Saturday, September 30, 2023

Yes, Chain Restaurants Continue to Stumble over Change


Once again, Foodservice Solutions®, Grocerant Guru® Steven Johnson stated “The restaurant industry is not an industry known for trying to be first as in fastest to market with an ideation, food or technology advance. In the United States the larger the chain in almost all cases the more slowly they are to adopt something than a smaller chain or independent restaurants will.  Chain restaurant’s goal is simple feed one meal at a time in the restaurant while protecting and edifying the brand.”

Thus, the line between restaurants and food retailers is growing ever thinner. The fight for America’s food dollars continues to intensify as consumers find fresh prepared Ready-2-Eat food options at a wide and growing array of outlets across almost every retail channel including the ilk of convenience stores, chain drug stores, restaurants, grocery stores, club stores, vending and even more non-food retailers like dollar stores. 

Food manufacturers, retailers, and restaurants worry about choice overload, consumers have embraced their new choices and show no signs of returning to the old ways. This fight is taking place in what is called the grocerant niche. In short there is an intense battle for an increase in Share of Stomach according to Johnson.

Do You Want a Larger

Share of Stomach

Consumers are Dynamic Your Brand Must Be as Well

Historically chain restaurant leaders have denied the credibility of start-up competitors as non-relevant. The pizza sector is a great example; evolving from family dinning independents to national chain of “Red Roof” Italian, then to delivery only outlets and now take-N-bake is garnering market share in the pizza sector. Today, furniture store IKEA has a $2 Billion US dollar grocerant niche Ready-2-Eat and Heat-N-Eat business that is driving growth of the legacy furniture retailer.

At the intersection of the consumer, fresh prepared food and technology we fine that consumer eating behavior is evolving and is now beyond the control of traditional food marketers. Millennials & Gen Z consumers are driving change in eating habits and demand more ‘clean food’ according to Johnson.

Evolving culture and lifestyle, demographics along with the new uncertain economy are all putting pressure on the American food consumer: Demands of work, economic shrinkage, demands of raising a family, commuting, social interaction, kid’s after-school activities, all contribute to a food marketplace where convenience vies with price over legacy brands.

Recent advances in food packaging and new points of non-traditional food distribution have empowered consumer choice, and Americans are embracing these choices even as legacy marketer’s cringe. Who’s after restaurant food dollars simply put everyone.

Why should you care if Walgreens is selling fresh prepared Ready-2-Eat and Made-2-Order sandwiches? Why should you care if Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Safeway and Wegmans are selling Ready-2-Eat and or Heat-N-Eat fresh pizza?  Why should you care if Coinstar is selling Seattle Best Coffee at 1,000 locations for $1.00?

The retail food world is evolving at an increasing pace filled with innovation in food, portion size, points of distribution, and quality fresh prepared meal solutions.      The price, value, service equilibrium is resetting in retail foodservice.   In order to edify the brand and reinforce consumer relevance restaurateurs leverage Foodservice Solutions® 5P’s of food marketing: Product, Packaging, Placement, Portability and Price.

Many legacy food retailers continue to practice brand protectionism, stifle the brand while diminishing consumer relevance.  The consumer is dynamic not static.  Brands must be dynamic, evolving with the consumer.  Four years of watching other retail sectors thrive should be long enough. Success in the restaurant world is no longer simply about what happens within your 4 walls. 

Steven Johnson is the Grocerant Guru at Tacoma, WA based Foodservice Solutions®, with extensive experience as a multi-unit restaurant operator, Food Brand Strategic Advisor, brand / product positioning expert and at public speaking. Johnson,

Friday, September 29, 2023

Restaurants Mix and Match Meal Bundling Included Drinks and Beverages


Grocerant niche mix and match meal bundling that include alcohol and non-alcoholic beverages according to Steven Johnson Grocerant Guru® at Tacoma, WA based Foodservice Solutions® who recently stated, “many times the profitability of a delivery order will increase two-fold when beverages are included with the delivery order of meals or meal components.”  

With more and more new ‘to-go’ laws regarding takeout alcohol around the country Francine Cohen recently pointed out that, “today, the tide has changed. Drinks that could walk out the door with a guest back then meant the difference between life or death for a business; now they’re a unique marketing tool and a smart additional revenue stream.”

