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On demand

Delivering the goods in the midst of a changing foodservice industry 

Screen Shot 2020-11-23 at 3.37.12 PMNine months into the COVID-19 crisis, Canadian restaurants are in a fight for survival, investing in initiatives to re-ignite growth and recover daily traffic levels in the midst of challenging conditions that include rising infection waves, mandated reductions in seating capacity, limited hours of operations and consumer safety concerns.

One thing is certain—the market will not go back to how it was before the pandemic. The current circumstances have forever altered the business landscape for the out-of-home dining industry, including c-store store foodservice.

In the pre-COVID-19 era, more than one in four occasions (27%) were consumed away from home, either at work, restaurants, schools and other off-premise locales.  During the early April and May confinement period, away from home foodservice occasions plummeted by more than 60%, with almost nine in 10 of those occasions (88%) now being consumed at home.  

Fast forward to the latest Ipsos Foodservice Monitor (FSM) syndicated data release for July and August 2020 shows a considerable rebound in dining out activity. Although increases in home cooking habits remain higher than in the pre-COVID-19 era, consumers are acting upon their pent-up-demand for ‘tasty restaurant options’, with foodservice occasions rebounding almost 40% from their springtime low.

But now, with more uncertainty on the horizon and closures in various regions, where can foodservice invest to boost performance on the path going forward?

Ipsos Foodservice Monitor (FSM) reveals one key area representing opportunity: the rise of online delivery and contactless ordering/payment options.   

Consumption and lifestyle priorities

Investing in homebound experiences is the new ‘going out’, particularly as more of us are working from home.  Interestingly, those who are working outside the home are almost twice as likely to leverage the foodservice channel versus those who are working from home.

While working from home may negatively impact in-person foodservice foot traffic, especially in office-heavy urban areas, it can also create new opportunities. During March to July 2020, FSM reported that overall delivery traffic doubled in size, with total dollars increasing three-fold.

According to Asad Amin, VP and leader of Ipsos’ Food and Beverage Group: “While online delivery services are still relatively small, increased usage is likely here to stay even after the health crisis, due to its sheer convenience.  Today, close to one in 10 Canadians are ordering from this channel.  The COVID-19 impact has merely accelerated the trend to off-premise dining which had been factoring into consumer decisions for some time.”

Digital ordering and delivery habits

The rise of delivery services has not only doubled from its pre-COVID base, but almost a quarter of Canadians (23%) report that they will be ordering more online in the future. 

The positive outlook for delivery is also aided by the size of the dollar prize. Currently, the average per-eater amount for delivery service orders ($13.47) is a whopping 40% higher when compared to take out orders. The increases at dinner are even more notable, highlighting the financial significance of the opportunity.

Beyond the revenue growth opportunity, investment in delivery options is also a defensive play. FSM tracking reveals that as many as four in 10 consumers (40%) report that they will likely go out to dine less often after the COVID-19 related closures and restrictions end.

Given that these higher delivery volumes are likely to endure, operators may need to reassess which delivery model to adopt and how to invest. 

Foodservice providers have a wide range of options and barriers to consider, including which model to adopt—operator-driven or third-party enabled—with consideration given to the economics of speed and cost, just to name a few.  Additionally, to be addressed, are mounting concerns about the morality of delivery services due to environmental factors, such as superfluous packaging, as well as fair treatment of workers and more.

Made for delivery menu options

To satisfy growing demands for online delivery or pickup, operators will need to offer products that travel well and ensure taste and safety quality.  Today, just 65% of consumers report that delivery services are taking all necessary precautions to ensure food safety and quality.  Could there be opportunity to grow sector confidence?

As consumer behaviours continue to evolve and as we adapt to the next new post-COVID reality, the foodservice industry together with many other sectors, will undoubtedly face new and unforeseen challenges. But the players that will emerge stronger are the ones who keep their finger on the pulse of shifting habits and who are willing to make bold and decisive moves to build resiliency to ensure long-term success.

Screen Shot 2020-01-16 at 3.49.27 PMKathy Perrotta is a VP with Ipsos Market Strategy and Understanding, working with the Food & Beverage Group Syndicated Services. Data sources within this group include Ipsos FIVE and Foodservice Monitor (FSM), a daily tracking of purchases, habits and motivations at all foodservice segments and at branded operators among more than 36,000 individuals annually. 

