Tag Archives: Food & Beverage

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Reopening roadblocks: How your equipment can bridge the gap

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With much of the country open again, the summer of reconnection is in full swing – complete with family cookouts, long-awaited dinners with friends, and an overall resurgence of in-person shopping and dining. Yet, as vaccine distribution continues to climb and many states lift COVID-related restrictions, the food industry finds itself facing full reopening just as it encounters a number of post-pandemic road blocks. For some organizations, food service concerns are just now coming to light after being long overshadowed by bigger challenges. Rapidly shifting consumer behavior has seen restaurants relying on outside delivery services and facing an industry wide labor shortage. And a disrupted supply chain has impacted everyone from farmers to grocers.

For leaders in the food industry, it seems, the steady return to normalcy is simply a transition to a new state of uncertainty. As you prepare for widespread reopening, you’re likely wondering how to tackle these new challenges while staying focused on recovering revenue and keeping up with demand. A big part of the answer lies in what you’re keeping behind the counter.

Six ways your equipment can bridge the gap

A critical factor in overcoming these new and potentially long-lasting challenges is one that may not have been on your mind much since the start of the pandemic: your equipment. Whether you’re returning to serving eat-in customers, juggling delivery and retail, preparing a cafeteria for reopening, or struggling to maintain the staff to keep up with an influx of customers, your business relies on the tools you use to prepare, serve and package food. There’s a big difference between equipment that just works and equipment that really works for you. As 42% of food service businesses struggle to fill open jobs, there are six key ways that machinery and technology can bridge the gaps you may face between staffing and demand:

  • Less Labor: When hiring is its own challenge, the strategic streamlining of labor becomes a necessary solution. The right equipment can help by automating repetitive manual tasks, allowing employees to spend less time on menial work and more time on things that have a deeper impact on customer service. It also allows you to focus hiring efforts on things that can help your business grow, creating new roles that are higher paying and more skilled. When your equipment can automate grab-n-go wrapping or inventory tracking, for example, your employees can focus on maintaining the impeccable quality control that the post-pandemic public will demand.
  • Faster Training: Proper training is absolutely vital to the safety and efficiency of your business; it also costs both time and money, which can be drastically reduced when you’re trying to get new staff onto the floor as quickly as possible. Making training quick and simple should be a top priority as consumers remain focused on safety and businesses and organizations work to find and train much-needed new staff. User-friendly interfaces, automatic features, and built-in support can all reduce training time, which means that you can get new employees working more quickly or train current employees on new tools in less time. Consider how the training your equipment requires (or the training your team lacks) impacts productivity.
  • Reduced Downtime: It doesn’t take a lot of downtime to cause a major problem, especially if you’re already balancing a skeleton staff with steadily increasing customers. Temporary closures, distancing guidelines, and budget concerns may mean that your equipment has had reduced use or maintenance, which could mean an increased risk of downtime. Making sure your equipment is in working order is a must — but taking the extra step of preventative maintenance now can also save time you can’t afford to lose later.
  • Improved Safety: While the peak of pandemic precautions may be in the rearview mirror, safety is still of paramount importance to consumers. Aside from making sure everyone on staff knows the correct procedures for cleaning equipment, you can invest in equipment that makes it easier — or better yet, automatic. Look for equipment with auto-clean features, as well as equipment like hot and cold deli merchandisers that ensure products are always being held at a safe temperature, which are a great safety-first option for groceries, convenience stores, and even restaurants.
  • Increased Efficiency: During the pandemic, social distancing put technology at the forefront of so much of daily life, particularly in the food industry. Retailers, restaurants and consumers alike found paths to recovering revenue and regaining stability through apps and the internet. While some consumers will happily continue to shop and dine through services like GrubHub, UberEats, and more, others are already eagerly returning to life-in-person. As they do, equipment can be the key to keeping efficiency high even if labor is short by automating things like wrapping, merchandising, and more.
  • Additional Revenue: The right piece of equipment can allow you to bring new offerings to customers — and new revenue to your business. Getting the best return on your investment is all about creating an offering that drives sales without significantly increasing labor. For a convenience store, it may be a rotisserie that allows them to provide new hot food offerings; for grocers, a smoker set up in the parking lot can be a great way to pull in new customers and give existing ones a new hot food option.

Challenges and Opportunities Ahead

Evolution and adaptation are nothing new for the food industry; after three generations serving the full spectrum of food service businesses, our family has watched as restaurants, grocers, hospitality companies, and others have successfully navigated everything from economic recessions to rapidly shifting consumer sensibilities. Whatever challenges the industry faces, food consistently remains a symbol and source of comfort and togetherness. With the public craving both more than ever, a strategic approach — not just to your business, but to your equipment — can turn the summer of reconnection into one of vast opportunity as well.

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Infographic: The rise of the ready-to-drink cocktail market

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Whether we’re suffering through a pandemic, celebrating the best moments of our lives, or simply sharing some serious couch time with a glass of pinot and our favorite book, alcoholic beverages are here to walk through all of life’s moments with us, and 2020 was certainly no exception.

