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Minnow_pickup_pod_food_retrieval.jpg Fresh Ideas Food Service Management
The pods can hold hot and cold items for limited times. With Fresh Ideas, the limit for temp-sensitive orders is 20 minutes.

Automated pickup pods boost sales for Fresh Ideas Food Service

A mid-semester experiment saw a 1,000% increase in mobile orders once the pod pickup option was introduced at Westminster College; later, the units helped bridge renovation-related obstacles at a dining venue at Maryville University.

FM Top 50 firm Fresh Ideas Food Service Management has traditionally embraced tech solutions to enhance its operations. The company’s most recent tech foray has through been a partnership with automated pickup pod vendor Minnow to install Minnow units in several Fresh Ideas operated campus dining locations.

The Minnow pickup pods are accessed by an individual code sent to the recipient’s phone that lets them access the slot in the pod that contains their mobile ordered food and drink, thus avoiding both wait times and the crowding that tends to gather around pickup points in more traditional operations, especially during peak periods.

Minnow_pickup_pod_closeup.jpgPhoto credit: Fresh Ideas Food Service Management

Photo: The Minnow pickup pods hold mobile ordered food and beverages, allowing pickup transactions to be conducted quickly and away from serving counters.

The initiative has produced some notable advantages, notes Chief Technology Officer Bob Love, including a boost in sales at Westminster College in Missouri, where a pod was installed in mid-semester this past spring to serve customers of a campus retail dining outlet called the JCI.

“Our goal was to see two things,” Love explains. “First, would it help the user experience even post COVID? We knew it definitely would help during COVID because it gave more of a non-contact experience to our customers. Also, we wanted to see the impact on sales—would people be more apt to use the location [if the pod pickup option was available]?”

The company measured sales both before and after the pod installation at the JCI.

“We’ve had our Fresh-X mobile app available there for quite some time, but customers still seemed to want to come in [to order] and then wait in line even though they had the option of mobile ordering,” Love relates. “We wondered if we could make an impact if we gave them a new solution to pick up their mobile order.”

Average daily mobile order sales at JCI were a barely measurable $3 pre-pickup pod but jumped 1,000% once the pods became available. Love concedes that some of that simply transferred counter orders to the mobile platform, but incremental sales did also increase by about 5% so the venue did see more overall business from the addition.

“That’s $100 to potentially $300 a week in the middle of a semester when students are starting to run out of money, so for us that was a big win,” he notes.

It also meant not having students hanging around for 5-10 minutes waiting for their orders, which not only was a desirable safety measure but helped make production more efficient while boosting customer satisfaction. Love notes that in a subsequent survey Fresh Ideas sent out, 52% of respondents said they planned to order more because of the availability of the pickup pods.

In fact, Fresh Ideas initially restricted pod usage to food orders because of worries that the 10 pod slots would be overwhelmed by beverage-only orders—JCI has a coffee bar component with mobile ordering in addition to its food offerings—but customers indicated they wanted everything to be available for pod pickup, showing an appreciation of the unit’s convenience and completely contactless transaction capability.

“We’re excited to see what the results will be for the fall when we can do a more [extensive] marketing campaign,” Love offers.

Minnow_pickup_pod_code_access.jpgPhoto credit: Fresh Ideas Food Service Management

Photo: To get their order, customers receive an individual code that lets them access the slot that contains it. 

When the spring term ended at Westminster, Fresh ideas moved the pod unit to Maryville University in St. Louis, where it showed the potential to solve another problem—that of continuing customer service at a dining outlet during a front-of-the-house renovation by converting to a temporary ghost kitchen approach.

“The back-of-the-house was still operating, as it wasn’t part of the renovation,” Love explains. “The pod let us continue to serve out of there by having students mobile order and then pick up from it” without need to access the construction-affected servery area.

Once that role is finished, Fresh Ideas has further plans for the pod, moving it—and perhaps adding others as well—to a central dining court to facilitate service there, Love says.

“This location is in the student center, where there are a lot of student activities, and it’s also kind of in the middle of campus, so they can mobile order from anywhere” and then easily access their orders, he notes.

The pods can take on other roles as well. For instance, at another Fresh ideas operated campus, Midland University in Nebraska, they have been used not only for after-hours and weekend mail pickup but as a student engagement tool.

“They had a prize hunt, where they pulled names from a hat,” Love explains. “The student who won the prize got a code to get it from the pod. It’s a great way to add some excitement—and also helps promote the pods.”

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