PMA Foodservice: ‘Big Data’ is coming to restaurants

Technology has arrived in virtually all segments of the U.S. experience, and that includes the foodservice sector.  It might have lagged behind several other sectors, but it is starting to catch up rapidly.

At the PMA Foodservice Conference in Monterey, CA, in late July, this topic was explored by two entrepreneurs wearing the young techie moniker.  Justin Mass, founder and president of Food Genius, and Matthew Ward, director of business intelligence and analytics for Advantage Waypoint, had a casual conversation as presenters in a seminar devoted to tech trends in the foodservice business.

Massa said food technology is exploding both in terms of investment and innovation.  He pointed to several new online companies that are attempting to bring the restaurant dining experience to the home through the Internet.  Several companies are delivering all the fixings to prepare a restaurant-quality meal at home, and one New York restaurant (Maple) is attempting to deliver restaurant food to the home within 15 minutes of the order being placed online.  

Technology is also being used in both the front of the house and the back of the house to enhance the dining experience.  Category management, long a staple of the retail food industry, has come to foodservice fueled by “Big Data.”  The concept is apparently foreign to many restaurant operators and suppliers and not being embraced.  Ward urged them to join the revolution by starting small and using data to answer simple questions that can be researchers.  For example, data is available and can be used to find if you are calling on the biggest operators in your market.  The information is there to quantify who’s who.

Data can also be used to inform restaurant operators about potential sales gains.  For example, Ward said data shows that the use of pesto over-index’s in the San Francisco market by a huge margin.  Suppliers can presumably use this information to elevate sales in like markets or to make sure a customer in that market is up to speed on this trend.  He said using data to target usage opportunities is a great way to start utilizing this technology.

Massa said “category management” is becoming the “new normal as more and more operators are using trackable data to drive decisions.  He said one thing the data is showing is that trends or cycles last longer than their exposure in the media.  For example, he said the kale media explosion is pretty much over as food writers look for the next new thing.  But the growth of kale menu items continues on its upward trajectory.  Even after the buzz dies down, restaurant menu writers are still coming up with new recipes.

One downside to the information and data explosion, according to Ward, is that the operator is much more knowledgeable than he once was and he does not rely on the supplier as much as he did.  “Consequently, the conversation gets to price very quickly,” as one of the few points of differentiation.

Both Ward and Massa discussed a technology trend that they aren’t fond of and that is the use of iPads for ordering.  Some restaurants have iPads or other digital tablets at the table to allow ordering without a member of the wait staff being engaged.  Ward said restaurants are about the experience and he does not believe it is a good trend to eliminate interactions between the staff and the customer.  Though Massa said allowing the customer to pay when he is ready to leave rather than having to wait for the check might be a very good idea.

One bit of a data that has come out because of the digital ordering of customers is that they tend to customize their orders to a much higher degree when they have the chance.  This has become a problem for some restaurants as the cook staff can’t prepare these custom meals as quickly as they are being ordered.  However, this data also points to the customer’s desire to go beyond what’s on the menu.

Ahold joins the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Fair Food Program

Ahold USA has joined the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Fair Food Program, a partnership to improve the lives of U.S. farmworkers.

As part of this partnership, Ahold USA’s companies will only purchase Florida tomatoes from growers who participate in the CIW’s Fair Food Program and expand the Fair Food Program’s standards to farms of participating growers in other states.cwie Ahold will pay a premium on tomatoes purchased from participating growers that growers will pass on to field workers, and it will provide additional financial support for the Fair Food Standards Council, CIW’s partner in monitoring compliance by participating growers with the Fair Food Program standards.

Ahold USA is the parent company of Stop & Shop, Giant Food of Landover, Giant Food Stores of Carlisle, Martin’s and online grocer Peapod. With nearly 780 supermarkets across 14 states and the District of Columbia and 50 million customers each month, Ahold USA companies together represent one of the largest food retailing groups in the country.

Additionally the company will work with the CIW to ensure timely, periodic inspections and audits of the participating farms that supply Ahold USA’s companies, and Ahold will support the Fair Food Program with expanded marketing and advertising, including in-store displays, online visibility and education materials for associates at Ahold USA companies.

The CIW was awarded a Presidential Medal earlier this year for its groundbreaking work in social responsibility, and its Fair Food Program — called “one of the great human rights success stories of our day” in the Washington Post — protects the rights of tens of thousands of workers on farms across the east coast, from Florida to New Jersey.

This announcement builds on the work that the CIW as well as Ahold USA and its suppliers have done to deliver responsibly sourced tomatoes to customers and to help improve conditions for farmworkers in Florida. Ninety percent of tomatoes produced in the United States from November to May are grown in the state. Ahold USA’s support for the Fair Food Program will extend the retailer’s long track record on responsible product sourcing and strengthen the reach, impact and visibility of the CIW’s social responsibility efforts. Ahold USA’s participation in the program will increase the number of U.S. grocery stores carrying Fair Food tomatoes by approximately 75 percent.

“We are truly proud to welcome Ahold USA into the Fair Food Program and excited about the opportunity to work with an industry leader like Ahold,” Gerardo Reyes of the CIW said in a press release. “Ahold USA is the first of the country’s major grocers to join the program and, as such, not only will its partnership help propel to new heights our efforts to protect farmworkers’ rights, but we believe its market leadership will send an invaluable message to the rest of the grocery industry that social responsibility is greatly strengthened when workers, suppliers and retailers work together toward a more modern, more humane agricultural industry.”