2020 was the year of misery, isolation, and unforeseen circumstances. It was the year that brought us the dreaded “new normal,” but also (and not surprisingly) the year that increased our thirst for our favorite adult beverages, and even expanded our horizons to create and embrace newer cocktails, such as the “Quarantini” and the ready-to-drink cocktail.

As we all were forced to become our own bartenders last year, 44% of Americans began purchasing alcohol online, and purchases of ready-to-drink cocktails grew by 43% worldwide. It’s awesome that COVID at least gave us some tasty new drinks, such as the “Charmin Quarantini,” but sometimes it’s even better to be able to just grab the drink and relax, without all the prep, mixing, and cleanup. Ready-to-drink gives us the perks of a “bartender” doing all the work from the comfort of our own homes.

These drinks may have risen in popularity due to our collision with calamity, but unlike quarantine mandates, ready-to-drink cocktails are here to stay.

Infographic courtesy Cooloo.com

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Why is it important to raise awareness about saving the bee population?

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The value of protecting our bees was brought to the world’s attention in 2009. Greenpeace spearheaded the effort, and the effects of losing these little buddies were made public. However, interest in this important cause has recently waned. According to Google Trends, saving the bees has been the least prominent search word in the last five years out of all the environmental problems affecting our world. We have to keep saving the bees.

Honeybees pollinate about 80% of plants on the globe. Every day, a single bee colony will pollinate 300 million flowers. The wind mainly does pollination of grains, but bees pollinate bananas, berries, and vegetables. Bees pollinate 70 of the top 100 human food crops, which account for about 90% of global nutrition.

Bees are important and efficient pollinators because of their ability to carry vast quantities of pollen grains on their hairy bodies, their reliance on floral support, and their semi-social or eusocial traits.

Why are the bees dying and why is this important?

The disappearance of bee colonies around the world is not as enigmatic as the pesticide industry says. The answer to this question is complicated but not impossible to figure out. Pesticides, drought, habitat loss, nutrient deficiency, air pollution, global warming, and other causes are known to kill bees. Many of these variables are related. In the end, we know that humans are primarily to blame for two of the most significant causes: toxins and habitat destruction.

In the summer, worker bees (females) live for only six weeks, and in the winter, they live for several months. In the spring and summer, colonies continually develop new worker bees, but reproduction slows during the winter. A beehive or colony will typically lose 5-10% of its bees during the winter and replace them during spring. In a bad year, a bee colony can lose 15-20% of its bees.

So, why are bees important to us? Simply put, humans would not exist without bees. All species may be affected. Pollination of our flora is dependent on bees. Crops cannot grow without it. There is simply no food for us without crops. When livestock has no fodder, their meat supply will quickly dwindle.

Some farmers may employ artificial pollination methods, ranging from carefully applying pollen with paintbrushes to using robot bee drones designed to do so. Although this is good news for us, it isn’t long-term. A bee’s normal life cycle and essential function clearly cannot be duplicated.

Coronavirus lockdowns keep bees at home

Pollinator restrictions could harm crops, putting more strain on a food chain already strained by war, climate change, and the coronavirus pandemic. Bees are being affected by the same coronavirus constraints that keep producers out of fields and distributors out of markets.

Since there aren’t enough local bees to pollinate crops in big, food-exporting countries like the United States and China, beekeepers move hives thousands of kilometers to pollinate fields. Travel restrictions to combat the coronavirus are now harming the pollination industry by keeping bees at home.

Pesticides and bees

These are chemicals that kill pests. They help to get rid of insects and rodents. Unfortunately, honeybees are insects, and insecticides have a devastating effect on their populations.

Insecticides can kill honeybees in several ways. One way is by the insecticide coming into close contact with the bee while it is foraging in the field. The bee dies straight away and never returns to the hive. The queen, brood, and nurse bees are not infected in this situation, and the colony survives.

Save the bees

The world’s bees can be revived and preserved by common-sense behavior. Governments should ban the seven most toxic pesticides. Pollinator protection can be safeguarded by protecting natural habitat. Ecological farming is a significant new policy movement that seeks to stabilize human food supply while simultaneously protecting wild ecosystems and bees.

Bhutan is the first country in the world to implement a 100% organic farming program. To preserve its natural corn varieties, Mexico has banned genetically modified corn. Eight European countries have outlawed genetically modified foods, and Hungary has destroyed over 1,000 acres of corn polluted with GMOs.

Over the last two decades, Vandana Shiva and a network of small farmers in India have developed an organic farming resistance to industrial agriculture.

Organic, sustainable farming is not a modern phenomenon. Throughout human history, this has been the most popular method of farming. By avoiding large monocrops and maintaining habitat diversity, ecological farming reduces insect damage. Ecological cultivation uses natural composting systems to replenish soil nutrients, prevents soil degradation due to wind and water erosion, and avoids pesticides and artificial fertilizers.

