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How Whitsons is welcoming back kids this fall

The foodservice management company is introducing new menu items and serving methods this school year.
A picture of the Yard Bird pop-up set up.
Photo: Whitsons Culinary Group

As students return to class this fall, Whitsons Culinary Group has come up with new ways to feed students safely while also keeping the menu exciting in the age of COVID-19. 

Here’s a look at how the foodservice management company will be serving kids this school year. 

Pop-up concepts

To add variety and excitement, Whitsons created four different pop-ups that will offer limited-time menu items throughout the year. The concepts were developed around flavor profiles that are student favorites and include Wing Shack, a grab-and go wing concept, and chicken sandwich-focused Yard Bird. 

When offered, each of the pop-ups will last for one day only, running as often as once a month, depending on the school. They have also been designed to work in a variety of set-ups. For school cafeterias that have just a serving line, Whitsons developed its own mobile signage and logos to display on the line and transform it into the pop-up. In cafeterias where there is more space, the pop-ups can be set up as standalone kiosks will full-sized graphics and banners. 

“If the space is limited, we may run [the pop-up] less frequently,” says Whitsons Chief Operating Officer for Contract Management Kelly Friend. “If we have the opportunity to set up a display in different points of service, then we can do it a little more frequently.”

Along with building consumer demand, Friend says that offering the pop-ups for just one day will help combat any procurement issues districts may run into. 

Three additional pop-up concepts are currently in development and will be released in the latter half of the school year. 

Real-time mobile ordering 

Whitsons’ new and improved in-house mobile ordering system provides nutritional information and allows students and parents to pre-order and customize meals. 

“It's all in real time,” says Friend. “If you pre-order something, for example, a chicken sandwich to be picked up at a certain time, and you realize later that you forgot to add sauce or a condiment and you make those modifications, it will automatically recalculate the nutritional value and the allergens and things like that and will alert you if you added something you’re not supposed to eat.”

Once an order is placed, a digital ticket is received by the foodservice team, which then prepares the meal.

Depending on the school, students will pick up food in a variety of ways. “Some [meals] are picked up self-serve in refrigerated or heated compartments. Some are picked up at the serving line, it will tell you to the go to the pizza station for example,” says Friend. 

Mobile kiosks

The team at Whitsons will also be offering mobile kiosks as a serving option. 

The kiosks are portable and may be placed outdoors, in hallways and in other parts of the school, such as the gym. They can be fully grab-and-go or staffed by a foodservice member who can offer customizable items. The kiosks can also replace traditional serving lines or run simultaneously alongside them.

“In a high school environment, for example, we may have seven or eight concepts going, so to eliminate the congestion, we may close a serving line,” says Friend. “For example, we may pull off the pizza concept and have that completely served out of the kiosk now.”

Whitsons is also using the kiosks to test out new equipment, such as air fryers. 

To-go options 

The company’s to-go meal line, Tastefully Plated, will continue to be offered this year. The meals are made at Whitsons’ FDA approved USDA plant, which is capable of producing up to 16,000 meals weekly. 

Each Tastefully Plated meal is pre-cooked and individually wrapped, making it a viable option for districts that are short staffed or operating remote-feeding sites.   

Meal options include chicken teriyaki with brown rice and steamed corn, and lasagna roll-ups with green beans and a dinner roll.

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