The team at Foodservice Solutions® recently found consumers want both food and beverages delivered:

    1. Recent Grocerant ScoreCards found 82.3% of consumers don’t know what’s for dinner at Noon, and 61.8 % don’t know what’ s for dinner at 4PM.
    2. 68.2 % of consumers would order alcohol with a meal or meal components from a restaurant if available when ordering.
    3. Roughly 63.7% of consumers purchase prepared food items from a retail location at least three times a month.
    4. 79.6% all dinners have at least 1 grocerant niche Ready-2-Eat and Heat-N-Eat meal component and 66.6% have two meal components per day.
    5. When asked if they wanted to cook dinner from scratch or assemble dinner from fresh meal components 91.3 % of Gen Z chose assemble from Fresh Prepared Meal Components and Millennials 83.4% chose meal components.
    6. Seventy-three percent of retail prepared food purchases are taken to go
    7. 88.2 % of consumers prefer hand held food over sit down meals with a knife and fork

Francine Cohen in an article had insights into beverages for delivery has several great examples that I will share here:

“Ka-wana Jefferson, owner of Sweet and Sweet Catch in Brooklyn, has ridden the rollercoaster from necessity to nice-to-have, and is still committed to offering a selection of drinks to-go on her menu. Sweet Catch has a menu created by Shannon Mustipher, which is designed to enhance the flavors of the menu while creating flavor touchpoints for the community’s palate.

“Since Covid it’s been a great incentive to have that additional stream,” Jefferson said. “During the pandemic it was a lifeline. It was needed, it gave us life and essentially kept us in business.”

“Sweet has been open for seven years,” Jefferson continued, “but Sweet Catch Brooklyn has only been open since the pandemic and we are open still far from out of the red, so having any revenue stream that enables us to increase growth has been essential.”

Jefferson explains how forces outside her four walls were essential for her decision to keep investing in the vessels needed for to-go drinks, “We are very connected with our community, and in talks with our merchant association, and it’s a consensus that covid has changed the trajectory of businesses.”

“Drinks to go are an additional stream that proves to be very helpful,” Jefferson said. “Truly in 2022 vs. 2020 we’re doing less to-gos, but those drinks we are doing are boosting up to-go orders and pushing people to our website. People are now able to add on that drink which they couldn’t do pre-covid. It’s a great incentive to order from us.”

That was the goal when Lisa Hawkins, Chief of Communications and Public Affairs at the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, noted the benefits of the work she and her team did in successfully lobbying at least 18 states and the District of Columbia to allow drinks to go.

Hawkins told us what they were hearing from consumers, “At the height of the pandemic, it allowed them to support their local restaurants and bars, while also enjoying a handcrafted cocktail at home. When the pandemic hit, so many people missed being at bars and a being able to pick up a handcrafted cocktail to go was a small way to bring that experience back into their homes.”

Touching people at home is where the magic really is. In a town like New Orleans where to-go drinks have been a forever thing (except during the pandemic, but that’s a legislative story for another day), it almost seems redundant to be talking about the benefits of drinks to go, but what they discovered down there is that you can teach an old dog new tricks. And a drinks to-go program can take on a whole new meaning during the holidays, for instance as they do at Cure.

Cure Co. founder Neal Bodenheimer oversees the programs at Cure, Val’s, Cane & Table, and Dauphine’s in DC too. Many an unfinished cocktail has been put in a to-go cup at the end of the night at one of his New Orleans establishments, but Bodenheimer has created a new bar experience for his guests, one that lingers long after they leave.

That’s important at holiday time when attention is pulled in many directions – iconic restaurants where families have celebrated for years draw them back, holiday pop up bars like Miracle and Sippin’ Santa draw them in, and so he harnessed an old tradition of egg nog with a new to-go twist and started promoting his batched egg nog via Instagram and expects it to go on sale at the bar shortly after Thanksgiving.

Bodenheimer shares why they take the time to batch the nog, “Any time you can provide something that a guest can walk out of the door with, something they can purchase, you should. I’ve seen this with our book. They want that add-on purchase. I think it’s a great thing to have.”

“For the average operator you’re always looking – bars have things that are branded, and we think about a nice pen with your bar or restaurant name on it, you want them to have stuff at their house that reminds them of you. It’s the same way with these drinks you want people to bring home a piece of the bar, not just for the extra revenue, but also for the marketing,” Bodenheimer concluded.