 


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Understanding the new food consumer

People’s relationships with food changed this year. The good news? Customers are up for grabs—and our proprietary consumer research backs it up. Businesses that want to win need to start by understanding customer motivations.

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For many of us, the global pandemic has reset our relationship with food. We’ve shifted the way we shop for, purchase, prepare—and even think about—food. Much of this evolved out of necessity: grocery delivery services grew (and got maxed out) because many felt unsafe going into stores; online meat and fish sites flourished; and local butcher shops resurfaced as supermarket chains had trouble keeping meat on the shelves. People who had not been cooking at home learned to cook with YouTube videos and online tutorials, and meal kits surged as restaurants remained closed (even for takeout).

Things have settled down over the last few months: supply chain issues have been solved, in most places restaurants have reopened with new safety precautions (although in some regions they are closing again), and grocery delivery services are operating at a normal pace. But the food landscape has changed and it is not going back to where it had been. The Jackman Human Insights Study, our ongoing, proprietary consumer research study, found that not only are we cooking more (51% of respondents say they’re making more meals from scratch), but most of us (91%) plan to keep up this increased level of home cooking for the foreseeable future.
The old model of competition for foodservices businesses was based on price, place, product, and promotion. But this is not enough to win anymore. To succeed today, businesses need to understand their customers on a deeper level and remember that while some see food merely as nourishment or fuel, for many it is so much more. Historically, in addition to nourishment, food has been considered a form of self-care, indulgence, and a way to connect with others. While that is still the case, during this pandemic food also became a way to experiment, discover, and embrace self-sufficiency for many who had not thought this way before.
Those in the food industry need to identify who their consumer is and what drives them.
Below, we focus on two different groupings of prevalent consumer segments identified in our research — The Planner and The Budget Conscious, and The Adventurer and The Trend Seeker. Here’s how to engage them:
The Planner and The Budget Conscious
Motivated by fuel and convenience.
The Planner seeks routine, structure, and familiarity, especially now as the world seems to be changing at a rapid pace. These shoppers stick to the rules and make thoughtful and controlled decisions. While they prefer to watch and learn from others, they would rather not pay for services if they can do it themselves. As their name suggests, The Budget Conscious tend to prioritize price. They prefer to do things they are familiar with and much like The Planner, they watch and learn from others. Budget conscious consumers also prefer to get their shopping done in one stop.
Three keys to engaging these consumers: 
1. Keep it Simple
These shoppers prefer to stick with simple, quick, and even pre-measured meals and are not paying all that much attention to the details of where or how a product is made. They are not looking for organic vegetables or ingredients they can’t pronounce, they just want a grocery store with conventional produce and good premade meals. Going back to the basics can work with this crowd.
2. Focus on Brick and Mortar
The Planner and The Budget Conscious are highly unlikely to subscribe to a meal-kit service or order groceries online. Businesses looking to engage these consumers should put effort into the in-store experience to help create loyal repeat customers.
3. Emphasize Convenience
Shoppers in these segments tend not to see food as a way to bring people together and are not particularly invested in the food journey. For them, food is simply nourishment. Before the pandemic forced the city into lockdown, Amazon Go worked to engage these consumers in San Francisco with a stand-alone store filled with ready-to-eat foods (like burritos, salads, and sushi).
The Adventurer and The Trend Seeker
Motivated by connection, creativity, and discovery.
Shoppers in both of these segments enjoy discovering and trying new things. The Trend Seeker shops at speciality retailers. They are most likely to accomplish something as part of a big group but are also very willing to pay someone to do tasks for them. In contrast, The Adventurer is likely to be a risk taker who would rather try doing something themselves than learn it from others. They, too, prefer specialty stores and when shopping, and they prioritize quality over price and convenience.
Three keys to engaging these consumers: 
1. Take a Multi-faceted Approach
These customers are engaged with all aspects of the food journey, which means they are interested in cooking and open to new ways of accessing food. Businesses need to engage these consumers in all possible ways—like Panera Bread did in the early days of the pandemic. When physical cafes started to close, Panera launched curbside ordering and pickup in just two weeks. And, when it became clear that customers were having trouble finding ingredients to cook at home, the company rapidly launched a grocery delivery service.
2. Focus on Innovation
These are the consumers that have been most excited to experiment with new food during the pandemic and continue to get creative with their meals. Find ways to engage them such as meal kits that rotate by cuisine or a section of the grocery store dedicated to a different cuisine each week offering prepared meals, as well as ingredients and recipes, to make it at home.
3. Enhance Complexity and Creativity
The Adventurer and The Trend Seeker like experimentation and are willing to prepare complex meals. They would appreciate learning to make craft cocktails online or picking up a kit with all needed ingredients and then hopping on Zoom for a virtual cooking session with local or international chefs. They also want to engage with local businesses—like small butcher shops or restaurants—so partnerships are important.
While it is true that consumers’ relationships with food have changed rapidly this year, we at Jackman view this as an opportunity. In our study, 41% of consumers said they are still experimenting with new brands or types of food. That’s great news—and means that new customers are up for grabs. Businesses that want to win these new customers and develop long-term loyalty need to start by understanding these consumers’ motivations for engagement with food and then finding innovative, ongoing ways to fulfill those needs.
Stefan Read is VP of engagements at Jackman Reinvents. An advisor to consumer brands, retailers, B2B companies, and private equity partners for more than thirty years, Jackman has proven invaluable to leaders intent on sharpening strategy and orchestrating insight-led reinventions of their businesses.

