Reaping Retail’s Rewards

Non-commercial foodservice operators discuss how they’re making gains from retail

By  Abbey Lewis, Executive Editor

(l to r) Reeves, Brown, Garrett, Bulford-Frazier

SCHAUMBURG, Ill. -- Perhaps retail isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about foodservice in a college or university, or a hospital. But more and more non-commercial venues are breaking into the retail sphere with integrated convenience stores, cafes and branded outlets such as Starbucks. Four such venues shared some of their retail strategies at the 2012 Foodservice at Retail Exchange, held last week in Schaumburg, Ill.

Moderated by Raquel Bulford-Frazier, chief of nutrition and food service for Miami VA Healthcare System and West Palm Beach VAMC, the panel discussed everything from what they’ve implemented to how and why they did it, and even how they promote their retail offerings.

Hal Brown, Director of UNC Dining Services, University of Northern Colorado
Brown manages 106 full-time employees and 500 part-time student employees. His personal slogan, “we feed the bears,” refers to the university’s mascot, and also the hungry student population. His group also prepares 60,000 meals annually for the Weld County Senior Meals Program. Retail-wise, UNC’s new convenience store, Munchy Mart, was his brainchild. He also has a hand in running a campus-based Einstein Bros Bagels, Subway, Taco Bell Express, Starbucks and three self-branded Campus Coffee Corners. 

Why the c-store?

“Students want everything now,” he said. “They want it yesterday. And they want it portable.”

His marketing strategy from the very beginning with the c-store was NOT to charge as much as a regular c-store. “We really have to look at our value on the dollar,” he said.

When asked how he was able to keep prices so low, he mentioned that he works with Premier Inc., a buying group, and Core-Mark, a c-store distributor.

Jon Garrett, Senior Director, Premier REACH, Premier Inc.
Premier REACH is a buying group for colleges and universities, K–12 schools, recreation and hospitality. Members can take advantage of better prices offered through Premier’s contracts. According to Garrett, Premier REACH is a member-driven, “all-encompassing solutions” group.

Garrett says he's beginning to see more and more innovation in retail for some of the company's buyers. He said he’s seeing more “all-in-one space.” For example, they’ve supplied creative vending formats for off-hour employees, such as in a hospital, when traditional foodservice has closed down for the day. Essentially an unmanned, mini c-store, the business operates in a trusting environment, where staff pays for goods on the honor system.

David Reeves, Director of Hospitality Services, Elmhurst Memorial Healthcare
Reeves was so hands-on in the creation of the new Elmhurst Memorial Healthcare integrated campus, he even led the design of foodservice operations as well as operational planning for it, down to the building design. The new 260-bed acute-care hospital with all private rooms opened June 25, 2011. Retail food operations include multiple dining options in the Wildflower Café as well as a licensed Starbucks Coffee store.

Almost 65% of the meals he serves are not patient related, he said, citing that this is an opportunity for growing revenue. Especially as the subsidized cafeterias of the past are going away, he said.

“Health-care reimbursement is tied to patient satisfaction,” he said. “Retail is going to continue to be what helps us reduce some costs.”

FARE 2013 will be held June 18-20 at the Renaissance Schaumburg. Stay tuned to www.foodserviceatretail.com for details.