Last week I went to my first school foodservice trade show. I did go in knowing who the target audience was. However, by the third aisle that eureka moment did hit.
The first two aisles were covered with pre-made, pre-packaged and highly processed foods. There were beautiful displays of chips, candy & fruit drinks. The chicken nuggets looked great. I believe they did actually have chicken in them. One stand was decorated with multi-colored energy drinks. Soft drinks decorated another booth with very creative marketing. By the second aisle I had passed Tony the Tiger and the Lucky Charms mascot a few times. People were lining up to take pictures with them. I quietly wondered if any of these people ever explored the ingredient list of a box of Lucky Charms. Spoiler Alert!!!…….It is a box of colored sugar with a number of preservatives.
By the third aisle I quietly said to myself….”Do we really wonder why our children are dealing with the health / obesity issues in this day & age?” We all know that children are not as active as they should be. However, a daily intake of pre-made, pre-packaged and highly processed food doesn’t even give some children a fighting chance. The subject of increasing fresh produce into the schools with limited budgets is a discussion for another day. The idea of just providing some basic whole, un-processed foods is not. Just introducing a plain grilled chicken breast over fried chicken nuggets once in a while would not break the bank. It would do wonders for some children who rely on their school meal as a prime source of their daily caloric intake. Some children living in “food deserts” never even see produce unless it comes out of a can. Read more of this >>
During my career I had the unique experience of working for a GPO (Group Purchasing Organization). This particular GPO focused on children’s summer camps. Coming into that position from my former position of procuring caviar, fish from around the world and prime steaks made my tenure at the GPO a real interesting one. Instead of buying Single Malt Scotches or a first growth Bordeaux I was purchasing tater tots, frozen premade pizzas and “bug juice.” We were working with camps that paid vendors on Net90 payment terms and foodservice distributors that knew they were the only delivery option available to some of the camps. Read more of this >>
If I would have told you 10, 20 or 30 years ago that industry giants like McDonalds, Burger King, Red Lobster and Olive Garden (to name a few) were going to someday deal with some of the same growth issues as mid-priced table service operations I would have been laughed out of the room. I would have been told that the industry giants had a business plan that could weather any economic storm. However, these people would have not yet known about the Gen X and Millennial generations. This younger demographic has seen a spike on the economic map. This generation runs at a faster pace. They don’t enjoy the traditional extended meals their parents did. They want instant gratification. This group also desires to know their food; to eat less processed and more real food. They are more focused on what they fuel their bodies with. This younger generation is not afraid to spend a little more money to get what they want.
A number of organizations have taken note. No better example of this than with Chipotle Mexican Grill. This Denver-based fast casual operation has a streamlined menu offering focusing on fresh, real food served quickly. What started as a small operation back in 1993 has grown into a worldwide business powerhouse with a cult-like following (much like that of Starbucks).
In my favorite Q & A format, Danielle Winslow, Chipotle Public Relations and Marketing took some time out of her busy schedule to educate us on Chipotle’s Recipe For Success. Read more of this >>
In August of this year USA Weekend ran a story called “Food is changing: what we’re eating, how we’re eating it and where it’s all coming from.” The opening paragraph of the article discusses where we have come from in our focus on food. The transformation of food in our society has left its roots of being, in some cases, an afterthought to one of greater focus. Today food is discussed, remembered, scrutinized, created, and enjoyed more than ever before. With a greater understanding from the public that “we are what we eat” there is true focus on what we are putting into our bodies. This greater focus will continue to impact how Americans eat and the effects in our industry.
The author of this story asked experts how they see Americans eating in five years. They had some very interesting responses.
The experts felt that over the next few years good food will start to taste better. One of the things keeping junk food manufacturers profitable is the fact that their food is just so much more appealing than healthier options. Another point brought up is that the demand for more local, direct food will increase. As the demand increases the cost per portion will go down; thereby making healthier foods more approachable to lower income families. The next point brought up was with branding. Packaged foods manufacturers have million dollar marketing campaigns for their products. They do it so well that children expect a tiger to give them a high five when eating their sugared flakes or, a leprechaun to paint rainbows around them when crunching on those puffed marshmallow charms. The experts feel that eventually the agricultural and health foods industry will soon catch on to strongly market their own products. Finally, THIS IS THE BIG ONE, Americans are going to finally start to understand that if they eat right (real food) they are not going to have to rely on the diet foods, sugar-free, fat-free, etc.. While it is true that we live a more sedentary life style, a number of the packaged foods we eat contain ingredients that add to the obesity epidemic…..I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said anything. Big food manufacturers spend a lot of time & money to hide those details. Read more of this >>
Last week I came across an article in the Associated Press titled McDonald’s Campaigns Against Its Junk Food Image. In this article the author talks about an event that McDonald’s held in the Tribeca district of New York City where they took every day McDonald’s menu items to create more upscale meals. The goal of this was for the company to prove that food that is served quickly can also be good food. The article mentions that the company wanted to shake its image of just serving cheap, unhealthy food. Of course this blog can go into so many different directions with this but, I’d prefer to stick to the idea of shaking your image.
Over the years McDonald’s has made efforts to offer healthier options. In their defense, consumers by far still prefer the Big Mac over healthier options offered on the (Mc) menu. In general, what drives consumers to quick service operations are fast, cheap and filling meals. Heathier options don’t typically offer these attributes. In most quick service operations a meal-sized salad by itself will be the same price as a hamburger, fries and drink.