Making the marketing work with to-go drinks is one part reputation and one part organization. Good to go cocktails can be a reminder you exist and that you’re doing something great…if you merchandise them correctly. Nick Farrell is the Spirits Director who oversees the beverage programs at Show of HandsCaruso’s Grocery, and Irongate in DC and the bar programs at Devil Moon BBQ and Brewery Saint X in New Orleans.

During the Pandemic, Farrell sold a lot of bottled freezer cocktails that were simple open and pours and while sales have slowed down a bit, he’s still seeing 50-75 go out each week. He explains, “We could be doing a bit more but it’s not where we’re focused right now. We are selling them to the people who just want to take something home and don’t want to fuss around to have to make cocktails. They’ll come in and have a drink and – especially at our food hall – then take pizza home and grab a cocktail because it’s there.”

Farrell stocks his bottled drinks at the checkout counter. He notes, “We are purposefully putting drinks to-go at checkout – where it makes sense. And, it is easier than hand selling.”

Farrell’s commitment to glass bottled drinks is a reflection of his commitment to sustainability and drink integrity. Being able to share those values with guests is another marketing point to be made with to-go drinks.

When Jefferson started her to-go program she had branded cups, but over time shifted to standard stock options. But that leaves her, and many others who use what they buy at Restaurant Depot and places like that, with a missed opportunity. Two, actually. A missed opportunity to have their brand name in people’s hands, and a missed opportunity to do so while making a statement about their commitment to sustainability.

That’s where a product like The Good Cup comes in. After winning multiple design awards abroad, and being put to the test in bars, restaurants and coffee shops in Europe and Asia, Good Cup is bringing its environmentally sound alternative to plastic to-go cups to the US this fall.

Cyril Douret, co-founder, Managing Partner of Choose Save Planet’s The Good Cup, designed the first prototype after attending a music festival. He shares, “I was originally at the music festival where the waste from drinks was the most prominent and that was mostly plastic or paper cups with plastic lids! The vision is to remove as much plastics in the food and beverage industry as humanly possible.”

A noble effort many are on board with but haven’t had a solution for yet. Douret explains how it can be used for cocktails, “The Good Cup performs the same as a plastic cup, but actually is even better, because there is less possibility for the lid to pop off. So, if you can walk and sip with any other cup, The Good Cup will perform the same, if not better.”

Drinks to-go from Industry Spirits’ bottled cocktails with Vodka and Gin (Photos courtesy of Industry Spirits.

He continues, “Because The Good Cup uses a water based or aqueous coating on the inside of the cup, there is a certain percentage of alcohol that does best with the cup. Beer and wine are perfect at 10% alcohol content. We know straight alcohol will compromise the materials-anything over 40%. In between, the life of the cup is being tested, but has lasted up to two hours.”

Any shift to paper and or The Good Cup will make a significant shift in waste for “to-go” or “take-away” options for restaurants and bars.” Sounds like a potential option, especially as branding comes free of charge with every minimum order, and the cups come assembled in stacks of 25 or 50 which saves time when trying to get a drink out the door and maintain its integrity.

The integrity of the drink is one thing that is sacred for a bar. Much as you know a to-go meal isn’t going to be the same exquisite experience as dining in, you take out all the time; drinks run the same risks.

Andrew Friedman, founder of the bartender-owned spirits brand Industry Spirits got into the spirits business during the pandemic and leveraged his bartending and bar ownership expertise to help Washington state restaurants present great to-go cocktail offerings to their guests. He’ll come in and create a cocktail for them or work with them to adapt a popular menu cocktail for a to-go format and admits it is not for everyone.

Friedman remarks, “Nobody is doing a great job of marketing it to the customers to do it well; the servers don’t know what to do with it, you have to add it to your menu, and it just gets confusing unless it’s well managed. But when it is done right …what a to-go program can do is act as marketing.”

He concludes, “Someone is already in your business, so when you let them take home a really good cocktail and put a bottle in their freezer and then when they pull it out or open the freezer, they remember you. Instead of it being a replacement for them coming to your business, it’s a reminder about you. Every time they open the freezer there it is staring you in the face, reminding you to come back.” Ok, that said. Don’t over reach. Are you ready for some fresh ideations?

