Five Questions: for Mary Anderson

In a district with a low percentage of free- and reduced-price meals, it is important to market the district's foodservice program to increase participation. Four years ago Mary Anderson, Culinary Express supervisor at 10,000-student Wayzata (Minn.) Public Schools, which has a 10% free- and reduced-price rate, hired a marketing agency to help create a brand for the foodservice department. Culinary Express, with the tagline "a celebration of food and friends," was developed. Since implementing the brand, participation has increased nine percentage points to reach 67%. FSD talked with Anderson to find out why the brand has been a hit with the students and how other school foodservice operators can implement their own brand.

Why did you feel creating a brand for the district's foodservice operation was important?

This was something in place when I came into this position. They made the decision to do this when they were opening a new high school and there were a lot of changes going on within the department. They felt like they wanted an identifier for the department. They wanted it to be recognizable.

What was the process of creating the Culinary Express brand?

They worked with a professional. From the Culinary Express name, we added a tag line to it-a celebration of food and friends. I was directly involved in that and we hired a marketing agency to help us. We had a group of managers that were involved to determine what we wanted to do and what direction we were going to take. We really wanted to celebrate the food and friends.

How do you use the Culinary Express brand?

We changed our menus and we do some edgy marketing with posters. We do a marketing program every year and we do different marketing programs to different people in the community. We've been doing composting, so we have posters on composting. They are not normal posters. They are a little bit different. One said, "Try something new this year, and no, your friend's lunch doesn't count." Another said, "We've taken donuts off the menu. Grief counselors will be available as needed." We changed up colors we were using in our uniforms. We have identifiers everywhere you look to let people know who we are and what we're doing. We have the name and tag line in our e-mails, letterhead and the Web page. It is very repetitive. Everything says Culinary Express and not foodservice department or child nutrition department.  

What results and/or changes have you seen since implementing the brand?

How have the students reacted? We've seen a steady increase in department recognition and participation. Our participation is up to 67%. You can see smiles when the students are looking at these posters. I think it's encouraged them to try some new things we've added to the menu. They certainly know who are department is. They don't call us the school lunch department.

What advice would you give to other operators who are thinking about creating a school foodservice brand?

I would certainly hire a professional to do this and I feel it is critical that you know what your community, your district, your school board and your superintendent expect for your department. They will drive what you are creating.