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Straws, stir sticks and bags among first targets of countrywide plastics ban

shutterstock_700694767Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson says six single-use plastic items that aren’t easily recycled and already have more environmentally friendly alternatives will be the first to go under Canada’s new restrictions on plastics.

That means the end of next year will be the end of the road for plastic straws, stir sticks, carry-out bags, cutlery, dishes and takeout containers and six-pack rings for cans and bottles.

Wilkinson says many of the items that aren’t on that list, such as plastic bottles, will be getting new standards to require them to contain a minimum amount of recycled material.

He says there is also a push to standardize how plastic items are made, from the types and amounts of plastic used to the dyes and adhesives, so recycling them is easier.

The Alberta government announced Tuesday it wants to become a hub for Canada’s expanding recycling industry.

Canada currently recycles less than 10% of the three million tonnes of plastic it produces each year, and along with the provinces has set a goal of have zero plastic waste ending up in landfills by 2030.

“There is an enormous amount of opportunity for improvement,” said Wilkinson, in an interview with The Canadian Press.

Canada intends to add plastics to a list of toxic items under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, and is issuing a discussion paper on the banned items and recycled content standards and other plans.

Wilkinson said the aim is to have everything in place by the end of next year.

A 2019 report commissioned by Environment Canada found Canada’s recycling industry was hampered by cost and access. It is cheaper and easier to produce new plastic than it is to recycle it, reuse it or repair it, and without minimum standards requiring the use of recycled content, the market for recycled plastic was small.

The report said in 2016, Canadians threw 3.3 million tonnes of plastic away, 12 times what was recycled.

It said there were fewer than a dozen recycling companies in Canada, employing about 500 people with about $350 million in revenue between them.

Until recently, Canada and most other wealthy nations shipped much of the recyclable plastic tossed in their blue bins across the ocean to Asia. China in particular was the biggest buyer of the items, which were recycled into plastic pellets used in its massive manufacturing sector.

But China slammed the door shut to that option at the beginning of 2018, tired of being the world’s garbage dump. So much of the material arriving by the shipload could not be recycled and ended up in landfills in China instead.

Canada will join dozens of nations that have enacted various bans on single-use plastics. The United Kingdom just began enforcing a ban on straws, stir sticks and plastic-stemmed cotton buds just last week.

France began phasing in a ban in January, starting with plastic plates, cups and cotton buds. Straws and cutlery will be added in 2021, and tea bags, fast-food toys and takeout containers in 2022.

READ:


Source: Instragram

The Pumps run dry

Source: Instragram

Source: Instragram

After nearly a decade in business, Leslieville Pumps General Store & Kitchen is reinventing itself and moving from its current location to a nearby storefront on Queen Street East in Toronto’s Leslieville neighbourhood. The catch? No more fuel service.

