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When it comes to merchandising in onsite foodservice environments, the food matters, but so does the brand.
Branded stations can even extend the brand umbrella over a variety of offerings not traditionally associated with the name. The Betty Crocker Kitchen at the University of Southern California retails the cookies, muffins and brownies the brand is known for. But it also now sells bagels, which is not a Betty Crocker product.
"One of the issues was, we wanted to have bagels, and General Mills doesn't really make any bagels," explains Mike Gratz, USC's director of hospitality services. "But bagels are an important part of a bake shop, so we worked to get an arrangement where we use some of their ingredients to make our bagels, which we can then sell under the Betty Crocker brand. It's the kind of episode that illustrates how a good relationship with a manufacturer can work."
The bagels help the Betty Crocker station stay busy throughout the day, an important considerations says Gratz. "A big mistake with some of these concepts is limiting them to only certain times of the day," he says. "You really want something that can attract customers over most of the day."
That has been the case with Columbo station USC has operated for the past seven years, which not only offers a range of delicacies that appeal across multiple dayparts but has allowed the department to take advantage of some hot consumer trends, such as the smoothie craze. "General Mills did a great job of getting involved in that and it has been a very popular brand for us," Gratz offers.
Cross-daypart operation is not a problem for the Sara Lee Sandwich Shoppe at the University of Missouri's Union Square food court, which complements three other in-house branded concepts in the servery. The Sara Lee Shoppe does about half the Union Square's total business, says Manager Linda Sanders.
Open from nine in the morning to five in the afternoon, the station offers bagels, rolls and muffins in the morning and pastries, baked goods, made-to-order sandwiches and salads the rest of the day.
Sanders says the only real restriction the station has from Sara Lee is the use of the company's deli meats in the sandwich offerings but she says she also tries to use Sara Lee baked goods as much as possible.
Sanders says she is conscious of the value of the Sara Lee brand in helping her sell product and makes sure it is never compromised. "People know the Sara Lee name and I'm not going to put some noname product in there that doesn't have the same quality," she says.
ConAgra's Healthy Choice retail brand helps King's Daughters Medical Center in Ashland, KY, provide customers with meal choices that are perceived to be "healthy" in its Parkview Cafe retail dining operation. The Healthy Choice options are scattered among the different stations depending on menu emphasis—pizzas on the Italian station, entrees at the entree station, etc.— and designated with signage.
"We went with Healthy Choice because it immediately tells people that they can expect a heart-healthy meal," says Food Service Director Dave Stevens. "They are familiar with the brand from retail so there's an immediate connection."
Most certainly. Since the inception of the Healthy Choice meal options six months ago, the line has been selling some 240 meals a day, Stevens says, success he adds would not be possible with generic choices.
"We use national brands because if students complain we can demonstrate that we use the same products here that they use at home," -- Head Chef Bill Connors, Univ. of Illinois-Carbondale
Other than identifying branded products used as ingredients in recipes and using brands to build station concepts, the most pervasive use of retail brands in onsite foodservice is in retail grab-and-go and c-store applications, areas where brands clearly stand out without any extra effort because products come pre-packaged with the brand name clearly visible.
Grab-and-go cases in onsite environments brim with Dannon yogurts, Kellogg's cereals, Uncle Ben's rice bowls and a universe of familiar bottled beverages, packaged snacks and condiment brands: Pepsi and Coke soft drinks, Minute Maid juices, Frito Lay chips, Heinz ketchup, Grey Poupon mustard, Smuckers jams.
But even in these brand-identified contexts, manufacturer-produced merchandising aids and programs—from simple racks dedicated to a single supplier's products to elaborate merchandising displays that tie in to broader manufacturer promotions—can help increase sales.
For example, Nestle, owner of the Stouffers Lean Cuisine frozen calorie-controlled meals line, is kicking off a six-month " Destination Lean Cuisine" sweepstakes in January (the grand prize is a spa vacation) that involves foodservice as well as retail operators. This is the kind of promotional after-burner that no onsite operator can hope to develop and field working individually but which are routinely available through manufacturer branded tie-ins.
