LAS VEGAS -- Foodservice has been at the forefront of the convenience retailing industry for a few years now. All that attention yielded some game-changing innovations and clever new products at the 2012 NACS Show in Las Vegas.
Following is a roundup of 10 great ideas from the show floor and education sessions:
1. Hot Sandwich ATM. Landshire showed off the prototype for a touch-screen ordering machine that also cooks sandwiches to order. The customer taps in his or her order, and the chosen sandwich moves via conveyor belt from the refrigerated area to the microwave. The proprietary "receptor film" packaging helps along the cooking process, and the machine ejects the ready-to-eat sandwich in 40 seconds. The machine is currently in test in the St. Louis area, and Landshire hopes to launch it to the market next spring.
2. Conveyor Oven Evolution. From a new name on the show floor, Ovention's Matchbox Oven is the next generation in conveyor ovens. Created by the inventor of the original TurboChef oven, the Matchbox has two cooking surfaces that broil, bake, grill or toast. The two surfaces allow the preparer to queue up food, cook hot dogs at the push of a preset button to specific time and temperature and prep buns to be toasted automatically after the hot dogs are done. The enclosed cooking area keeps the temperature high, which makes for better cooking times.
3. Catering Potential. An education session on the first day of the show delivered ideas to develop a catering program. Speakers advised retailers focus on an angle that makes sense for their product offering and demographic base--whether that's sandwich platters for Sunday football parties or boxed salads for the gym down the street. To get the word out, connect with realtors to have food at open houses, and send free platters to radio stations--hopefully they will plug the company's product on the air.
4. Routine Busters. Many companies are rolling out differentiating products to complement existing offers for the customer who doesn't want to eat a hot dog or turkey sandwich five times a week. Sara Lee was showing off a blueberry pancake corndog to beat breakfast boredom, and packaged, ready-to-eat pot roast and pulled pork sandwiches to complement a burger offering. Subway was discussing its Mama DeLuca's Pizza concept that can be built onto an existing Subway franchise.
5. Flavor Mash Ups. Further breaking flavor fatigue were a parade of products fusing unexpected flavors. Sara Lee focused on sweet and savory items such as a sausage and egg maple pancake breakfast sandwich. The offering from Loudmouth Burritos, from Don Miguel, includes a pepperoni pizza burrito and a cheeseburger burrito.
6. Customization is King. Many food companies were accentuating their existing offers with a spectrum of sauces for the customer to "have it their way." Krispy Krunchy launched a new line of sauces to complement its fried chicken and biscuits. Arcobasso Foods, a NACS newcomer that makes customized and private-label sauces, had a selection of unique sauces including the "Rustup," or Lazy Man's Sauce: relish, mustard and ketchup, all in one bottle.
7. Solve Dinner, Solve Mom. The natural trajectory for a foodservice program is to first master breakfast, then lunch, and finally dinner. Unfortunately, most of the industry is still trying to solve the dinner daypart. The folks at Tyson Foods believe the solution just might help another c-store struggle: capturing mom. By offering dinnertime solutions to feed the family--be it take-and-bake pizzas or home meal replacements such as Tyson's new Deli Market, retailers might solve two c-store hurdles in one.
8. Don't Dictate Dayparts. A big message at many food booths was to offer an array of items for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks, but also to keep the definition of those dayparts loose. The 9:00 a.m. meal may be an egg and cheese sandwich for some people, a corn dog for others. A snack for some may be yogurt and a fruit cup, or a slice of pizza.
9. Create Sanitation Touchpoints. During a food safety education session, Keith Rowland of Ecolab offered a helpful tip: Create a list of all the touchpoints in your store, such as coffee spigots, cooler doors and door handles. This process provides you with a list of all the spots that need to be sanitized on a regular basis. Ecolab was also featuring a new roller grill cleaning product at the show.
10. Location-Based Snow Cones. During the annual Ideas 2 Go general session, Douglass Distributing's CEO Diane McCarty shared the success they have seen by selling snow cones at the entrance of its car washes. A booth manned by "starlets" entice cars full of families to spend some extra cash on a treat to enjoy during the ride through the wash.