Ecological agriculture improves pollination, which enhances crop yields by increasing bee colonies and making them healthier.

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Study: How job seekers’ social media profiles affect employability

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Social media plays an increasingly important role in recruitment and employee selection. Recruiters are tempted to check on job candidates’ social media profiles (SMPs) because SMPs could reveal more dynamic information about the candidates than resumes alone.

By checking the candidates’ SMPs, recruiters can discover their real personalities, which cannot be easily achieved even through job interviews. Meanwhile, hiring managers can also assess job candidates’ social capital based on the size and the composition of their social networks.

The study

To investigate how social media may affect recruiters’ hiring decisions, Antonio Muñiz, who graduated from the master’s program at the Collins College of Hospitality Management, Cal Poly Pomona, and I conducted a qualitative study together. We published our work in the Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management. This research answers:

Two research questions

  1. What information or job candidates’ personality traits revealed on their SMPs gets the hiring managers’ attention?
  2. How do such pieces of information or job candidates’ personality traits revealed on their SMPs affect managers’ hiring decisions?

The research method

We conducted 11 semi-structured interviews in 2018 with 11 managers in major hospitality companies, representing the restaurant, hotel, country club, even planning, and managed foodservice sectors. On average, these 11 managers had 19 years of work experience in the hospitality industry. They made hiring decisions, ranging from hiring two to 18 candidates a month.

Following the suggestions of ensuring a qualitative study’s trustworthiness, we firstly recorded and transcribed the interviews. We then performed a content analysis of the qualitative data. Finally, we reported the narrative results with direct quotes from the informants.

Finding 1: The recruiting channels and legal considerations

The informants rated Indeed and LinkedIn the preferred websites for recruitment and selection. Surprisingly, none of them were aware of any policies issued by their companies about using social media in screening and selection. Many informants also held reservations about using social media in screening because of privacy concerns, the uncertainty of the information revealed from the candidates’ SMPs, legal compliance, and time constraints.

Finding 2: LinkedIn is the preferred platform

About half of the informants used LinkedIn in screening. Only one informant admitted that s/he screened candidates’ other SMPs besides LinkedIn. That is, s/he also looked at candidates’ posts, videos, and pictures on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Finding 3: Preferable content on social media

Most informants favored pictures about food, catering, and events, news articles, and organizational social activities. Having a clear headshot/smiling, professional/appropriate content, positive/motivational content, and activities in general were mentioned once or twice only.

Finding 4: Unfavorable content on social media

Inappropriate language or content, negative posts, personal information on LinkedIn, and anything discriminatory came to the top.

Finding 5: Influential traits that may affect recruiters’ hiring decisions

Of the Big Five personality traits, hospitality managers looked for extroversion, conscientiousness, and agreeableness. Additionally, leadership potentials, professionalism, a good match, the current position held, as well as skills and endorsements, can be influential.

Finding 6: How candidates’ SMPs affect employability

Unfavorable content seemed to have a more substantial influence than the favorable content. As far as a candidate’s starting salary is concerned, the informants only factored in the candidates’ skills and experience.

The implications

Besides the research’s theoretical contributions, the findings provide helpful, practical implications for businesses, hiring managers, job seekers, and career counselors. We recommend:

  • Organizations should develop clear guidelines about using social media in recruitment and selection.
  • For a minimum, organizations must provide guidelines or assessment rubrics that are specific to LinkedIn.
  • Hiring managers are advised to follow the company’s guidelines and policies if provided.
  • Hiring managers need to justify why and how SMPs are used in screening if no guidelines or policies are provided.
  • Job seekers are highly encouraged to build a complete LinkedIn profile with a professional picture that projects their personality.
  • Job seekers may consider sharing favorable content and should avoid the unfavorable content on their SMPs.
  • If possible, job seekers should have their LinkedIn profile and other SMPS critiqued by their friends, co-workers, and career advisors, as what they would do on their resumes and other application materials.
  • Career counselors should teach job seekers how to build professional SMPs, with specific examples of how they may strategically display the desired content favored by recruiters.

Do job seekers need even more impeccable social media profiles during the pandemic?

This study was conducted in 2018 before the pandemic hit the economy with numerous long-term effects. Nevertheless, I expect that job seekers’ SMPs may play an even more significant role in influencing recruiters’ hiring decisions for two reasons.

On the one hand, more people are forced to leave their jobs, making it more challenging to secure a job offer in a competitive job market. On the other hand, more companies let their employees work from home permanently. The traditional screening methods, such as face-to-face job interviews in the workplace, may no longer be an option for hiring managers.

Back in May 2020, it was reported that 84% of recruiters were adapting to new hiring practices that facilitate remote exchanges. Among them, 58% used LinkedIn, Facebook, and even Instagram to connect with potential hires. It is also believed that job candidates’ digital presence will matter even more in 2021 and beyond.