The Associated Press article mentioned a Kung Pao Chicken dish using Chicken McNuggets. When you consider that most chicken nuggets are a combination of a chicken/soy slurry, Dimethylpolysiloxane (silicone anti-foaming agent used in producing cosmetics and Silly Putty) and TBHQ (a form of butane/lighter fluid used to prevent the fats & oils from becoming rancid and to extend shelf life), I don’t really think McDonald’s is doing much in the way of proving that their products can be made into good wholesome food. A number of quick serve items are the result of science lab testing versus test kitchen creations.
I don’t want this blog to be about bashing McDonald’s. Chef Dan Coudreaut and I are both 1995 CIA grads. He has done some great things since being hired aboard at McDonald’s. The issue at hand is this idea of trying to shake your image.
McDonald’s found it success by creating basic food that tastes good at an approachable price point. What makes this company so successful is its consistency. A Big Mac in St. Petersburg, Russia will taste the same as that same menu item in St. Petersburg, Florida. Another sad but true fact is that McDonald’s has found success on the backs of millions of people who make a trip to the local chain a weekly dining event due to their cheap prices. Why do you think Taco Bell has found so much success? Rest assured that it’s not due to the authenticity of their menu selections.
An organization like McDonald’s would never be able to shake its image unless they majorly revamped their product offerings. While this entire quick service segment has seen stagnant growth recently, a complete revamp of the menu would probably be the end of this American institution. I can’t even remember the last time I had a soda or Big Mac. However, my advice for McDonald’s would be to stop being concerned about the junk food image. Continue to offer healthier alternatives to those who want them and don’t forget about the formula that made you a household name.
Until Next Time…
Paul Greenberg posted an article recently in the New York Times title “Why Are We Importing Our Own Fish?” The article is a global look at how native species of seafood are being exported while the United States is importing most of its seafood. One of the points of this article discusses the export of Wild Alaskan Salmon to Asia. Because labor in a number of Asian countries is so cheap, we see this Salmon being harvested in the states, fabricated in Asian countries and then sold back to U.S. wholesale companies. In Florida there are a number of Asian vegetable growers who produce a wide variety of products. Those products are harvested and shipped to major hubs like New York and Boston. Those produce items are then sold back to Florida wholesalers and retailers. In some cases these products end up being sent back to the same city they were harvested from. Read more of this >>
The Summit is an amazing event sponsored through a partnership between Food Arts magazine and The Culinary Institute of America-Greystone. The Summit brings together chefs, hospitality leaders and other related experts from across all segments of the industry. It is designed as a fast paced series of demonstrations, discussions, tastings, and collaborative team exercises that provoke and spark dialogue on innovative approaches and in some cases solutions to many of the challenges we face as an industry. This year’s conference was so relevant and thought provoking that I couldn’t help but to leave questioning my current business model and operating standards.
The core of the Summit and some of my takeaways were that as an industry we are constantly shifting our operating standards to meet ever-changing guest expectations and preferences. We shift priorities to keep pace with the rising cost of goods, heated sustainability issues, labor costs and benefits, and countless other challenges. We have become to some degree an industry with a one-size-fits-all mentality; we are so determined to meet every expectation of every guest at every price point that we have often lost our identity as a brand. Read more of this >>
Through a company I’m involved with, we submitted a proposal for a significant statewide bid. This 25 page submission included hours of legwork. To ensure the proposal would arrive in the state capital on time for the bid openings we sent the package priority overnight with a guaranteed delivery time. The United States Postal Service got the time right but missed the guaranteed day by 24 hours. The result of which will be, at minimum, thousands of dollars in lost sales. For that mistake the U.S.P.S. offered us our postage back and a meager apology.
I’m sure we’ve all had similar experiences. From the view of a procurement agent examples such as these really make you wonder what happened to Customer Service.
Remember a time when you could speak to a human being? How about being able to work with someone that truly knew what they were talking about? Have you visited a hardware store lately? Today’s business is about automating, streamlining, downsizing and doing more with less. What service is someone providing when it takes the customer 15 minutes to speak to a living, breathing human being? Somewhere along the way the idea of truly servicing the customer seemed to fall through the cracks. Where resolving product concerns/questions would once take a few minutes, the amount of time doubles when you have to work with automated systems, minimally-skilled employees and/or off-shore phone support.
Some organizations still realize what sets them apart from others is true customer service. This doesn’t mean having a cute slogan or colorful banner promoting customer service. This is about getting back to the basics. I would gladly spend a few dollars more to work with organizations that support their products, understand their products, put themselves in the shoes of the customers they support and just take the time to care for the success of their customers. In the long run you will actually see that there is a return on investment to your organization for supporting organizations such as these.
The idea of customer service is how I approach my job as a procurement agent. I have worked alongside of buyers who have cut corners, had questionable ethics or have been yellers and screamers with the organizations they purchased from. In some cases they would achieve short term success. My point of view is the idea of customer service. I understand that success of my organization depends on long term relationships with our suppliers. Positive relationships ensure long term success for all parties in the supply chain.
In the example above maybe the U.S.P.S. could have just offered to contact the state to advise the bid department that they made the mistake. It wouldn’t have required much effort on their part and it would have produced goodwill with our company.
Until Next Time…..