Hospital food isn't typically known for being cool or exciting. FlavorPort, a new hand-held dining concept developed by HHS, has sought to change that. And it's working.
Launched in August 2021, FlavorPort brings fun, street food-inspired flavors to hospital cafeterias. "Our customers are comprised of hospital staff and visitors. They're savvy. They want the opportunity to enjoy trendy and exciting foods," says Karl Sukley, HHS Senior Vice President of Culinary. Fresh ingredients, bold flavors, and visual appeal are the names of the game. "It gives customers the opportunity to get the same kinds of foods that they would get if they were visiting a food truck outside of the hospital," he says.
The program, now operating in roughly 60 hospitals nationwide, runs out of an operator's existing cafe or retail space. Branding, signage, and uniforms announce to customers the arrival of FlavorPort, which brings with it rotating culinary themes each week. One of the most popular is Southwest, which Sukley describes as "a little twist on Taco Tuesdays." The menu features 12 main dishes from which operators can choose, including garlic and shrimp tacos, chipotle rubbed ribs, crispy pork carnitas, stuffed poblano peppers, and roasted pineapple flan.
Another customer favorite is Farefest, a concept that serves up nostalgic carnival bites like pulled pork waffle fries, nachos, beef empanadas, and shrimp rolls. Other popular concepts include Pizzacana, featuring handheld twists on Italian classics like Italian sausage subs, bahn mi dogs and Hawaiian dogs; and Tailgate, with stadium favorites including jambalaya, beer boiled brats, and barbecue ribs.
Operators can drop FlavorPort into their existing menu rotation. "Right now Southwest is every Tuesday. On Fridays, operators can run the theme of their choice," Sukley says. Meals are served through Savor, the HSS-branded hot entree line, or Char, the HSS-branded grill station. "It helps take our clients to another destination," says HSS Corporative Executive Chef Peter Tseng.
Customers love FlavorPort because it's an exciting spin on lunch. "It's seasonal and trendy, so it breaks up the monotony," says Sukley. In fact, cafeteria operators see a 15% to 18% increase in revenue on FlavorPort days. "When we rolled our Farefest, hospital staff would come down at 12:00 for lunch and then they'd come back at 2:00 to get root beer floats," he adds.
And operators love it because it's easy to implement. Operators who buy in to FlavorPort gain access to a comprehensive guide book and a years' worth of chef-designed entree, side and dessert recipes, all designed to be made easily and almost entirely from scratch. "It makes it easier for the chefs and managers so they can spend time with customers and staff, rather than in the office planning," says Sukley.
And they can rely largely on the equipment that they already have, just adding FlavorPort branding and signage on service days. "We might be cone holders for pizza cones or salad cones, or taco holders, but really, it's common materials for the most part," Sukley says. "And every time you're introducing a new theme, you're still using the same equipment." The total investment runs between $200 to $1,000 per unit, which HSS says pays for itself after one or two program runs.
HSS takes a top-down approach to bringing staffers up to speed. Hospital foodservice operators and chefs met with HSS culinary pros to learn the basics. Then, the individual hospital operators could train their own staffers.
More than a year into its run, FlavorPort hasn't hit too many operational speedbumps or snags. But like so many foodservice operations, the concept has dealt with its share of supply chain issues related to the pandemic. "We rolled this out during Covid, and it really got customers excited about coming back to the cafeterias," Sukley says. "But a few of our specialty products, like some of the marketing and uniform supplies that were special order, we had some delays with those."
FlavorPort has stuck with its initial themes and menus so far, since they've proven so popular. "Sometimes when you think of cafeteria food, you think of just a lunch line and [the food is] just going to be plopped on a plate. But that's definitely not what you get with this," one customer remarked. But the trend-driven concept could shift with the times. "It's about just keeping up with what we're hearing about in our operations," Sukley says. "There are a lot of foodies out there."