Lastly, it is important to note that the above results were generated from 11 qualitative interviews. Although we took careful measures to ensure this qualitative inquiry’s trustworthiness, the results may not be generalized in other settings. Instead, this study’s strength relies on its in-depth, narrative results reported by those purposefully selected informants who have abundant first-hand experience of screening job candidates.

Do you believe that people’s digital reputation is critical in a job search? How important are job candidates’ SMPs in helping them secure a job offer?

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Study: Differences in height across nations explained by poor nutrition during school-age years

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A massive long-term study published in The Lancet by Imperial College London reveals concerning truths about the impact of diet on height, weight, and health. The study followed 65 million children between ages five and 19 in 193 countries from 1985 to 2019. Here’s what we learned.

Tallest and Shortest Nations

In 2019, the tallest 19-year-olds resided in the northwest and central regions of Europe, specifically the Netherlands, Denmark, Iceland, and Montenegro.

The shortest 19-year-olds lived in Latin America and East Africa, and south and Southeast Asia; specifically, Timor-Leste, Bangladesh, Guatemala, and Papua New Guinea.

A 20 cm, or a little more than half a foot difference, existed between 19-year-olds in the tallest and shortest nations. In context, this means “the average 19-year-old girl in Bangladesh and Guatemala is the same height as [the] average 11-year-old girl in the Netherlands.”

Most Improved Nations

Children with the most significant average height improvements throughout the study lived in China, South Korea, and some of Southeast Asia. For instance, over 35 years, 19-year-old boys in China are, on average, 8 cm taller in 2019 than they were in 1985. Emerging economies in these areas may explain some of the increase in height.

Regression Hits the UK; the US Ranks Top amongst Nations with Highest BMIs

Boys and girls in the U.K. ranked 28th tallest and 42nd tallest in 1985, respectively; but, now rank 39th and 49th.

The U.S., New Zealand, Middle East, and the Pacific Islands were home to 19-year-olds with the biggest BMIs, while south Asian countries (e.g., India and Bangladesh) had the smallest.

The End of the Preschool Years is a Turning Point

The analysis revealed that many children had healthy heights and weights up until age five, upon which children in certain countries gained more weight than height.

What the Numbers Mean

The researchers explain that the differences observed in the current study are primarily the result of differences in diet quality and living environment as height and weight are markers of diet quality and health.

They also acknowledge the limitations of the study and the impact of factors like genetics in their report.

Children need a healthy diet with adequate energy. According to the research team, the data highlights a lack of emphasis on diet quality after preschool.

The researchers urge policymakers to focus on making healthy and adequate diets more accessible to children between five and 19 years old. They believe that increasing the availability and reducing the cost of nutritious foods will enable school-aged children to grow taller without gaining too much weight.

According to the researchers, policies should target the home, school, community, and healthcare system, and include “(conditional) cash transfers and food vouchers towards nutritious foods for low-income families; free healthy school meal programmes; fiscal and regulatory policies that restrict the consumption of unhealthy foods, especially processed carbohydrates; the provision of affordable healthy housing, clean water, and sanitation; and the provision of facilities for play and sports in the community and at school.”

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5 ways to keep your emotions in check while running a business

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This article was first published at Real Leaders.

When my wife and I first started dating, she made me promise I’d never take her on a rollercoaster. The jerky motion made her sick. Not long after marrying, I realized I may have broken my promise. I’d bought a franchise. Over the next 10 years, we experienced a journey much more tumultuous than riding The Cyclone. It was a wild ride with ups, downs — and a lot more we couldn’t predict or control.

Running a business is intense. You’ve invested your own money or, more likely, borrowed money you have to pay back. It’s your signature on all the contracts. You’re the last word on all big decisions. You’re expected to be the ultimate problem solver. And if it turns out you don’t like the business, you can’t just quit. You’re on the hook. All of that with the hope of profit, but no guarantee.

I bought my first Edible Arrangements franchise thinking it’d be a simple fruit basket business. As great as the model was, I was still exposed to all the issues faced by small businesses with hourly workers. There were unreasonable customers and ghosting employees. There were delivery van breakdowns and middle-of-the-night break-ins. Fruit pricing and availability were in the hands of Mother Nature. One lady “fell” in our lobby and wanted compensation. There were great times too, but it’s the challenges that cause the hair loss.

What those 10 years, along with many more years as a speaker, coach and writer on franchise issues, have taught me is that we franchise owners don’t just run our business; we feel it. Right there along with managing employees, serving customers, sales and marketing, paying bills and bookkeeping are excitement, disappointment, pride, anxiety, elation and total exhaustion. The journey is as emotional as it is financial.

Unchecked, emotions can be bad for business. They lead to poor decisions because of what I call the “Trigger to Trouble” syndrome. Events in your business can easily set off a process that leads to feelings and reactions. The triggering event might be an angry customer, a drop in sales, a new brand policy or an offhand comment by a colleague. It could be something major or something small.

It doesn’t take much. Instantly, our brain decides if this event is an opportunity or a threat, good or bad, pleasant or painful, fair or unjust. We recall similar events from the past and predict what it might mean for the future.

