FSD 2009 Potability Study: Portability still important

For a variety of reasons, customers still seek portable foods they can take away from the cafeteria, and most operators happily oblige.

In 1981, Psychologist David Elkind coined the term “hurried child” for kids who were being pushed too far and too fast by their parents to succeed in life. It became synonymous for a lifestyle in which kids were never relaxed and never at rest.

It could be said that the hurried child has contributed to the creation of a “takeout society”—the need to get things, like food, to go so we can move quickly on to our next task. Portable foods, ready to be taken from cafeterias and dining halls in all segments of the industry, have become a significant portion of foodservice operations’ business in recent years, and according to the respondents in FoodService Director’s 2009 Portability Study, the trend is continuing relatively unabated. Sixty-five percent of operators—compared with 75% last year—surveyed this year said they offer portable foods, with an average of 23% of their revenue coming from foods taken away from dining facilities. Colleges and schools reported the highest percentage of business, at 28% and 23%, respectively. Healthcare operators—both hospitals and long-term care—reported 21% of their business coming from portable food items, while B&I operators reported 20% of revenue.

What’s more, the majority of operators polled—52%—say they expect their carry-out business to increase in the current fiscal year, by an average of 13%. Hospitals and colleges (64%) lead in this category, followed by nursing homes (41%), schools (38%) and B&I (25%). (Perhaps the age of the hurried child is ending; 18% of school foodservice operators expect their take-away business to drop, and of those 38% who expect an increase, the predicted percentage is only 8%.)

Among those who expect portable foods business to increase, the most commonly given reasons are: customers are demanding it (64%), customers have less time to spend in the dining area (63%), overall customer base has increased (52%) and less seating capacity in dining area (15%). Conversely, among those who expect business to drop, the two reasons most often cited are a decrease in customers (69%) and lower demand (25%).

“Portability—that’s what students want,” says Ken Toong, executive director of dining services at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. Toong’s staff has implemented a number of elements to its dining program that cater to portability, such as street foods from various Asian and South American cultures, and the idea of “small plates” to encourage customers to eat smaller portions.

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