Do your food marketing ideations look more like yesterday than tomorrow? Interested in learning how Foodservice Solutions® can edify your retail food brand while creating a platform for consumer convenient meal participationdifferentiation and individualization?  Email us at: or visit us on our social media sites by clicking the following links: Facebook,  LinkedIn, or Twitter

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Streaming or Cable The 65 Inch HDTV Syndrome Continues to Disrupt Dinner


Once again Foodservice Solutions® recent Grocerant ScoreCards continue to indicate that at the intersection of the consumer, technology, and retail food sales we find the grocerant niche creating and expanding points of quality food distribution according to Steven Johnson, Grocerant Guru® at Tacoma, WA based Foodservice Solutions®. Simply put what and when consumers buy meals and meal components depends more on Where, When, and What they watch with whom on their 65-inch HDTV.

It’s at that intersection that Foodservice Solutions® Grocerant Guru® identified one universal commonality driving consumers buying pattern changes with the latest Grocerant ScoreCard finding that 83.6% of meals served at home include at least one Ready-2-Eat or Heat-N-Eat fresh food meal component. 

Johnson calls it and extension of the “The 65 Inch HDTV Syndrome he first identified, quantified, and qualified back in 2012.

For new readers of this blog, the grocerant niche is the result of the blurring line between restaurants, grocery stores, convenience stores, and drug stores all selling fresh prepared, portable, convenient meal solutions.  Targeted at the time-starved consumer with Ready-2-Eat or Heat-N-Eat fresh prepared food components that are perceived “better for you”, and portioned for one or two. Consumers like the Convenient Meal Participation, Differentiation, Individualization / Family Customization that these retailers offer.

Restaurateurs need to be particularly mindful of developments within grocerant niche for they are driving the change within the price, value, service equilibrium in retail foodservice.

It is at the intersection of the consumer, technology and The FIVE P’s of Food Marketing: Product, Packaging, Placement, Portability, and Price that retail food sales competition is expanding.

The 65-inch HDTV Syndrome is driving customers away from frozen foods as well. In a study from Packaged Facts, reports that sales in the $44 billion U.S. retail market for frozen foods have been up to flat with nearly all dollar sales gains attributable to inflation or new products with increased demand driven by consumer demand.

The study found that Preference for 57 % of consumer say fresh foods the top reason why US consumers have not purchased frozen foods in the last three months, followed by preference for home-cooked meals.

Fresh prepared ready-2-eat and heat-N-eat food in non-traditional outlets poses an ever-increasing threat to restaurant growth. Want to know how to best address the 67-inch HDTV Syndrome? 

For international corporate presentations, educational forums, or keynotes contact: Steven Johnson Grocerant Guru at Tacoma, WA based Foodservice Solutions.  His extensive experience as a multi-unit restaurant operator, consultant, brand / product positioning expert and public speaking will leave success clues for all. For more information visit or call 1-253-759-7869

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Convenience Stores Can Garner New Customers with Coffee


Coffee seems to warm the heart and is a comfort food of choice particularly in the fall and winter according to Steven Johnson Grocerant Guru® at Tacoma, WA based Foodservice Solutions®.

Johnson recently read an article written by Zhane Ison about the importance of coffee in C-stores wanted to share it with all readers of this blog, so here we go:

Coffee remains a hot commodity in convenience stores. Whether they’re buying a regular hot coffee, opting for their favorite seasonal flavor or selecting a cold-brew option, customers want their brew fresh, and they want it fast.

To keep coffee sales rising, c-store retailers are finding new ways to update their coffee segments to keep customers coming back for more. Here are five tactics c-stores are using to improve their coffee offerings.

1. Adding/Upgrading Bean-to-Cup Coffee Dispensers

Bean-to-cup dispensers allow consumers to access freshly brewed coffee in minutes while freeing up time for c-store employees during busy hours. With the demand for coffee continuing to rise, more retailers are either adding bean-to-cup dispensers in their stores or upgrading the dispensers they already have.

GetGo, which operates over 260 locations in western Pennsylvania, Ohio, northern West Virginia, Maryland and Indiana, recently upgraded its bean-to-cup dispensers at all of its self-service beverage areas.

“The new bean-to-cup dispensers make freshly brewed hot or iced coffee in less than a minute,” said Brandon Daniels, public relations manager for GetGo. “All the customer has to do is choose a couple of preferences on the touchscreen, and the machine does the rest of the work.”

Freshness is one of the main factors customers look for when deciding whether to buy a cup of coffee from a c-store. Adding bean-to-cup dispensers ensures consumers receive fresh coffee every time.