Brothers Greg and Judson Flom took over the site in October of 2011 and quickly established themselves as a unique voice in the c-gas community, with a strong vision for foodservice.  The Toronto location, modelled after an American site the duo researched online, became a southern barbecue destination, famous for pulled pork sandwiches, poutine and its late-night curry offering targeting local revellers on their way home from the bars.

Screen Shot 2020-09-01 at 3.44.59 PMThe announcement of the closure came via social media on August 27, after rumours started swirling when neighbours noticed the building’s iconic signage coming down. Many feared The Pumps, as it’s known locally, was a victim of pandemic-related closures.

During the early days of the COVID-19 lockdown, Leslieville Pumps was an industry leader, quickly announcing enhanced sanitizing measures and even offering to run orders out to people’s cars. It was the early days of curbside delivery.

Source: Instagram

Source: Instagram

Instead of an end, however, it’s a new beginning. “After an awesome 10 years of being Toronto’s most unique gas station we are excited to move into a space that will allow us to focus on our love for BBQ and continue to provide all your convenience store goods.”

Fuel will no longer be on the menu, however. The Floms marked the change with a special deal, offering gas at 50 cents/L from 9 a.m. August 28 until the pumps ran dry. By 10 a.m., it was all over and the pumps were being dismantled.

The kitchen closed on August 29 and the general store followed on August 31.

Screen Shot 2019-11-14 at 9.16.50 PMIn a social media post commemorating their last day at the old location, the brothers said: “When we opened almost a decade ago, we were so excited to open the shop and start our culinary adventure. Little did we know that at the end of today would be the first day we’ve had to lock the door. Running a 24/7 business has been thrilling and unforgettable. To be part of the daily rituals of the early risers and night dwellers in Leslieville, we’ve created friendships that will surely follow us a few doors down to our new location.”

The new location, just three doors down at 913 Queen Street East, is slated to open this month. It’s being dubbed a General Store so patrons can expect some of their favourite convenience items and snacks alongside the famous BBQ menu.

 

Leslieville Pumps General Store & Kitchen has share insights and been feature in Convenience Store News Canada and OCTANE several times over the years. Here’s a look back at the coverage:

Pumps’ co-owners share tips for foodservice success

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Leslieville Pumps: 3 ways to get foodservice right

Four ways you can go digital 

Barbecue barons


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Second Cup to close more stores and pilot gas station drive thrus

The Second Cup Ltd. plans to close more stores, sell more of its product in grocery stores and open gas station drive-thrus as it looks to recover from the deep hit absorbed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

images-1The e Mississauga, Ont.-based beverage company says a pilot program will see it open at three Petro-Canada locations in Ontario this year.

Second Cup says the retail sales will supplement its own e-commerce platform that launched in April as much of its coffee house network was forced to close.

It is also moving into “non-traditional” cafe locations such as hospitals, airports, train stations and other transportation venues, with 14 locations scheduled to open across Canada in the next 18 months.

Second Cup says its net loss surged to $1.93 million in the second quarter, from a loss of $783,000 a year earlier.

Net revenue fell nearly 46% to $3.5 million from $6.5 million in the prior year as system network sales decreased 68% to $10.9 million from $34.4 million.

“With an increasing number of Canadians working from home, we know that the daily coffee experience is changing,” says Steven Pelton, CEO of Aegis, the new corporate name for Second Cup.

“People want to be able to have a premium Second Cup coffee experience in their own kitchens, and we are going to make that easier for them, with the return of Second Cup coffee products to retail banners across Canada.”

Same-store sales plunged 52.6% compared with an 8.6% decrease in the first quarter as all 19 Bridgehead coffeehouses in Ottawa and 130 of the 244 Second Cup locations across Canada closed in mid-March.


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Insights and lessons from pandemic snacking trends

Increased home time, family time, leisure screen time, stress and near 24/7 access to our pantries, have all translated into a rise in snacking, as Canadian consumers reach for treats and comfort foods

Screen Shot 2020-08-10 at 4.30.51 PMOther than checking my bathroom scale, there are broader metrics to demonstrate that consumers like me increased snacking during the lockdown.

