It's really become a bit of an understatement to say that today's consumer is well-informed. In fact, the coveted 18- to 35-year-old (a.k.a. Gen Z/Millennial) demographic not only expects transparency from the restaurants they frequent, they demand it, as an hour-long discussion of the subject at last month's Fast Casual Executive Summit in Nashville made clear.
The session, moderated by Steritech President Doug Sutton, kept a packed house of attendees in rapt attention thanks to the detailed insights provided by four foodservice executives:
- Anthony's Pizza & Pasta CEO John LeBel.
- Asian Box Culinary Director Chad Newton.
- Melt Shop Operating Partner Josh Morgan.
- Teatulia CEO Linda Appel Lipsius.
Research shows, Sutton said, that restaurant brands today must keep customers informed about the safety of their supply chain and that of their on-site operations when it comes to the sourcing, production and handling of the food served. In fact, he said research shows that such transparency influences the actual purchase decisions of today's restaurant consumer.
"I'm thinking robots, honestly. I think things are going to change rather rapidly on who will make and who will cook a pizza."
— Anthony's Pizza & Pasta CEO John LeBel when asked about industry changes in next 10 years
He cited surveys indicating that 94 percent of those polled actually want more information about this subject than they are getting and that millennials, particularly, said they are willing to pay more for food served at brands that make it crystal-clear where their food comes from and how its handled from farm to fork.
Nonetheless, food-safety problems continue to sicken every year, including about 5,000 who die of such events annually. The resulting illnesses of tainted or poorly handled food stock are invariably huge, business-busting losses for the brands affected.
Discussion around that issue launched the panel into a discussion around which single food supply chain issue worries brand leaders most.
LeBel : Say there's listeria found in a bag of lettuce, how many days does it take to get that notification down to the store level to stop moving that product? … One thing I would say to all of you is to ask your food suppliers what their procedures are and see if they can even answer it. In the end, it might help you to know what their procedures are.
Newton: It would add to that and say … that keeping your communication with (food) purveyors is very, very important. We work with lots of small farms and producers and if I'm going to work with them, I'm also going to go check out that farm. That's really important to do, especially on the smaller side (of food producers).
Q: How do you address these types of issues over multiple locations?
Morgan: Several years ago, we created a culture of food safety and we created a team with a representative from each (supplier) brand. We've been doing that for about 1 ½ years and we're just starting to push that down to our restaurants.
Lipsius: In our case, we are literally sourcing product from halfway around the world … in forest in Bangladesh. … Most people don't know anything about tea, it' a funny product and there's a real opportunity in this category for education and more information.
Q: What would you say is your food safety issue worry No.1?
LeBel: For us, everything is made fresh daily in every store … so there are many things that are difficult to do including handling raw chicken and so, it's like Josh (Melt Shop) said, you need to have a culture of food safety.
Netwon: Having some sort of outbreak, like what happened to Chipotle. … And Chipotle was hurt bad. But something like that at a nine-unit level could wipe out my business. … You have to have checks and balances in place and I love the idea of safety teams, too. We've started developing that too … and it really bolsters your ability to fight those things and it also develops your employees, too.
Q: So, how do you drive a culture of food safety?
Mogan:We're big believers in empowerment with something as simple as cut gloves. We weren't good about wearing cut gloves, and it takes months and months of empowering team members to push that down. I also think that's something they can take great pride in.
Q: Shifting now to the topic of transparency about food safety, how do customers show that's what they want from you?
LeBel: We've found that as time progresses that need has really sped up to where people now are looking to know what all the things are in all your items. And by that, I mean, not just that ingredients are "all natural," but exactly what is in the product. For instance, we have six items that go into making our dough, so if we say it's “all-natural” dough, it doesn't mean anything. We've had better luck explaining what is actually in our products.
"Be open to the very true fact that it's not going to go to plan."
- Teatulia CEO Linda Appel Lipsius
Newton: People have to know now (where the food comes from)so … we have pictures of the (supplying) farmers and we list on our menu board where all our items come from. So if you build that into your store design, it's an ongoing message that is always there for your customers.
Q: How is this industry going to change in 10 years and what advice would you give us to think about?
Morgan: I think there will be increased pressure for us to automate … inside the restaurant and out of it. But beyond that, I'd say do an analysis of what your core competencies are because you can't be (great) across all things, so it's okay to commit dollars to those.
LeBel: I'm thinking robots, honestly. I think things are going to change rather rapidly on who will make and who will cook a pizza.
But also, I'd tell you to be prepared for some sort of crisis, whether that be in a P.R. way or whether it is something in a reactive sort of way to consumers on social media. That creates any crises.
Netwon: I think it's just going to get better and better in 10 years. But also, remember to check all the boxes. So make sure you have the right attorneys in place and make sure you have the right insurances. And keep those things in mind as you grow.
Lipsius: I would make a far more low-tech prediction. … Like there may be robots (in the future), but I think the quality of the food served is definitely going up. … Then, know what you want to do and be an expert in that. But also, be open to the very true fact that it's not going to go to plan.
Registration is now open for the 2018 Fast Casual Executive Summit in Seattle.
Cover photo: iStock
Award-winning veteran print and broadcast journalist, Shelly Whitehead, has spent most of the last 30 years reporting for TV and newspapers, including the former Kentucky and Cincinnati Post and a number of network news affiliates nationally. She brings her cumulative experience as a multimedia storyteller and video producer to the web-based pages of Pizzamarketplace.com and QSRweb.com after a lifelong “love affair” with reporting the stories behind the businesses that make our world go ‘round. Ms. Whitehead is driven to find and share news of the many professional passions people take to work with them every day in the pizza and quick-service restaurant industry. She is particularly interested in the growing role of sustainable agriculture and nutrition in food service worldwide and is always ready to move on great story ideas and news tips.