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.

Most recently, in an effort to “sell” breakfast as the most important meal of the day, UMass Dining introduced a grab-and-go hot breakfast program that has been well received by students.

In some institutions, like Wood County Hospital in Ohio, space limitations drive many customers into making their meals portable—a situation Foodservice Director Tim Bauman hopes to alleviate within a couple of years when a new building with a redesigned kitchen and servery is built.

“The cafeteria was built when we didn’t think we would have more than 250 people on campus,” Bauman explains. “Now, we have more than 1,000 people. Seventy percent of the food produced in the kitchen is not eaten in the cafeteria, whereas in most hospitals that number is around 50%. So I need a big cafeteria to accommodate all the people on campus.”

NYU Medical Center in New York City is another hospital where portability is an important element of the foodservice program.

“Our main cafeteria is very busy; we are doing close to $3 million in revenue a year, but it’s very tight and we have to get a lot of people through in a short period of time,” says Foodservice Director Regina Toomey Bueno. “So we try to really emphasize grab and go.”

Toomey Bueno attributes a 20% increase in retail sales since she arrived two years ago to the push for more portability on the menu.

Probably few operators have increased portability in their institutions more than Tony Geraci, foodservice director for the Baltimore City Public Schools. To build the district’s breakfast participation, Geraci implemented several innovations, including a boxed grab-and-go program and marketing campaign, that has led to a 400% increase in the number of children eating breakfast in school.

The breakfast boxes contain a low-sugar cereal, a juice, a whole-grain snack and a carton of milk. Through a partnership with the Baltimore Orioles baseball and Baltimore Ravens football teams, the boxes are decorated in the teams’ colors and logos, and 5% of the boxes contain a prize code for items like free music downloads and tickets to the sponsoring teams’ games.

How much take-away food non-commercial customers will buy in the coming year may be a matter for debate, but what they buy isn’t. Survey respondents the last few years have consistently reported that the most popular portable food items are beverages, salads, entrées or grill items and deli sandwiches. Combined, they make up 59% of the total portable food purchases, followed by snacks, pre-packaged breakfast foods, other prewrapped foods, desserts, entrées to take home and reheat and breakfast to order.

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