2005 Portability Study: Meals on the move

FoodService Director's first annual portability study.

Toomey-Bueno indicates that her operation’s por­table volume roughly equates to the 25% non-commercial average. Most of that is pre-packaged salads, sandwiches and burgers, as well as hot foods that are wrapped to go. Both the temporary servery and the new café, once it opens, will feature a number of grab-and-go display cases, both refrigerated and non-refrigerated. There will also be a hot sandwich slide.

Another factor driving growth of por­table meal business pertains to the health appeal of items that are inherently portable—namely, salads, wrap sandwiches, and fruit or vegetable cups. That’s certainly the case at the Omaha, NE, headquarters of The Gallup Organization, where customers are looking for a lot of low-carb and regular wraps, points out Kerry Moore, Swanson Corp.’s foodservice director there.

Other popular portable items among Gallup’s customers include pre-made, grab-and-go salads (especially chicken and Caesar), cut fresh fruit and yogurt-fruit-and-granola parfaits. “We’re always expanding our wraps and sandwiches into the healthy area,” she adds. “And we try to promote them as healthy items.”

Moore notes that grab-and-go items generate 15% to 18% of total sales, with more on the way. “I would expect it to grow as we offer new items,” she says, and also because customers are used to being served quickly when they dine out.

More than half of all operators expect their portable sales to increase this year, with schools registering the highest number of positive responses. That may be because schools have the most room for growth in portable business: only 14% of current volume is consumed away from the cafeteria, according to the FSD survey. But that may change as school food authorities modify facilities and services to become more responsive to the needs of students—with the goal of increasing their participation.

For example, Somerset (PA) School District implemented a grab-and-go program in its high school, middle school and four elementary schools this year. “We put a full reimbursable meal into a package and students love it,” says Toby Horner, divisional vice president for Metz and Associates, which manages the account.

Fresh fruits and vegetables are featured prominently in the meal, he adds, in keeping with the market’s efforts to combat childhood obesity with more healthful choices.

Most operators expecting portable sales to increase this year say that will happen because of their need to respond to customer demands. Almost a third, though, plan a shift in preparation and service to the portable format.

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