Experts urge processors to foodservice strategies in recession

Panel tips processors to foodservice strategies in recession
By Ann Bagel Storck on 3/30/2009

— In an effort to deliver value to a shrinking number of consumers
dining out, foodservice operators and the processors that supply them
are turning to value cuts, smaller portion sizes and other creative
strategies, according to a panel discussion here at the North American
Meat Processors Association 2009 Meat Industry Management Conference.

The panel, which was moderated by Chandra Ram, editor of Meatingplace’s sister publication Plate,
included Peter Bozzo, vice president of Chicago Meat Authority; Andy
Malcolm, chairman of Sysco Specialty Meat Companies; Ron Krivosik,
executive chef for Levy Restaurants’ Sports and Entertainment Division;
and Larry Huber, owner of Clean Plate Restaurant Systems, which
operates Chicago-area eateries including Merle’s Barbecue of Evanston
and Davis Street Fishmarket.

“The economy has been a game-changer,” Huber said. “It has forced us to completely reevaluate the way we’re doing business.”

Smaller portions

One successful foodservice business strategy during this recession,
panelists said, is offering restaurant diners high-quality items in
smaller portions.

“People are looking for ways to get the full dining experience, even if it’s abbreviated,” Huber noted.

“Customers don’t want less quality,” Bozzo agreed, “but they may want smaller portions.”

Bozzo pointed out the ongoing emergence of small plates as evidence
of this trend. In some cases, he said, items that were once viewed as
starters are now serving as entrees. One item Chicago Meat Authority
markets to meet this demand is a smaller pork cutlet, designed for
offerings such as sliders.

Value cuts

The beef industry’s value cuts such as the flat iron steak as well
as pork cuts that offer maximum value are another way the foodservice
industry is coping with the recession.

Krivosik, who develops menu items for ballparks and sports arenas
nationwide, said he has incorporated beef culotte into dishes such as
salads. “It’s an economical cut with great flavor, and you can marinate
it,” he said.

Bozzo noted that even a familiar cut such as pork tenderloin can be
positioned and utilized as a value cut, provided it is marketed to
chefs and presented to consumers in the right way.

Sysco’s Malcolm agreed that value cuts are especially important to
the industry, but they must be marketed properly, sometimes through
creative names such as bistro filet or bistro tenderloin.

“There’s a way to market all of that,” he said. “Everything has its place — our job is to find it.”

Unique offerings

Especially during a recession, Krivosik noted, foodservice
operators and consumers are looking to find the biggest bang for their
buck. Consequently, Levy Restaurants has focused on introducing unique
items, such as a 2-foot-long hot dog.

“We’re always looking for something unique,” Krivosik said, “something to make people say, ‘Wow — this is unbelievable.'”

Strong partnerships

It’s more important now than ever, Bozzo and Malcolm agreed, for
processors to build strong partnerships with their foodservice

“We used to take business for granted,” Malcolm said. “Today it’s much different.”

Malcolm explained that now when Sysco creates new items, it pays
particular attention to showing customers the best ways to use them.

Bozzo added that that sort of proactivity is key for Chicago Meat
Authority as well. “Call your customers before they have a problem,” he
said. “That will help keep your business a preferred supplier.”