Working with manufacturers

For more than 20 years, branding has been a strong element of the foodservice landscape. For a period in the 1990s, restaurant brands looked to be the future of non-commercial foodservice, so much so that some university student unions resembled shopping malls with their food courts consisting of nothing but proven names such as Burger King, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.

 

Over time, interest in restaurant brands has waned somewhat, operators say, although there are stalwarts like Starbucks whose positioning in non-commercial foodservice is almost ubiquitous. The cost of bringing in such name brands, relative to the return on investment, has been a factor in operators’ reluctance to become too wrapped up in restaurant concepts.

Manufacturer brands, however, have given many operators a financially viable option. Concepts that mirror what is popular in the outside world, at little or no cost to the operators, have made these creations popular with both foodservice teams and their customers.

“Over the years I have used a few manufacturer brands,” says Jim McGrody, foodservice director for Rex Healthcare in Raleigh, N.C. “For example, I did the “Wilbur and Orville” wings concept from Tyson. It was a turnkey operation with all the branded take-out containers, signage and recipes. The results were great and it was easy for us to operate.”

McGrody says he also has worked with distributors on concepts revolving around certain products. The benefits of working with manufacturers, he adds, include labor savings, as much of the prep work on such items as sauces is already done, and savings on the cost of marketing and merchandising materials.

Tony Almeida, foodservice director at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, N.J., says he had a similar experience with Schwan’s and its Freschetta pizza product.

“We used to sell Freschetta pizza, but we never really marketed it or merchandised it really well,” Almeida explains. “So we asked Schwan’s to come in, and they looked at our space and said, ‘we really want to redo your area for you, maximize your merchandising.’ They took pictures of space and sent the photos to their designers. Next thing you know they had a computer illustration of what the space could look like. The only thing we had to do was have our engineering department paint two walls. Schwan’s sent a team in on a weekend and they transformed the whole area—new equipment, menu board, signage, heat lamps—to make it look like a Freschetta pizza store.”

Almeida’s advice when working with manufacturers is simple: “Deal with a reputable company that will stand behind their products. [Schwan’s] did what they said they were going to do and in a very professional and timely manner.”

Lenny DeMartino, manager for Parkhurst Dining Services at Highmark, a health insurance company in Pittsburgh, says that he has to be a bit more cautious than self-operators when exploring manufacturer partnerships because he needs corporate approval. But still, he has participated in many such ventures.

“We’ve done a lot of Heinz promotions,” says DeMartino, noting that Parkhurst once did the foodservice at the Heinz plant in Pittsburgh. “That was great PR for us and it really solidifies the business relationship [with the manufacturer.”

However, he notes, such promotions and branding opportunities must match the client’s mission statement. He related an incident where he tested a new french fry at Highmark. “We got a lot of negative feedback from customers because french fries aren’t considered healthy,” he notes.

Greg Black, dining services director at the University of Iowa, says, “I am firmly behind partnering with manufacturers for special events and concepts. It is a way for us to increase excitement in contract dining for our students, an opportunity to get feedback on new foods and recipes—and of course it provides brand exposure for the manufacturer.”

However, Black explains that when his department wants to add a manufacturer branded concept, he must work through the university’s purchasing office with a competitive bid process.

Similar to working with manufacturers is partnering with commodity boards on special events and marketing programs. Again, the benefit is getting free marketing and merchandising materials—as well as, at times, prizes for giveaways and raffles—in exchange for promoting a particular product.

“This past spring we partnered with the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute to host an “Alaska in Iowa” seafood extravaganza for our residential students,” recalls Black. “We also worked with the California Raisin Board, developing new recipes utilizing raisins and promoting healthy foods for our students. Other partnerships have included working with a local pasta producer in developing a the “ultra-grain” pasta for Con-Agra, and having the Johnsonville “World’s Largest Grill” on campus for a Homecoming tailgate party.”

Rex Healthcare’s McGrody, who also has done commodity board promotions, says that whether you partner with a manufacturer or a board, you should try to maintain control over the process.

“I think these types of programs are sound and have a useful existence,” he says. “It is good, however, to take these programs and add your own personal twist to them. In any case they do help, particularly in places that have labor issues and/or technical experience issues with their cooks.”

More From FoodService Director

Menu Development
induction cooking nuts

Thanks to prolific fast casuals such as Chipotle, guests have come to expect a certain level of customization in their dining options. For almost 50% of Generation Zers, customization is a deciding factor when purchasing food, according Technomic’s 2016 Generational Consumer Trend Report . Taking customization even further, operations are handing over even more control to customers with both build-your-own and cook-your-own stations.

Elder Hall’s My Kitchen station at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., offers a daily rotating ingredient bar with items such as stir-fry,...

Managing Your Business
business marketing concepts drawing

Sharp, smart marketing materials can make all the difference when it comes to drawing a big crowd for a menu launch or upcoming event. With more avenues to cover than ever and fewer resources to go around, operators offer their tips on making marketing work from start to finish.

Start with communication

Whether it’s an in-house marketing department, an outside agency or someone on staff wearing the marketing hat part-time, the right people need to be involved early and often. “Marketing doesn’t always have a seat at the table [like] it should in order to be truly effective,” says...

Menu Development
health food medicine stethoscope

For the last two years, Chris Studtmann has jockeyed between Northwestern University’s residential dining halls and athletic training tables in his role of executive chef, trying to meet the health and food preferences of both sides. Now, his team is taking best practices developed for the sports teams to the 20,000-plus student population, working with dietitians from the school’s contract company to better sync healthy menu choices with lifestyle needs.

Technomic’s 2016 Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report shows younger consumers are especially tuned in to functional foods that...

Ideas and Innovation
trail mix

We’ve added fueling stations in our units for our workers who didn’t have time to eat or just need a snack. We have areas set up with trail mix, crackers, cookies and water. It helps us avoid people feeling or getting ill, especially when we get closer to exam periods and student workers are studying and not taking the time to eat.

FSD Resources