In order to quantify these kinds of shifts in consumer spending in the United States as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, market tracking company IRI recently launched its CPG Demand Index to measure weekly changes in consumer purchases, by dollar sales and channel.

IRI tracked an increase in total core snacking of +40% year-over-year (YOY) for the week ending March 15, and +34% for the following week. For the week ending April 5, snacking sales modulated, but still grew +7 YOY.

Results from a broad survey of consumers in the United Kingdom, conducted by supermarket chain Waitrose, revealed that nearly 40% of consumers reported an increase in snacking during lockdown. 

In turn, the Frito-Lay Snack Index, released at the end of May, found 85% of respondents said eating their favourite snack makes them feel normal, while 83% said their favourite summer snacks remind them of good times and nearly half (48%) said eating their favourite snack makes them feel happy. 

Bottom line is that increased home time, family time, leisure screen time, stress and near 24/7 access to our pantries, have all translated into a rise in snacking, as Canadian consumers reach for treats and comfort foods. 

 

Stocking up

In the third week of February 2020, the Dow Jones average was nosing 30,000 for the first time: This was the end of the longest bull market in recorded history. However, by the third week of March, the Index had lost more than one-third of its value, essentially wiping out the cumulative gains of 2017, 2018, 2019, and Q1 2020. As of this writing, markets have recovered somewhat to levels of early January 2018.

There have been some exceptions to this general trend. Shopify is a Canadian multinational e-commerce company, offering a proprietary software platform that facilitates retailers selling their products online and in stores. Shopify’s stock value has flourished during COVID-19, as most retailers scrambled to up their online presence. Between January to mid-March 2020, Shopify stock was up about 5%. Between March and May, Shopify’s stock value doubled, surpassing RBC as Canada’s most valued stock. 

Despite a precipitous drop in foodservice channel sales during the global lockdown, a number of large food companies have seen success. Mondelez, PepsiCo and Kellogg’s are all examples of bucking the trend and boats rising in a down market.

Mondelez reported organic sales growth of more than +6% for the first quarter of 2020, beating Wall Street estimates. Mondelez CEO Dirk Van de Put attributed the performance to the rapid growth in snacking due to shelter-at-home behaviours.

PepsiCo reported nearly +8% net revenue growth in Q1 2020, as consumers stocked up on beverages, salty snacks and other food items for at-home consumption. Key observations during COVID-19, include:

o   Shift to at-home consumption – growth in snacking during the day

o   Increased usage of large-format pack sizes

o   Shift away from immediate consumption

o   Increased purchase “basket size”—fewer shopping trips with a higher value

o   Increased use of e-commerce sourcing

The company is leaning into the changes in consumer behaviour and has developed a game plan, with an emphasis on snacking. While PepsiCo expects gradual improvement in sales at convenience and gas channels as people return to work, the company is also embracing an e-commerce strategy, launching two U.S.-based direct-to-consumer sites to capitalize on the growing appetite for snacks. Snack.com offers more than 100 Frito-Lay snack products, while PantryShop.com features multi-product bundles of Quaker and other brands to meet specific day-part and lifestyle needs

At Kellogg’s, North America financial reporting for the first quarter of 2020 showed organic sales rose 6%, with volumes up 5%. This largest driver for this growth was the company’s snacks segment, according to Amit Banati, senior vice president and chief financial officer.

Kellogg’s cracker sales jumped almost 40% versus a year earlier, while salty snacks and wholesome snacks rose nearly 30%.

“This consumption growth has been broad-based across our portfolio of brands,” Banati said. “From an occasion standpoint, we have seen less lift for on-the-go items and more growth for pantry packs”.

Opportunity to take share

Traditional convenience and gas non-fuel sales have been oriented towards impulse consumption—providing products that are consumed within an hour of purchase. Legislated changes to consumer behaviour have impacted the convenience channel significantly. 

The convenience business model is built on and grounded in consumer mobility, social activity and time scarcity. In a pandemic, virtually overnight, this evolved into immobility, isolation, CPG scarcity and boredom. Rather than getting from point A to B as fast as possible, fuelled by an on-the-run meal or snack, consumers’ priorities shifted to limiting retail trips, avoiding crowds, and eschewing public transit.