“Ahold USA’s companies are deeply committed to responsible practices throughout their operations and to providing customers with great products at great prices from suppliers who share our dedication to strong ethical standards and fair treatment for workers," James McCann, chief operating officer of Ahold USA, said in the release. "The cornerstone of this commitment is the Ahold Standards of Engagement, which commit our companies’ suppliers to these values. The Fair Food Program is a time-tested leader in improving the lives of agricultural workers, and we have observed the program’s success over the past several years. Our companies and our customers care about the welfare of workers in our supply chain, and we believe now is the right time to begin an important new chapter in our partnership with the CIW.”

FDA issues import alert halting shipments of fresh cilantro from Puebla, Mexico

Four years of cyclosporiasis cases led the Food & Drug Administration to issue an import alert that has stopped all fresh cilantro shipments from the state of Puebla, Mexico, until companies can verify food-safety measures and get on FDA’s Green List.

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention recorded cyclosporiasis cases in 2012, 2013 and 2014 likely tied to fresh cilantro from Puebla, and the same product appears to be causing a current outbreak identified by Wisconsin health officials, says the alert.

“FDA believes it is extremely unlikely that these outbreaks of cyclosporiasis are due to isolated contamination events because of their recurring nature, both in the timing with which they occur (typically April-August each year) and the repeated association of illnesses with cilantro from the state of Puebla,” the alert says. “No single supplier (including retail outlets or distribution centers), packing date, shipping date, or lot code can explain all the illnesses. FDA believes the source of C. cayetanensis contamination is likely attributable to a broader source of contamination.”

Contamination sources may include fecal contamination of growing areas, irrigation of fields with water contaminated with sewage, cleaning or cooling produce with contaminated water, and/or poor hygienic practices of workers that harvest and process the produce, and lack of adequate cleaning and sanitizing of equipment that comes in contact with the product, the alert says.

The latest FDA action is causing hardship for produce companies, since this state is a major supplier of fresh cilantro, an industry source said. All shipments from that region have halted at this point.

Under the alert, FDA may detain fresh cilantro, whether it is intact or has been cut or chopped, from Puebla sold April 1 through Aug. 31 every year unless the product is listed on the Green List.

To get on the list, Mexican farms will need to prove compliance with food-safety measures verified by inspection and certification by SENASICA under its System for Reduction of Risk from Contamination Program, the Mexico food safety agency. Companies not participating in the SRRC Program can petition FDA directly, and FDA may conduct a limited number of on-site inspections of the growing/processing areas to audit company measures.

“FDA, however, encourages firms growing, harvesting and holding cilantro to participate in the SENASICA’s SRRC program,” and packers should gain approval of COFERPRIS for compliance with Good Production Practices, the agency said.

Duda supports 'Sunday Supper' movement

Recipes made with ingredients from Duda Farm Fresh Foods took center stage at a brunch hosted July 19 at the Food & Wine Conference in Orlando, FL.

The Food & Wine Conference is part of the Sunday Supper Movement started by Isabel Laessig, better known as Family Foodie. The mission: To bring families together to share time and a meal together at least one day a week.FullSizeRender4Duda hosted a brunch featuring a popular family recipes on July 19.

Laessig held the first virtual Sunday Supper in January 2012 with eight bloggers, and since then the community and the notion has grown into a national movement. The Food & Wine Conference brings bloggers together with other food professionals to talk about opportunities for future collaboration when influencing families to spend time together using digital media marketing as a megaphone for encouragement and inspiration. Duda has been an active supporter of the conference from the beginning in 2012.

“As a sixth-generation farming family business, it is important to our company that we participate and support bloggers that are working to encourage American families to enjoy the simple pleasures in life, like eating dinner together on a Sunday night,” Nichole Towell, director of marketing for Duda Farm Fresh Foods, said in a press release. “For us it is about enjoying healthy food with the people that are most important to you.  If we can be part of something this important, it is an honor and a pleasure.”

On July 19, Duda hosted a brunch featuring a popular family recipes such as greens with Dandy radishes, celery and citrus vinaigrette; fresh Dandy fruit skewers with clementines, grapefruit and oranges; and dessert made with Dandy Meyer lemon tarts.

“This movement has developed quite a following and we want our fresh ingredients to serve as an inspiration for bringing families together around the country,” Towell said.

Little Potato Co. launches 'Little Chef' program

The Little Potato Co. launched a new program to provide tools and tips to make it easier for parents to cook with their kids, sharing new and important skills while having fun together.

The program will include a growing collection of “Little Chef Approved” recipes featuring Creamer potatoes, and tips for cooking with kids of various ages at www.LittlePotatoes.com/LittleChef. The program will also be featured through Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter, and will invite parents and kids to share favorite recipes they create together.

Research has shown that food preparation and cooking skills affect both kids’ and teens’ food choices. When kids are exposed to fresh, unprocessed foods and learn to prepare them well, they are more likely to feel comfortable buying and cooking these foods as adults.

“Over almost 20 years in business, we’ve noticed that as people learn about our little Creamers and their nutritious goodness as a vegetable, the more likely they are to enjoy cooking with and sharing them," said Angela Santiago, chief executive officer and chief potato champion of The Little Potato Co., as well as a mother of four. "We think it’s important to help kids learn about cooking and delicious, healthy food ingredients early so they grow up with great eating habits, including our Creamers."

The program will expand this fall to offer Little Chefs and their families big opportunities to have fun cooking together, discover the colorful varieties of Creamers, share their cooking experience with others and win fabulous prizes.

The Little Potato Co. is also working on a few other surprises for fall and winter, including further refinements to its very popular packaging introduced last fall. They’re also working on a few twists and tweaks on their value-added Oven|Grill and Microwave Ready kits that bundle Creamers, specialized cooking trays and a variety of savory seasoning packs.