On one level, I feel confidently that self-service is top of mind for retailers right now as it is the number one question in my inbox. Most of the emails can be summed up with- “Hey Angela, I really want to get back to my self-service donut case. Tell me someone else is braving it.” Well, I would love to, but I cannot. We are seeing service cases start operation again at many stores, but so far nothing definitive or near consensus on self-service bakery cases, salad bars or hot food bars. I have read articles assuming that they are over forever, our ed team has spoken to case companies that are prepared with kits to transition the fixturing and have started researching operational ideas from Europe. We have all laughed along with the shots from the salad bars that are now merchandising single serve wine bottles- a personal favorite is the shot where it’s obvious the word salad was simple redacted with a marker leaving just the ‘bar.’ While comical, not helpful nor pointing toward long term solutions.
Here is what we do know: we are working toward balancing safety and consumer perception of safety everywhere we can as an industry. Certainly the incredible innovation in e-commerce and all things new retail will carry over to how foodservice and bakery will operate in the future. Part of the problem with attempting to quantify where and how this should end up is that we are still “knee deep” in the first wave of this virus. Grocery survived, and in some cases even thrived, at the end of March when record sales and stockpiling was the norm across the US. Manufacturers held steady leveraging distribution channels and experimenting with alternate packaging. We can hardly quantify this as adjusting to any new norms, as so far, we have yet to determine what those norms are. In the midst of so much uncertainty, we are still aligned in feeding people, delivering the best products possible and focusing on safety for both employees and customers. In such a short time, we should be proud of what we have been able to both accomplish and maintain.
We just hosted the first of a two-part series of webinars in conjunction with PMA (Produce Marketing Association) to explore what self-service salad bars and food bars may look like in the near future. The first webinar was July 14th with a panel of case manufacturers (Carlson AirFlo, Hill Phoenix and Hussman) to discuss what they are iterating for salad and food bar cases in the marketplace currently. All 3 companies have solutions for their clients- many of them focused on adding risers and adjusting decks so that prepacked meals and salads can now be merchandised safely. One idea converted a 2-sided self service case to full service on one side, using both barriers and chutes to create a new experience for the customer. Only one company had heard from their retail client that they were planning to reopen the salad bar sometime soon. Like the overall crux of this post, we will inevitably wait and see. And there remains no consensus on self-service. The second webinar is July 30th and will include a retail panel as well as presentation on an industry-wide survey conducted to get a sense of what retailers are thinking about in terms of equipment and safety. (To register: follow this link)
If you are reading this and want to let us know what your company is doing with self-service, any concerns you have or anything you want to make sure is on our radar, please leave me a comment, shoot me an email or pick up the phone. I would love to hear from anyone and am happy to keep tracking what the market is doing.