With revenues flat, B&I market's top challenge is to create value-driven meals, according to FSD's 2006 B&I census report.
Total foodservice sales remained relatively unchanged at 100 business-and-industry (B&I) foodservice operations from 2004 to 2005, according to FoodService Director's annual B&I Industry Census Report. That follows an increase of 5.2% from 2003 to 2004, indicating how the market, while idle, has stabilized after several years of economic adversity.
Technomic's Outlook for the B&I segment in 2006 predicts nominal growth of 2%, while the NRA Forecast says it will grow 3.7% (though contract accounts will grow 4.2%, NRA says).
Meanwhile, the B&I market as a whole continues to face a formidable adversary: containing costs, says Russ Benson, president of the Society for Foodservice Management and vice president of guest strategies for Parkhurst Dining Services and Cura Hospitality. "That's difficult because of gas, food costs and weather (specifically, 2005's hurricanes). All costs are going through the roof. This year has its own spin on it in terms of current events."
Creating value: The FSD census shows that just 8% of survey participants reported increases in customer counts last year, while counts remained flat at most. Given this, the challenge of maintaining value for customers in the meal experience will remain critical in 2006 and into 2007, Benson believes. "People are very price-sensitive, and we have to keep creating value-driven meals," he says. "Our expenses are going up, (yet) people don't want to pull out more than $5, $6 or $7 for lunch. We have to keep reinventing what we are doing."
Meal volume averaged 60% lunch and 40% breakfast among the 100 companies, according to census calculations, with scant dinner volume. More operators, in fact, continue to look at the morning daypart for growth opportunities: among those saying breakfast meal counts grew last year, they averaged 21% more meals, compared to a 16% boost for those reporting more lunch volume.
Other B&I census data indicate that: Operators oversee an average 3.4 cafeterias, 2.2 dining rooms, 2.6 kiosks and two "other" facilities, such as a conference center, coffee shop or food cart.
-54% operate vending, with close to 100 machines available.
-29% operate c-stores, running an average of 1.67 units.
-Most (97%) do catering, which averages 23% of total sales.
A CUBICLE CULTURE
Office worker survey shows that 75% of B&I customers frequently eat at the desk.
More than 90% of corporate dining operations participating in the FSD B&I Census offer foods for grab-and-go, confirming that the shift away from meal consumption in the dining facility is now a way of life.
The trend created what Impulse Research Corp. of Los Angeles calls "Cubicle Culture" and prompted it to conduct a survey last fall to determine the extent to which workers are eating at their desks.
According to survey results, three-quarters of desk-workers eat at their desk at least two to three times per week. Nearly half, though, say they eat at their desk "nearly every day."
Lunch, of course, is the most frequently consumed "desk meal," eaten by 75% of respondents. Almost 60% typically consume snacks throughout the day while 31% have breakfast at their desk.
Time crunch: Frequency of desk-eating may be correlated to length of lunch hour. Just under 10% say they get an hour or more for lunch; about 37% say they take 30 minutes to an hour, while one-third get 15 to 30 minutes for their mid-day meal.
When asked to describe their workplace culture at lunchtime, 38% of respondents said: "What lunchtime? Most people are lucky to get a bite at their desks." Just under one-third say lunchtime offers a chance to socialize with colleagues, while the remainder call it a "relaxing diversion from work."
What comprises their typical lunch? For nearly half, it's sandwiches, fruits and vegetables. About one-fifth bring leftovers from home, while another one-fifth get themselves a hot lunch (though the study doesn't specify the source: cafeteria or restaurant).
Health concerns: The rise of desk-eating, while convenient for workers, has health officials concerned. "It's a bad idea on a lot of levels, psychologically and physically, to eat lunch at your desk," says Elisa Zied, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. She's concerned that desk-eating limits workers' physical activity and could encourage over-eating.