Wasabi steak taco marries the best of Latino and
Asian flavors in a handheld item. A“food superstore” similar to New York City’s over-the-top Eataly is scheduled to open at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Mass., says Ken Toong executive director at UMass Auxiliary Enterprises. Toong envisions the epicurean emporium, which he hopes will be open by Christmas, to offer prepared foods along with multiple exhibitions occurring at once. He plans to have butchers cutting and grinding meat to order, noodle makers pulling pasta and bread bakers shaping loaves of dough that will fill the air with the scent of yeast.
One of the elements of the new location will be to-go service, something that UMass and other institutions are embracing wholeheartedly. Toong says he expects that half of the food sold at the superstore will be consumed the off premises.
Among UMass’ current best-selling to-go prepared dishes is sushi, which Toong reports is rolled every two hours during meal periods. It’s so fresh, he says, the sushi is sometimes served while the rice is still warm.
Locations for takeout are also increasing, and food trucks are becoming increasingly popular, particularly on college campuses. Last fall, UMass introduced BabyBerk, a food truck specializing in burgers using local ingredients. BabyBerk has become so busy that Toong has ordered two more trucks.
“Food trucks are the next mega trend,” wrote Toong on his blog. “The secret of success is serving simple, great food and providing exemplary customer service.”
The new trucks, which are expected to debut in September, will each specialize in different foods. One will highlight Asian fare and the other grilled cheese, he says.
Food trucks also work because they are “portable and convenient to customers,” Toong explains. UMass’ truck generates between $2,500 and $5,000 a day. “And we want to make sure it is healthy and that the [items] are quick to grab and go.” He noted in his top 10 trends, based on a survey of 600 respondents form the school’s 16,075 students, that his customers eat later than ever these days, and they are looking for fast options that fit into their busy schedules.
“We notice that students use late-night meals as a way to treat themselves,
to meet their friends and to build community,” Toong says. “At UMass, 30% of students dine from 9:30 p.m. to the wee hours of the morning.”
A similar trend is happening at Michigan State University, where the takeout options vary from chicken Caesar pizza to made-to-order nachos. Riverwalk Dining Market at Michigan State specializes in taco pizza and three-alarm chili. One dining hall geared around local fare offers a Great Lakes Plate that changes daily. Recent offerings have included a Michigan fish boil with lemon aïoli, pork schnitzel and German pork chops with German coleslaw and potato pancakes. Bliss, the campus bakeshop, also prepares daily specials such as made-to-order marmalade crêpes.
Merging customer interests, health: Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles is changing menu promotions to focus on customers’ current interests. February featured tailgating for the Super Bowl fans with carnitas nachos layered with jalapeño, salsa and guacamole. Also, for February’s Black History month celebration, menus featured fried catfish, okra and steamed collard greens, according to Amy Childress, who manages the hospital’s foodservice for Sodexo.
“March is national nutrition month,” she says, so she’s highlighting her annual “the-dietitians-are-taking-over-the-cafeteria” menus. One of the dietitian’s best-sellers last year was salmon salad with herbs and citrus, so she plans to bring it back this year. The fish was prepared with orange, lemon juice, dill and parsley and was served cold over a bed of lettuce with steamed asparagus, black olives, tomatoes and Italian dressing.
This year, poached salmon will be served over mixed greens with julienne vegetables, grapefruit and orange segments. Raspberry vinaigrette dressing will finish the dish.
Childress also plans to grill a Mediterranean veggie burger with hummus, yogurt sauce and tomato-cucumber relish with feta cheese, served on a whole-wheat bun.
“It’s really popular,” she says of the nutritionally focused spring promotion. And she explains some of the interest in the nutritionally focused foods in March comes from the nurses and ancillary staff who have good relationships with the hospital’s dietitians. The hospital typically serves 400 patients and 725 cafeteria diners each day.
A marketing tool: Mary Majorack, who manages the foodservice program for Flik Independent Schools at Bishop O’Connell High School, in Arlington, Va., substantially increased sales when she started packing to-go meals that were distributed after open houses for prospective students and their families. One of her favorite chef’s offerings was grilled chicken salad with apple, pecans and vinaigrette dressing. She packed two portions per bag for the promotion she calls, “Dinner for Two.”
“It showed the [prospective families] what kind of food we do,” Majorack says. “I almost tripled our sales of salads and sandwiches” since offering the goodie bags. Currently of the school’s 1,200 students, she serves about 1,000 each day.
“We can package anything to go,” she adds, so she also proposed goodie bags with full meals for prospective donors brought in for sales and marketing meetings. One example of the to-go dinners would be turkey scaloppini with roasted potatoes, a vegetable and a salsa made with olives, roasted tomatoes, black olives, lemon juice, garlic and cilantro.