The great news for the convenience channel is that proximity plus offering consumers a streamlined retail experience have never been more important. As working from home and home schooling/daycare become entrenched as a kind of new normal for consumers, there is an expanded role for the convenience channel to play as a provider of pantry staples, meal kits, fresh produce, non-food cleaning/hygiene products and even office supplies.  

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Use your smarts

Symphony RetailAI, along with partner ROC Associates, use technology to optimize performance for gas/convenience, foodservice and grocery, drawing insights from their pool of retailers: Their findings are representative of thousands of stores and millions of households globally. 

Trusha Pandya, account director at Symphony RetailAI noted a number of trends emerging across the convenience channel as the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded.

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Data showed that, overall, c-store sales tracked improving week-over-week performance. At the outset of the lockdown, Symphony “recommended that convenience store retailers stock up on frozen and canned fruits and vegetables.” As the market gradually transitions into a new phase of the pandemic, Symphony is advising convenience retailers to renew their “focus on better-for-you and fresh options, (which should) also translate to snack categories.”

 Be a camel

In an article in The Globe and Mail, venture capitalist Alexandre Lazarow called for Silicon Valley to create a new model for a post-pandemic world. 

He notes that the tech world has spent the past 20 years trying to find the next “unicorn” startup. Unicorns are companies having seemingly unlimited potential, capable of growing from zero to more than $1-billion valuation in short order. 

Our current harsher, less stable market environment calls for a different approach. Instead of unicorns, the future will be “camel” startups that prioritize sustainability and resiliency.

Lazarow writes that the camel, “adapts to multiple climates, survives without food or water for months, and has humps to protect itself from the desert’s deprivations. Unlike unicorns, camels are not imaginary creatures… camels are survivors.” 

There will be bumps and impediments in the road ahead. As always, the ability to adapt to changing circumstances, and sustain your business through emerging challenges, will enable you to survive and flourish. Put simply, just like all of us in the face of COVID-19, be prepared to do what you need to do to live to fight another day.

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Darren Climans is a foodservice insights professional with close to 20 years’ experience partnering with broadline distributors, CPG suppliers, and foodservice operators. His practice is to understand issue-based decisions by taking a data-driven approach to strategic decision making.

 


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Staying power

At 181, Nova Scotia’s Frieze and Roy is celebrated as Canada’s oldest general store

Screen Shot 2020-07-27 at 3.52.06 PMScreen Shot 2020-07-27 at 3.54.09 PMEverybody in the community of Maitland, NS, roughly 90 kilometres from Halifax, knows that you can get potato chips, lottery tickets, and even maple syrup at Frieze and Roy. While they enjoy the convenience of shopping, and dining, at their local c-store and adjoining cafe, they also appreciate the store’s biggest selling feature: its commitment to community.

Indeed, that is the reason co-owner Troy Robertson purchased the store eight years ago. The decision to buy, he says, was less about business and more about what the store meant to the town of approximately 8,200 people. “It’s the heart of the community. It’s where people drop in. It’s where people leave messages for one another.” 

People in Maitland have been doing all that—and more—at Frieze and Roy for 181 years. For much of the 1800s, it was a focal point for the shipbuilding trade. As that century was coming to a close, the shop became more of a general store offering customers everything from farm tools to fine china. Today, Frieze and Roy is recognized as Canada’s oldest general store.

That rich history contributes to the bottom line today. The store has been featured in articles and on television and continues to draw media attention. “People are interested in stuff that has been around for a long time,” says Robertson. 

To meet tourist’s needs, the store offers a range of souvenirs. In particular, notes Robertson, “they want something with the word ‘Maitland’ or ‘Frieze and Roy, Canada’s oldest general store’ on it. If people are flying, they like a gift that is smaller than 12 inches.”

Meeting the very specific needs of customers is central to Robertson’s business philosophy. “I watch what people buy. I ask them what they want. I tailor my inventory to my customers,” he says.  

That includes offering them the option of purchasing liquor. Frieze and Roy is one of the select convenience stores licensed by the government of Nova Scotia to sell wine, beer and spirits: 9% of sales are alcohol, notes Robertson. “You have to bring something in to draw people in.” 