We convert our objective observation of the event captured by our physical senses and develop a subjective perspective. The more subjective we are, the farther from the truth we get. That perspective leads to an emotion. Finally, based on our subjectivity and feelings, we take action. All of this happens in a fraction of a second. The result is often a kneejerk reaction we’ll eventually regret.

There’s a correlation between your mental state and the state of your business. Your ability to manage your feelings is a huge determinant of how you’ll perform. The franchisees who thrive are those most in control of their mind. Their ability to keep a clear head and remain calm gives them a huge advantage. Their decisions are more responsible. They see opportunities and solutions their freaked-out counterparts miss. They’re able to better inspire employees and serve customers. I’ve met thousands of franchisees in my work and have gotten to know the best among them. Their heads are as cool as their businesses are profitable.

Some people are naturally calm. Others, myself included, have to be more deliberate about it. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to keep your emotions in check. Here are five:

1. Manage stress before managing your problems. Our first instinct when faced with adversity is to address the issue. We want relief. The problem is that when we’re stressed out, our brain function is impaired. Our amygdala kicks into gear, causing a fight or flight response. That makes us hyper-alert and winds us up. And when the amygdala is active, it blocks the neuropathways to the prefrontal cortex, where logic, reason and problem-solving occur. That’s where the best decisions are made.

In other words, the sooner we calm down, the sooner we access the part of the brain we need to find solutions. Avoid giving into the urgency of problems. Clear your head first. Take a moment to reset yourself. Breath. Walk. Meditate. Wait. But don’t act — until you’re calm.

2. Focus on the here and now. Business problems cause us to worry about the future. While we need to prepare for what lies ahead, what matters most is what’s going on today. A lot can happen between today and tomorrow. It’s hard to predict.

Today is tangible. It’s real. And it’s where you have the most control. So, solve the problems in front of you. Keep doing right by your customers. Take care of your employees. Pay any bills that are due now. Learn something you can bring to your work the following day. You can’t know what the future will look like, but it’s safe to assume it will be different. New things will happen. Many of them will be good.

Focus on getting through today. Then do it again tomorrow.

3. Work through problems on paper. It’s hard to do complex math problems in your head. That’s true for business problems as well. You can’t see things clearly with all that noise in your noggin.

On paper, they’re easier to manage. Try writing in a journal. I also like to write my concerns in list form, noting the conclusions I’m drawing, other possible perspectives, my ability to control the issue and what action to take. The exercise is as cathartic as it is productive.

4. Beware of optimism. As destructive as negativity can be, positivity can be equally problematic. Many franchisees have made some pretty bad decisions based on hope.

Faith won’t reduce your expenses. Optimism won’t bring in more customers. What will help your business is an objective understanding of what’s happening. Much better than positivity or negativity is clarity: seeing things as they are. If a positive attitude gets you out of bed and inspires you to act boldly, that’s great. Just make sure there’s data to back up your feelings.

5. Seek outside feedback. Other people with less emotional investment can help you see things more clearly. One franchisee from a well-known retail chain panicked about a decrease in sales when corporate opened a new location in an adjacent town. His field support consultant ran the numbers and pointed out that while gross sales were in fact down, his number of transactions was actually higher. More people were coming into his store, but his average ticket had decreased.

In other words, he and his team weren’t selling well. He was grateful for the perspective. Emotions can blind us, so it can be helpful to get a fresh pair of eyes from someone else.

Running a franchise is an emotional experience. Having feelings about what’s going on doesn’t make you weak; it makes you human. And that humanity will allow you to have empathy for customers and employees. So, don’t deny your emotions. Just monitor them. It’s an important step to keep your mind sound and your business profitable.

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The future of restaurants and restaurant marketing

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Adaptability is truly a great human phenomenon. Perhaps that’s why we emerge from the worst of times with new knowledge and ways to thrive. This is precisely what we see happening across industries, particularly in the food and beverage industry.

Restaurant brands are evaluating their post-COVID-19 strategies. They have to devise ways to drive as much revenue as they can and satisfy new consumer expectations at the same time. They realize they have to adjust and adapt on the fly to deal with future changes.

With social distancing and a general fear of infection, there are some significant behavioral changes from consumers. Restauranteurs have adapted the safety-first mantra to meet these safety expectations. We have seen a fast evolution of no-touch ordering and payment systems, along with new takeout options. There have been some dine-in floor plan changes to meet the social distancing rules. Chances of these turning into significant changes are high as the coronavirus continues to linger.

In short, COVID-19 has paved the way for the “Restaurant of the Future.” What we will see in the coming months is a slew of hybrid concepts. These are lessons that restaurants have learned and applied. Now, it will help them be successful in the “new normal.” These hybrid concepts meet the current consumer and operational needs but still have the potential for long-term growth.

What brands are doing

COVID-19 has introduced new creative streams of revenue through unique ideas and hybrid concepts. These are well planned and designed to incorporate a restaurant’s essential elements into a smaller, more efficient footprint.


