Foodservice: Going for Bold

Four foodservice trends from the 2015 NACS Show

"You've got to be able to play in the gray.”

The c-store industry is one of numbers, which makes the nuances and gray areas of foodservice—where no one empirical answer exists—a difficult challenge to accept. But Joe Chiovera, principal of Dallas-based XS Foodservice & Marketing Solutions and a speaker at the 2015 NACS Show, implored attendees to seize the foodservice opportunity without fear of the nebulous gray.

The idea of foodservice gray areas permeated the show, held in October in Las Vegas. You found it in an education session on menu labeling and its various loopholes and exceptions. It was manifest in the countless speakers who emphasized the importance of elements such as service and culture along with the tangible metrics on foodservice sales. And you saw it on the show floor, where suppliers rolled out new products that could be the Next Big Thing but still need to be executed well at the store level.

“Foodservice is not rocket science,” said Chiovera, arguing that in some respects foodservice is more challenging. “If it were, we’d have answers.” Here are four trends that will help move you from gray to black.

1. Big and Bold Prevail

Bold and spicy foods continue their prominent position on the c-store menu. Item rollouts such as sweet and spicy Thai chicken Roller Bites from Home Market Foods, a horseradish and roast beef sandwich from Deli Express, and McCain’s chipotle white cheddar cubes and pepper jack chorizo wedges are prime examples.

Johnsonville proclaimed “sausage is the new bacon,” offering samples of its new Ultimate Cheddar Beer Brat, which features real cheddar and dark craft beer from Wisconsin. Adding to the celebration of all things spicy and pork-based, Gehl Foods highlighted its cheese-sauce dispensers with smoky bacon cheddar and triple hot flavors.

1.7 billion

Value of Shake Shack when it went public earlier this year

2. Think Holistically

Anheuser-Busch partnered with Tyson Convenience to create marketing and merchandising strategies to benefit both companies. The two categories’ biggest sales opportunities are conveniently related: Foodservice sales are high during times of the day when beer sales are low, and vice versa. The companies displayed merchandising ideas for every day-part, such as multipack merchandising near the roller grill at lunchtime and grab-and-go sandwiches near single-can beers for a fast snack during a late-night beer run. Where else can you leverage complementary categories to increase market basket?

3. Customization Continues

Be it the increase in snack-size items or customer control at the coffee bar, consumers’ desire for customization is evident in what suppliers continue to roll out. The upside of all those condiment bars: When items such as whipped cream or hot-dog toppings are self-serve and free of charge, they are exempt from calorie-count requirements.

4. Simple Can Be Special

“Simple isn’t usually a word that’s associated with the c-store industry,” said Aaron Noveshen, NACS speaker and founder and president of foodservice consultancy The Culinary Edge, San Francisco. “But,” he said, citing most stores' variety, “is that going to create the destination experience that we’re looking for?”

Noveshen hailed restaurant darling Shake Shake, which was valued at $1.7 billion—or about $17 million per restaurant—when it went public this year. The secret of its success, he said, is a consistent, simple menu that’s been utterly perfected.

That simplicity played out on the trade-show floor. There were no real paradigm shifts this year, but rather an emphasis on perfecting what the industry is already succeeding with—even when it means playing in the gray zone.