As I write this, it's the end of June—the time of year most people are embarking on vacations, trying to get personal days off and, in general, enjoying that time of year when "the livin' is easy."
Among noncommercial segments, it's also a time of shows and conference travel. And the season when editors are often asked to comment on trends they see in their markets as they plan editorial calendars for the year that will begin six months from now. Here are five trends I'm keeping a close eye on; I'll conclude with another five next month.
Take-in Take-out. I've commented on this trend before, but the nature of today's workplace makes it more ubiquitous all the time. Whatever business you're in, you find workers today pressed to do more work in less time, stressed by demands to increase personal productivity.
Increasingly, that means customers buying food that can be quickly prepared, served and carried back to the desk or workspace. While that means fewer people spending a full lunch hour in the traditional dining area, it can also mean new consumption patterns on which you can capitalize with higher-margin products.
Make sure your operation has an easy way for customers to select and pick up such meals. Consider extended hours with limited service options. Also, make sure the grab-and-go items on your menu rotate, so these customers get the same variety you strive for in your servery fare.
Component cooking. As the implementation of HACCP programs for food safety makes us all doubly aware, onsite foodservice is all about "process." More today than ever before, operators run their kitchens like justin-time manufacturing operations. That means an increased emphasis on finding more efficient ways to bring together raw materials, ingredients and convenience items throughout the production process.
When these are treated as components—whether they are pre-prepped or frozen fruits and vegetables for stir fry production, pre-portioned spice mixes that simplify batch production or marinated protein items ready to be finished off at a display station—they improve the efficiency of the manufacturing process. Find more ways to simplify component storage and usage and you'll improve quality and efficiency at the same time.
Lifestyle branding. You see this mostly in high schools and colleges, as young people use their selection and consumption of products as a way of defining their individuality. It can encompass everything from a particular type of energy drink or bottled water to the customization of bulk cereal snack mixes.
The key to capitalizing on it is to offer items that play to this desire and to offer self-service customization options. It is to recognize that choices in question are not selected only because of taste or habit, but because they are used by the customer, consciously or unconsciously, to brand him or herself as a unique individual with a personally-defined lifestyle.
"Push" text messaging. You don't see much of this yet, but it's just around the corner. A new generation of customers that relies on cell phone texting to stay in touch with friends and colleagues has created the equivalent of a 24-hour social network and an accompanying message "crawl screen" that marketers are just now learning how to use.
On college campuses and in the workplace, text-based promotions could be a natural next step from today's web-based promotions. (Think real-time merchandising. For example, to build traffic during low shoulder periods or to promote daily specials that aren't moving in the volume planned). Technology to help organizations manage community text messaging is coming to the market as we speak.
Concern about sustainability and the "carbon footprint." Interest in sustainable foods and processes has gotten so much press in the last year it is tempting to think this has reached its peak. But continuing concerns about global warming, rising energy prices and better nutrition almost guarantee that lots more attention will be paid to these issues. It will affect menus, promotions, kitchen equipment choices, the selection of suppliers and many other facets of the foodservice environment. Stay tuned...