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By Amy Myrdal Miller and Suvir Saran

NOTE: This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of Produce Business magazine.

One of the biggest trends restaurant operators are watching today is how foodservice retail establishments are biting into their business. If you want to take a bigger bite of this business opportunity, you may need to make some changes to your offerings.

If your deli case is still filled with coleslaw and macaroni salad from a tub, assorted cold cuts, fried chicken, and meatloaf, maybe it’s time to take a fresh look at your offerings. Here are some tips to get you started.

  1. Fresh sells. “Fresh” is the most common descriptor used on American menus, according to insights from market research firm Datassential. If you’re not already doing this, try using the descriptor on your menu boards and signage. Fresh means “good for me and my family” to your shopper, which plays into the growing trend of increasing demand for health and wellness at retail. And while fresh can describe anything from freshly baked bread to fresh caught seafood, most consumers equate fresh with produce. Freshly-prepared sauces and salad dressings are another way to add additional appeal to produce-centric menu offerings.
  2. Local sells. If you sell produce from local vendors, don’t just highlight this in the produce department. Feature local produce in your foodservice offerings as well. Restaurants across the country have been doing this for years, and consumers take notice. They want to know how and where their food was produced; putting a farm or farmer’s name on the menu adds more comfort and familiarity to new foods and flavors.
  3. Flavor sells. Who’s running your foodservice operation? If it’s trained culinary professionals, they will likely welcome the opportunity to bring in some new flavor profiles from Asia, Latin America, and the Mediterranean. If your shoppers include Millennials who love trying new foods, they’ll appreciate you upping your game with new ingredients and offerings. A common theme in the restaurant industry is “make the familiar exotic, and the exotic familiar” meaning you can introduce new flavors to familiar foods, and you can introduce new foods with familiar flavors. Just don’t push your customer too far too fast. And don’t make your customer work too hard to understand new concepts. Provide menu names and descriptors that quickly tell the story of the new offering. Suvir’s Green Beans with Coconut is a good example of an intensely flavorful dish that features a familiar ingredient with a more exotic yet appealing flavor profile.
  4. Salads sell. If your strategy includes offering more fresh, flavorful foods, focus first on salads. Produce can fit into all salad categories, from pasta and fruit salads to bean, greens, and grain-based salads. Need some inspiration? Check out Chef Joyce Goldstein’s Mediterranean Fresh, a cookbook that features 110 recipes for salads and 30 recipes for salad dressings to mix and match with the salads, based on seasons, mood, and marketing mix.
  5. Pizza pleases. Does your foodservice program include pizzas and flatbreads? If so, consider them blank canvases for culinary creativity and presenting new flavor profiles. Pizzas and flatbreads are a wonderful menu category for increasing sales of a type of food Americans eat often. National dietary intake data show that about 1 in 8 Americans eats pizza on any given day. More than 25 percent of boys ages 6-19 years eat pizza every day. And don’t overlook flatbreads. We think part of their appeal is their more artistic, “artisan” shape. Artisan says “hand-made” or “made just for me.” Many in foodservice are already capitalizing on flatbread as a way to add interest to a popular menu category. According to Guest Metrics, about 60 percent of recent incremental growth in the pizza category in foodservice is due to the addition of flatbreads.
  6. Snacks satisfy. According to The Hartman Group, half of all eating occasions are now snack occasions, accounting for one-third of adult calorie consumption in the United States. What can your foodservice operation do to prompt more snacking? This can be as simple as providing a greater variety of fresh-cut fruit in take-out containers (Who doesn’t love and crave sweet, fresh-cut mango?), or you can develop a snack program that features unique dips and crackers. 2016 is the FAO “Year of the Pulse.” What about a hummus program that features a different version each day of the week? Chickpeas are obvious, but what about hummus made from beans, peas, and lentils? Let your bakery department contribute unique crackers, spiced pita chips, or crostini.

 

There’s no end to the options for improving and enhancing your foodservice at retail program. We hope our ideas spur more creative and strategic thinking at your store!

 

Amy Myrdal Miller, MS, RDN, FAND (@AmyMyrdalMiller, www.farmersdaughterconsulting.com) is a farmer’s daughter from North Dakota, award-winning dietitian, culinary nutrition expert, and founder and president of Farmer’s Daughter Consulting.  Suvir Saran (@SuvirSaran, www.suvir.com) is an award-winning chef, restaurateur, and cookbook author. Born in Delhi, India, today Suvir lives on a farm in upstate New York.