The Mexican fast-casual brand Qdoba recently unveiled a Post-COVID Transformation with a series of prototypes for the future. It is reimagining the drive-thru with a focus on mobile ordering. It is also moving forward with ghost kitchen setups that focus on off-premises occasions and branding.

Shake Shack

The fast-casual chain announced its first drive-thru or walk-up window for half of its restaurants planned for 2021. There will also be digitally enabled pickup windows called “Shack Tracks.” The brand also plans to showcase enhanced interior pickup curbside or dedicated delivery courier pickup areas for its remaining properties.

Taco Bell

Taco Bell has unveiled the “Go Mobile” concept for a digital future. Like many chains in today’s pandemic climate, it seeks to create a digitally integrated and seamless customer experience. Customers can order ahead through Taco Bell’s mobile app.

Taco Bell plans to double locations’ drive-thru lanes with a new priority pickup option for app users. A better digital and drive-thru experience with additional access points will attract more consumers. It will also help Taco Bell shrink its footprint to improve ROI.

Burger King

Burger King, too, has joined the bandwagon to create new dining experiences for the post-COVID world. Above the drive-thru lanes and a high-tech suspended kitchen, the dining room will provide a 100% touchless experience. The new designs will cut Burger King’s physical footprint and dramatically improve the guest experience. The prototype boasts drive-ins and enhanced drive-thru experience, dedicated mobile order and curbside pickup areas, walk-up order sections, exterior dining spaces, and sustainable elements.

Other innovative options

Outdoor entertainment

With cold weather already setting in, outdoor dining options will lessen further. Consumers are resilient, and they want to eat at restaurants, even with limited seating, but the winter may not be the best time for that. Restaurants have to be flexible and adaptable as an ongoing formula for survival. Consumers will expect their favorite restaurants to be versatile and accommodate their needs.

The Restaurant of the Future can use space wisely and create entertainment. Transferring unused spaces and converting them for additional seating areas is a common thread here. Many restaurants are looking to create an outside entertainment opportunity where customers can purchase and eat their food in cars while being entertained.

Kitchen pods

Another unique idea being explored is the kitchen pod. This is an 8.5 by 40 feet space that can be leased and be up and running fast. These kitchen pods can be moved at any time, which will allow operators to maximize revenue.

Ghost kitchens

Ghost kitchens, also called cloud kitchens, first emerged as delivery-only restaurants that operate out of commercial kitchen spaces. They used third-party delivery services like Uber Eats, Grubhub, and DoorDash to facilitate delivery. Now they are the source of new revenue streams. Many new virtual brands use these to prepare menu items in the restaurant’s kitchen but offer them only through delivery.

Food trucks of the future

COVID-19 restrictions and limited revenue forced many regular and “chef-driven” restaurants to close. Some pivoted to customized food trucks to cater to their loyal customers. Chefs created a COVID-safe environment for these trucks that led to contactless service.

Curbside pickup

Many consumers prefer to pick up their orders rather than get their food delivered. Food hygiene is a major issue, so they feel curbside pickup is better. They believe their food will be hotter, safer, and higher quality if they pick it up. It is only natural that curbside will evolve as well with multiple lanes and more contactless payment options.

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Why micro-fulfillment centers are the future of online grocery shopping

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As many Americans seek to avoid crowded stores to protect themselves from COVID-19, more and more of them are shopping for groceries online.

But even before the pandemic, a 2017 report by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and the Nielsen Company predicted the trend. It says, “Initial findings from this study show that within the next decade, online food shopping will reach maturation in the U.S., far faster than other industries that have come online before. … The research estimates that in the current climate of technology adoption and evolution, consumer spend on online grocery shopping could reach $100 billion.”

Then, just one year later in 2018, a follow-up FMI and Nielsen study said, “The research indicates that in as few as five to seven years, 70 percent of consumers will be grocery shopping online. Now, the estimated $100 billion spend, which is equivalent to every U.S., household spending $850 online for food and beverage annually, will occur by 2022 or 2024.”

To meet the demand, a growing number of grocery retailers have built out their e-commerce capabilities and begun offering curbside and delivery services. But at the same time, grocers are scrambling to figure out how to streamline those online fulfillment processes to remain profitable.

One way grocers are streamlining their processes for filling online orders is through the creation of automated micro-fulfillment centers.

What are Micro-Fulfillment Centers?

Micro-fulfillment centers are automated warehouses used to fulfill online orders more quickly and efficiently, and, at a lower cost than the standard fulfillment center.

Micro-fulfillment centers operate with help from software solutions along with robotics that together make it possible to process grocery orders in just minutes. In fact, according to claims by several micro-fulfillment tech companies, some systems can process an average-sized grocery order in less than 15 minutes.

In addition, micro-fulfillment centers are generally smaller in size than standard fulfillment centers, which are typically hundreds of square feet in size. In contrast, micro-fulfillment centers are often built to take up just a few thousand square feet, thereby cutting retailers’ overhead costs considerably.