In a similar vein, cookie manufacturer Otis Spunkmeyer has worked with the American School Food Service Association ( ASFSA) to develop themed promotions during the annual National School Lunch Week period each fall.
In 2002, the company's "Red, White and Blue" cookie program nearly tripled sales of its products in schools during September and October. This past fall, the company offered resources like sample media tools and templates and educational activity sheets to school FSDs on the NSLW website, which received three times the hits it did the previous year as school FSDs took advantage of the free materials. Spunkmeyer also provided disposable message cameras as a giveaway premium to schools that menued its cookies during NSLW.
Display's the Thing
Even without the promotional goosing of contests and giveaways, branded product displays can drive sales in retail environments in ways that generic, ad hoc product racking can't match.
For example, while almost any snack display will attract a certain amount of business in a cafeteria or c-store environment, a company like Kellogg's can provide an added push by arranging its arsenal of highrecognition snack brands—Club and Wheatables crackers, Rice Krispies Treats, Famous Amos cookies, Pop-Tarts pastries—on the most effective floor and counter rack options and providing marketing support to make them as effective as possible.
If logos are evocative, brand sysmbols are downright powerful. The Pilsbury doughboy instantly communicates all the consumer perseptions associated with that brand.
The branded display can be a simple rack arrangement of product or an extension of a brand with specialized equipment suitable to a grab-and-go environment, such as a Toll House cookie warmer from Nestle or a SuperPretzel hot pretzel dispenser from J&J Snack Foods, which has extended its product reach from packaged salty snacks to this kind of branded hot food offering through the SuperPretzel line.
Pie in the Sky Expectations
Not all brand identities translate from retail to foodservice, of course. To be effective, the brand must occupy a category in which there is not only a value associated with the brand within the category, but the category itself is not seen as generic.
For instance, when Arlington (TX) ISD attempted to brand pizzas on its school lunch lines, it found that "kids didn't particularly care about the brand on the box. As long as the pizza tasted good, they bought it, whatever name was on it," says District Foodservice Director Sandra Proski. She speculates that the students were not overly familiar with the retail brands the district was employing and so they tended to judge the product on its base merits without brand-influenced preconceptions. When the district did introduce one brand that was sure to be familiar—Pizza Hut—in some locations, the impact was measurable.
But other operators have found considerable success with branded pizza concepts. For example, Schwan's Food Service has been highly successful in placing branded pizza stations in a variety of onsite locations, such as a Freschetta station at the University of Pittsburgh and a striking Red Baron station at Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, NY.
We Have a Wiener
If pizza sometimes has difficulties branding its offerings, hot dogs represent a category that lends itself to retail crossover branding perfectly. The product is usually sold in branded packages at supermarkets, habituating consumers to think of them in terms of brands. Further, because those brands represent readily-identifiableflavor and quality variances, the distinction between brands is discernable, prompting brand-driven purchase decisions. Finally, hot dogs are a classic foodservice menu item.
Hence it is natural that retail-branded hot dog stations crop up in all sorts of onsite locations: the Bryan stand at Nissan, the Oscar Mayer Hot Dog Construction Company outlet at the Columbus Zoo, the Hebrew National hot dog cart at Marist College and the Nathan's Hot Dogs stand at the University of Massachusetts.
"Nathan's met our objectives when we were looking at branding our hot dog stand three years ago," says U-Mass Dining Services Director Ken Toong. "People recognized the brand—10 percent of our students are from the New York City area—and it placed first in a blind taste test we held before making a decision."
Today, U-Mass operates three highly successful Nathan's locations in retail and residential dining as well as concessions and Toong has been looking at other branding tie-ins. One is a recently opened Greek cuisine station using the Kronos brand in its retail food court, put in to try to leverage the high profile Greek culture is expected to get with next summer's Olympic Games in Athens. So far, it's been a success, being the second most popular of the food court's eight stations, says Toong.