The Gold Standard
Published in CSP Daily News
Fare award recipients discuss best practices that brought them to the top
CHICAGO -- Balancing the "wow" factor with value is a main concern for most foodservice operators, and the winners of Fare magazine's first Leaders in Retail Foodservice awards showed that they've learned to walk this tightrope.
The winners were introduced during the session, "Gold Standard: Insights from the Best in Channel," moderated by Fare executive editor Abbie Westra. They are Byron Hanson, director of delis and food service for Lunds/Byerly's; Jerry Weiner, vice president of foodservice for Rutter's Farm Stores; Steve Hammel, dining services program manager [image-nocss] for the Navy Region Southwest; and Ken Toong, executive director of dining and retail services at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.
Getting customers to try new options is half the battle, according to Weiner. He said he sends employees out to the gas pumps with samples to try and entice them inside.
"I think sampling is the most effective way to way to build new business," Weiner said. "The most important thing to remember is to sample when the item is at its peak of freshness."
Weiner also recommended sampling different day-parts. "If the customer is coming in for breakfast, give them a sample of a lunch item to encourage them to come back for a different day part," he said.
All the panelists agreed that it is vital to negotiate sampling product into vendor deals. Hanson said he prefers to hire someone special to man the sampling tables because that interaction is vital to the sale. Ensuring that employees sample the product is also important because they can often be the best salespeople.
Solving the value equation was also a big concern for the panel. How do you price items so they are perceived as high quality, yet are still considered a good value? Hammel says he increases profit margins by upselling and offering combo meals. "We offer a $5.99 lunch buffet," Hammel said. "We can offer that buffet as an advertisement for our other more expensive buffets. So it's not just about that day's offering."
Toong says when he first came to college dining, students missed about 45% of their meals. To increase value, he implemented continuous operating hours so students could eat when they wanted. They also started allowing parents to eat for free, which encourage the kids to get more involved in the dining program. Consistency is also key to keeping up the value perception. Toong brings in student secret shoppers to look for areas to improve. Hanson agreed that consistency is a big factor in creating value.
"You always hear that it's better to be mediocre consistently than have periods of greatness," Hanson said. "When you set the level high, you've set yourself up to fail. Set it at a level you can maintain." Hanson offers a lot of seasonal items for a limited time to encourage customers to buy now or miss the chance.
The panelists also touched on the spoilage factor and offered some insights into how to manage it. Because of strict military restrictions, Hammel said he has to keep his spoilage to less than 1%.
Weiner said while he is nowhere near less than 1% for spoilage, he manages it by building it in to any new program. "I put it in on the expense line so it was easier to track," Weiner said. "We can't just not put product out there or it would bring sales down. Developing a reasonable spoilage line that is built into expenses works for us."
[Pictured (left to right): Abbie Westra, Steve Hammel, Byron Hanson, Ken Toong and Jerry Weiner.]