Moreover, because automated micro-fulfillment facilities take up less real estate, retailers can more easily place them within urban centers, closer to where their customers live and shop, thus shortening last-mile delivery times significantly.

On the other hand, e-commerce retailers must often place standard fulfillment centers on the outskirts of cities because the buildings are much larger and therefore require more land.

In fact, because of their smaller size, automated micro-fulfillment centers can be stand-alone facilities close to the store or stores they serve, or they can even occupy space inside the store buildings themselves.

“This is particularly important as the global population grows more urban,” says a report by the research firm CB Insights. “Two-thirds of the world population is expected to reside in cities by 2050, up from just over half in 2018, according to a 2018 United Nations report.”

Grocers Look to Big Tech

In just the last few years, several big-name grocers have enlisted the services of technology startups to automate their micro-fulfillment centers. For example, Texas-based grocery chain H-E-B has partnered with Swisslog to develop its automated micro-fulfillment centers to enhance the retailer’s curbside pickup and delivery business. Swisslog, which is part of the KUKA Group, a German company, provides warehouse automation and software solutions.

The retail giant Walmart recruited the e-grocery startup technology firm Alert Innovation, based in North Billerica, Massachusetts. Walmart debuted a micro-fulfillment facility in one of its supercenters in Salem, New Hampshire, in 2019.

Another company, the Wakefern Food Corp., joined forces with Takeoff Technologies to develop micro-fulfillment centers for Wakefern’s ShopRite stores. Wakefern opened a 24,300-square-foot mini fulfillment in Clifton, New Jersey, last summer to process online orders for 10 ShopRite stores in New York and New Jersey.

Meanwhile, Albertsons Companies Inc., has also teamed up with Takeoff Technologies to develop micro-fulfillment capabilities for its grocery e-commerce order fulfillment business. Albertsons has built two pilot micro-fulfillment centers at existing Safeway stores in San Francisco and San Jose, California.

“The micro-fulfillment center model is a key element in the store of the future,” said Albertsons Companies President and Chief Executive Officer Vivek Sankaran in a press statement.

“It combines the efficiency of automation with the ease of meeting customers when and how they want to shop,” Sankaran said. “In working with Takeoff, we can evolve how the MFC ties into our store and e-commerce ecosystems and accelerate our path to best serve our customers.”

Micro-Fulfillment Ushers in New Retail Era

“Fifteen years from now stores will be very different from the way they are today,” says inventor and Alert Innovation founder, John Lert.

He says someday store shoppers may be able to arrive at a grocery store, order their packaged and frozen goods on a screen, and then walk around the store to pick out their fresh produce and meats. Before they even finish shopping, their packaged goods will be ready for pickup.

But that is a future phase, says Lert, when automation systems are more mature.

Meanwhile, in the interim, retailers are deploying small systems like micro-fulfillment centers that automate online orders only, he says.

“We have to have solutions that will scale down in size,” says Lert, “that can occupy a small amount of space and pick enough of the online orders to make the retailer profitable and successful in selling online.”

“And, over time, more and more customers will become attracted to that online service and eventually we’ll be able to retrofit and put the automation system in the whole center store.

“What COVID has done is accelerate the need for that small, scaled-down solution today that can transition to the future,” he says.

“This is a fascinating time to be working in retail, and now COVID has just really accelerated things,” he says.

“But I’m convinced that we’re at the beginning of a shift from self-service retail to automated service retail, and this is just the beginning,” says Lert. “So, it’s going to be a fascinating process to watch unfold.”

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Sustainable food gains more popularity due to COVID-19

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The COVID-19 crisis shows that America is hungry for sustainable food systems — more than ever before.

According to a report from The Business Research Company, COVID-19 has steadily pushed up the demand for local, sustainable, and organic food production.

The report titled, “Food And Beverage Global Market Report 2020-30: COVID-19 Impact and Recovery,” shows how this rising demand has impacted the global food and beverage market.

Consumers are more concerned about how food is raised and prepared. They are leaning towards organic, which emphasizes environmental protection, consumer health, and animal welfare. With the disruption that businesses have faced, there is a lot of focus on supporting local brands as well. Consumers are willing to pay a little more for something they recognize as healthy, fresh, and local.

The global food and beverage market size grew from $5.94 trillion in 2019 to $6.11 trillion in 2020. The market is expected to reach $7.53 trillion in 2023.

What is driving this growth for fresh produce?

Restrictions and lockdowns to prevent the spread of the coronavirus have affected local farms badly. Their main buyers, local restaurants, shut down, affecting business for both. It would have a complete disaster had not the individual consumers started demanding fresh local produce. The sustainably run farms particularly began to see a spike in direct sales. Soon these farms started pivoting their operations and business models to meet customer demand.

The crisis presented an opportunity to reimagine current systems. Farmers worked overtime to go digital and add more direct services. From online ordering to home delivery, they became more agile and resilient.

