The COVID-19 wracked year of 2020 was a disaster all around for the foodservice industry, but the losses were not evenly distributed, with some markets impacted much more heavily than others. For Elior North America, its concentration on less-hit institutional segments like senior dining, K-12 and corrections helped keep its revenue decline to the single digits—around 8.76%—which was considerably better than other broad market contract firms more heavily concentrated in areas like B&I, sports venues and colleges.
The major changes the company introduced in the past year were focused on elevating safety protocols for all foodservice locations and pickup and delivery services through a proprietary “new normal” program called Safe Café that was designed to combine rigorous health and safety standards to keep team members and customers safe with delivering on the culinary expectations of clients. Accordingly, efforts were concentrated on implementing changes to how clients and customers were being served—pickup and delivery vs. dine in, new 24/7 self-serve marketplaces, etc.—rather than to what was being serving them.
The objectives of the Safe Café platform included informing customers and guests of all measures taken to elevate safety protocols and to unite teams, clients, guests and communities to work together to make the sites safer, the service better and the teams stronger. Its signage, packaging seals and floor decals at units convey the health and safety standards upheld by unit teams while a QR code displayed leads guests and customers to a landing page that explains the details of Elior’s health & safety standards.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes the company created a Safe Café “Playbook” that outlined each element of the program for in-unit teams, including enhanced procedures for cleaning, physical distancing, service modification, personal health monitoring, personal protective equipment and other resources to support them in executing the program. Each of the operating companies also developed their own version of the Safe Café Playbook designed to outline guidelines and service modifications specific to their own clients’ needs.
For instance, K-12 by Elior developed the Preferred Mealtime Multi-pack program that offers multi-meal packaged meal boxes for K-12 students who are out of school or remote-learning students. Other initiatives to ensure that
food-insecure students who rely on school meals but were learning from home received the meals they needed included drive-thru meal pick-up stations, reverse bus routes to drop off food at bus stops and home delivery of school meals that is currently operating in more than two dozen districts with plans to expand to more.
Other executional elements of the program have included creating videos for clients to use with their communities, parent/guardian flyers in Spanish and English and color-coded communications by student age segment to go with menus. To promote student meal pick-ups, the team developed strategies such as Pick Up Meals e-blasts, robo-calls, district videos, banners, sidewalk signs, bus banners and class break ads.
Cura Hospitality, Elior’s healthcare market operating unit, converted its cafes into pop-up mini markets stocked with grocery items that healthcare staff could pick up on their way home, saving them a trip to the grocery store. It also initiated car hop service at its client hospital locations where its team delivered food to customers’ cars to ensure their safety,
organized safe outdoor meal events at its senior living facilities to facilitate safe socialization in support of residents, repurposed salad bars in cafes with pre-packaged items, helped combat loneliness of senior living residents and patients through live streaming cooking demos and unique delivery services and repurposed its Tatse of Cura heat-at-home program.
The Aladdin and Lexington Independents units, which serve college and independent school clients, have delivered meals to quarantined students and used GrubHub and other mobile apps to service students.
In addition, Aladdin developed reusable containers distributed for free to all students that it washes while giving them new ones and created a micro market for the quarantine areas so students can go and get meals, frozen meals, snacks, drinks and drink coolers when and as often as they want. It also installed cashless cashier stations in some of our locations and offered shelf stable meals from sister company, TRIO Community Meals to the campus community if needed.
Meanwhile, Lexington Independents went to total meal deliveries in many of its independent school locations, increasing the number of portable equipment units to make it happen.
The Corporate Chefs and Constellation Culinary Group units began installing micro markets to replace standard vending machines in office settings as they offer a variety of high-quality, fresh food with healthy and nutritious options with nutritional content able to be viewed before items are purchased. The packaged offerings can include grab and go, take-home pre-made meals and meal kits and the markets are custom-built based on space availability with a small footprint ad can support green building initiatives with Energy Star Equipment.
The Summit corrections unit implemented disposable serving trays to reduce contamination risk, provided pre-packaged meals in some cases, installed Safe Café for officer dining and generally enhanced safety standards without sacrificing service.
TRIO’s business model was impacted by the closing of senior centers to which, pre-COVID-19, it would prepare and deliver steam table pans of hot meals and bulk packaging of cold items. With the pandemic, all senior center meals transitioned to pre-plated fresh and frozen and TRIO also increased meal capacity as clients expanded their community reach. In addition, it adjusted operations to not only serve more meals but also deliver to homes or pick-up sites and change the types of meals served.
The Prepared Meals Co. unit not only worked in collaboration with K-12 by Elior to create the Preferred Mealtime Multi-Packs for K-12 students but ramped up production of shelf-stable emergency meals for agencies that provide them to citizens in need. It also implemented enhanced health and safety guidelines for production facilities to ensure safety of team members, as well as sustained efficiencies, and introduced new packaging to enable increased fresh meal offerings.
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