services at Purdue, says when grab-and-go units were added, students flocked to them.

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