Moreover, these distributed systems looked healthier, safer, and more environmentally sustainable than the industrialized and supersized food systems. But for these farms to run better and support a growing customer base, they will need capital and robust funding. Only when their infrastructure and operational capacity improve can they replicate and scale what they have been doing in the past few months.

The sustainable future

The rise of a sustainable food structure will go a long way to allow equitable access to healthy food across regions. It will strengthen food workers and help them withstand future catastrophic events like this pandemic.

The idea is to pave the way for a resilient food system that is agile and adaptive for future crises like this pandemic. With increases in food insecurity and hardships for food businesses and workers due to COVID-19, a robust system is the need of the hour.

As early as July this year, the IMF reported that 2020 would be a year of reckoning for the world’s food systems. Panic buying, long queues at food banks, and empty grocery shelves were splashed across the news and social media just before COVID-19 shut down half the globe.

Most lay the blame for the empty store aisles on pandemic-induced runs on food. But what is reflected was how important food systems are in our lives and how imbalanced they have become, not just human behavior during emergencies. Workers were unavailable to harvest or package food, restaurants and bars were closed, and stock piled up.

The rebuilding of economies after the COVID-19 crisis offers a unique opportunity to transform the global food system. We need to ensure environmentally sustainable and healthy nutrition for all. Experts suggest that the first step would be making it resilient to future shocks. These could be possible with healthy food choices, resilient food supply chains, regenerative farming, and conservation efforts.

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Experts hope plant-based burgers will reduce the need for factory farms

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Want fries with that? With that plant burger? That’s soon going to be a question for millions around the world at McDonald’s. The upcoming launch of McDonald’s vegan “McPlant” burger could feed many millions.

Some think McDonald’s move to veggie burgers (along with many other chains making similar moves) could reduce dependence on factory farming, specifically beef production. McDonald’s announced recently that it is testing the plant-based burger market in several locations in the months ahead. In addition to “beef”-like veggie patties, the chain is testing chicken alternatives.

In a call with analysts, Chris Kempczinski, CEO of McDonald’s, said: “Plant-based products are an ongoing consumer trend. It’s not a matter of if McDonald’s will get into plant-based, it’s a matter of when.”

The restaurant chain is behind the curve when it comes to rolling out plant-based products. Burger King launched the Impossible Burger on Aug. 8, 2019. The Impossible Whopper has been driving business, even from people who usually shop at Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and Panera Bread.

Others with plant-based burgers include offerings from Carl’s Jr., White Castle, Red Robin, and several others.

McDonald’s coming to the meatless burger party is not the point of this article. McDonald’s is the latest cog in an effort that many hope will reduce the economic, global, and environmental impact of beef production — specifically factory farming.

Joe Loria, meat reduction manager at animal protection organization World Animal Protection US, said:

“With one of the world’s largest fast-food chains, McDonald’s, confirming the creation of the McPlant, their very own plant-based burger, customers in the United States — one of the countries that eats the most meat — could have the opportunity to easily reduce their meat consumption and lower the overall demand for factory-farmed meat.”

Loria then added: “By making humane and sustainable proteins affordable and accessible, World Animal Protection expects that factory farms can start being phased out.”

Reducing meat production, and therefore, pollution and reducing environmental impact, isn’t necessarily top of mind for these corporations, but environmentalists may not care. Also known as Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO), these giant animal operations produce enormous amounts of waste and impact the areas surrounding the farms.

Factory farms are meant to produce the most animal products in the most efficient manner possible.

In Oregon, for example, CAFOs are known as concentrated confined feeding or holding of animals in buildings or in pens or lots “where the surface has been prepared with concrete, rock or fibrous material to support animals in wet weather, that have wastewater treatment works, or that discharge any wastes into waters of the state.”

The designation regulates how animal waste is handled rather than the actual number of animals on the property or how the animals on the property are treated.

In factory farms, antibiotics are often used to control disease and infection. In most factory-farmed animals worldwide, they are fed a steady supply of antibiotics over their lives to fend off disease, but the animals are increasingly becoming resistant to the drugs. E. coli can grow among those chickens becoming resistant to those antibiotics, which can be passed onto humans.

“As bacteria become resistant to all of our antibiotics because of our overuse in animal production and in human medicine, we are not going to be able to save people the way we have in the past, which is by just giving them an oral antibiotic,” Lance Price, a public health researcher says.

Could these environments create the next global pandemic? Yes, some say. How can this be stopped?

People could eat less meat. Legislative efforts could also encourage fewer concentrated animals in areas, reducing the likelihood that pathogens will spread between farms, infecting more host animals.

Likewise, policies to protect natural ecosystems from agricultural expansion and other degradation and fragmentation sources could curb any potential disease spreading. Across the world, about 40% of deforestation in the tropics and subtropics is due to large-scale commercial farming, while another 33% is due to local subsistence farming.

What else can people do? Contact legislators to demand action, then eliminate meat-based consumption, which brings us back to McDonald’s.

Likewise, for those interested in eating more plant-based, check out apps or other resources designed to support plant-based recipe resources.

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