The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, CA, builds Rovers—think “Spirit” and “Opportunity,” both “roving around” Mars, plus the recently-launched Mars Science Lab that’s slated to reach its destination come next August. As one of NASA’s locations (yes, it’s “high security”), there are lots of comings and goings here.
Approximately 2,500 folks are served each day in various venues on the 177-acre campus, where foodservices are provided by the dining department of next-door California Institute of Technology. And intercept marketing plays an important role in reaching diners across the JPL campus.
According to Bonnie Gerszte, dining and JPL Store liaison, two carts, each offering the identical menu, are located in two high traffic areas where staff and visitors weren’t well-served and have done so for almost a decade. One is a fully-plumbed “mall” cart, positioned on the outdoor plaza in front of the lab where many public events are held, and boasts a 20 ft. by 15 ft. canvas enclosure. Its roll-down sides keep the rain out and it can be completely closed down at night by rolling down a fourth wall.
The second cart, a.k.a. the JPL Store Cart, is also situated outdoors, just beyond the campus store. It boasts a wood framework with canvas cover for lock up overnight. (The JPL Store, the JPL Store Cart and a three-year-old JPL Store Kiosk located within the Visitor Center, all offer JPL and NASA logoed items, as well as space-related gifts. Food-related items are not the focus (for the Store or the Kiosk) but three flavors of freeze-dried ice cream—available in silver packets of bite-size chunks ready for an astronaut wannabe to grab-n-go—sell briskly for $1.50 each.
“We do want people to come into our cafeterias, but our carts serve a very different purpose,” Gerszte says. “They’re for a quick pick up and go and are located where there’s a lot of traffic that’s not close to our cafeterias. We probably do about $1,200 daily at the mall and about $600 at the JPL Store Cart; if folks are spending their lunch hour at the store, this way they still have time to eat.”
Over the years, the carts have evolved from their tent-like origins to more substantial structures while the limited menu of pastries, specialty coffee drinks and snacks has enticingly expanded to include pre-made sandwiches, salads, chili, soup and oatmeal in winter, plus hot dogs, sausages, pre-made burritos, egg muffin sandwiches and various other items stocked from one of three main cafeterias.
The cart concepts in and of themselves have served to increase food service sales by providing additional opportunities, Gerszte says; she finds that promotions create some buzz, such as a recent Oatmeal Muffin Day, and are advertised in a campus-wide monthly newsletter, via e-mails, and also noted on the dining service web site.