2. Including Cold Brew Coffee

During the summer, retailers notice a rise in customers wanting more cold coffee options. To keep up with this interest, more c-stores are adding cold-brew coffee products.

GetGo has seen an uptick in coffee sales since adding nitro and cold-brew coffee to its stores.

“We decided to add these products because we started to see a rise in customers’ interest in cold brew,” said Daniels.

Cliff’s Local Market also provides customers with different cold-brew coffee options to choose from, which has helped boost overall coffee sales for the c-store chain.

“As soon as Memorial Day hits, we tend to see a large uptick in cold-brew purchases. For all stores that have the space to offer cold brew, they carry a premium black cold brew, and then either a salted-caramel or French vanilla-flavored cold brew,” said Derek Thurston, director of foodservice operations for Cliff’s, which has 20 c-stores in New York. “We keep flavor shots near the cold-brew dispensers, so customers can enhance their cold brew if they like.”

Lubbock, Texas-based Curby’s Express Market has seen declining interest in hot coffee drinks.

“We focus on iced and frozen coffee drinks, along with our made-to-order energy drinks,” said Tony Sparks, head of customer wow for Curby’s.

3. Promoting Coffee Options With Deals

With inflation continuing to drive prices higher across categories, consumers are increasingly looking for deals or promotions. When retailers pair their coffee with a breakfast sandwich or offer deals on coffee alone, they gain even more traction toward their coffee offering.

“We offer a combo deal where we offer any breakfast sandwich with a medium coffee for $4.49. This bundling is attractive to our customers and provides a value incentive to continue to return more frequently,” said Thurston.

In April, for a limited time, GetGo offered customers a free self-serve coffee on Mondays when they used their Advantage card.

“After we started the Free Coffee Monday promotion, we introduced Summer Coffee Fridays,” said Daniels. “On Fridays, all nitro and cold-brew products are 99 cents, and made-to-order coffee is $1.99.”

Sparks also noted that Curby’s offers customers a free any-sized hot coffee in September and October with no purchase necessary.

Along with promotions, c-store retailers are starting to send coupons to their customers, encouraging them to come in and buy coffee to help improve coffee sales.

“Additionally, we send out monthly coupons to our email subscriber base. We offer a 49-cent medium coffee or a $1.49 any size cold brew every month,” said Thurston. “We will also do physical mailers with aggressive price points that get delivered in the mail to all households in our trade area. The free coffee coupon is always the highest redeemed coupon we offer, encouraging customers to continue coming in and getting a coffee, thus building habits.”

4. Offering Unique and Customizable Coffee Options

Not only do consumers love coffee, but they also want more options to choose from when it comes to coffee brands and creamer options.

Sparks mentioned that Curby’s is considering a couple novel coffee additions as it looks for unique and true points of differentiation and marketing position within its coffee segment.

Cliff’s offers customers a wide variety of creamers to keep up with the demand for customization.

“We dedicate a lot of counter space in all our stores to ensure customers have plenty of space to add their creamers, sugars and flavor shots. All stores offer a variety of creamers and flavor shots, which helps to enhance customers’ beverages and make them their own,” Thurston elaborated. “We will also offer seasonal creamer varieties to create additional seasonal excitement.”

5. Creating Powerful Partnerships or Going Private Label

Different avenues exist for creating a high-quality cup of coffee. While some retailers focus on developing their own private-label coffee brand, others bring in established coffee brands or partner with local roasters to help them deliver new and exciting options for their customer base. The trick is determining which path works best for your chain.

Earlier this year, GetGo introduced a new signature blend of coffee beans that features a hand-blended, full-bodied mix of four premium beans from around the world and delivers hints of smokiness, cocoa, citrus and cherry.

Meanwhile at Curby’s, “we are working on co-branding with a coffeehouse-style roaster,” said Sparks.

Cliff’s has partnered with Ultra Coffee, a local coffee roaster in its market area, to introduce new and exciting coffee flavors.

“Through this partnership, we introduce a new flavored coffee every two to three months,” said Thurston. “This drives some additional demand and excitement.”

Looking for success clues of your own? Foodservice Solutions® specializes in outsourced food marketing and business development ideations. We can help you identify, quantify and qualify additional food retail segment opportunities, technology, or a new menu product segment.  Foodservice Solutions® of Tacoma WA is the global leader in the Grocerant niche visit us on our social media sites by clicking one of the following links: Facebook,  LinkedIn, or Twitter