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.

For many operators, selling grab-and-go or portable foods not only provides a convenience for time-strapped or busy customers, it also saves labor in a way that boosts profitability. Overall, 63% of survey respondents said take-away business offers a strong profit margin, with the highest percentage of college operators (75%) agreeing. The only market sector in which most respondents felt portable foods were not labor-saving was B&I, where 69% said it was not.

Among the other markets, 67% of school, 61% of hospital and 59% of long-term care operators believe portable foods are labor-saving and profitable.

When it comes to business builders, the push toward environmentally friendly packaging may be having an impact on take-away items. Among the 76% of operators who said they are taking specific steps to increase the sale of portable foods, 53% said they are using new types of packaging.

However, when it comes to types of packaging, only 30% said they use biodegradable containers, versus 28% last year. The highest percentage of users are in colleges, where 53% of operators said they use these types of containers. But the fastest growth is in nursing homes, where 35% of operators said they use biodegradbale containers, versus 10% last year.

One such operator is the Indiana Government Center, a complex of state government offices in Indianapolis. Bill Schaefer, regional director for Treat America Food Services, the IGC’s contractor, says a shift to biodegradable packaging was made easier with the sharp increase in the price of oil, which made the new containers, which are corn-based, comparable in cost to containers made with petroleum-based products.

Schaefer says the containers can only be used to hold cold items like salads and deli sandwiches.

In addition to using new types of packaging to try to increase grab-and-go business, other time-tested marketing tools are merchandising displays (45%), dedicated stations for grab-and-go (44%) and promotions (22%).

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