Screen Shot 2020-07-27 at 3.54.37 PMIn addition to ensuring customers find what they need, and what they want, Robertson has worked to make the store a gathering place. That work started when he purchased the admittedly deteriorating building and essentially gutted the interior, creating a c-store on one side and the Mudslide Cafe on the other. In the middle (a shared buffer between the two businesses) is a gift shop that supports both operations. 

“The goal was to create a feeling that people are going to an old place that is comfortable,” says Robertson. “We are not Shoppers Drug Mart. We do not want to look or feel like Shoppers Drug Mart.”

Screen Shot 2020-07-27 at 3.55.02 PMMany locals prefer to shop local, he adds. “The lines are smaller. It’s faster. It’s their community. People want to go someplace that doesn’t feel like a mall.” 

Nothing could feel less cookie-cutter than the town of Maitland itself. Only an hour’s drive from the province’s capital city, the town sits on the edge of the Cobequid Bay, an inlet off the Bay of Fundy, which boasts the world’s highest tides. “There are few places like this left,” says Robertson.

The same could be said of the Frieze and Roy general store.

  

Frieze and Roy’s tips for a successful store

Screen Shot 2020-07-27 at 3.53.57 PMImprint. Running a c-store is a lifestyle and a lifestyle choice, says Troy Robertson. It’s also hard work, he notes. “You can’t put in your 40 hours and go home.”

Inhale. Building a business takes time, says Robertson. “You need patience and flexibility to grow the business.”

Increase. C-stores can expand their reach and improve the bottom line through strategic partnerships with suppliers –and with each other, says Robertson, who would like to see the sector share information and purchase collectively. “There really is power in numbers.” 

 


Demand for robot cooks rises as kitchens combat COVID-19

Robots that can cook – from flipping burgers to baking bread – are in growing demand as virus-wary kitchens try to put some distance between workers and customers.

Starting this fall, the White Castle burger chain will test a robot arm that can cook french fries and other foods. The robot, dubbed Flippy, is made by Pasadena, California-based Miso Robotics.

White Castle and Miso have been discussing a partnership for about a year. Those talks accelerated when COVID-19 struck, said White Castle Vice-President Jamie Richardson.

Richardson said the robot can free up employees for other tasks like disinfecting tables or handling the rising number of delivery orders. A touch-free environment that minimizes contact is also increasingly important to customers, he said.

“The world’s just reshaped in terms of thoughts around food safety,” Richardson said.

Flippy currently costs $30,000, with a $1,500 monthly service fee. By the middle of next year, Miso hopes to offer the robot for free but charge a higher monthly fee.

Robot food service was a trend even before the coronavirus pandemic, as hospitals, campus cafeterias and others tried to meet demand for fresh, customized options 24 hours a day while keeping labour costs in check. Robot chefs appeared at places like Creator, a burger restaurant in San Francisco, and Dal.komm Coffee outlets in South Korea.

Now, some say, robots may shift from being a novelty to a necessity. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control says the risk of getting COVID-19 from handling or consuming food outside the home is low. Still, there have been numerous outbreaks among restaurant employees and patrons.

“I expect in the next two years you will see pretty significant robotic adoption in the food space because of COVID,” said Vipin Jain, the co-founder and CEO of Blendid, a Silicon Valley startup.

Blendid sells a robot kiosk that makes a variety of fresh smoothies. Customers can order from a smartphone app and tweak the recipe if they want more kale or less ginger, for example. Once or twice a day, a Blendid employee refills the ingredients.

Only a handful are now operating around San Francisco, but since the pandemic began, Blendid has started contract discussions with hospitals, corporations, shopping malls and groceries.

“What used to be forward-thinking – last year, pre-COVID – has become current thinking,” Jain said.

As salad bars shut down, Hayward, California-based Chowbotics started getting more inquiries about Sally, a robot about the size of a refrigerator that makes a variety of salads and bowls. Sally lets customers choose from 22 prepared ingredients stored inside the machine. It can make around 65 bowls a day before kitchen workers need to refill the ingredients.

Prior to this year, Chowbotics had sold around 125 of its $35,000 robots, primarily to hospitals and colleges. But since the coronavirus hit, sales have jumped more than 60%, CEO Rick Wilmer said, with growing interest from grocery stores, senior living communities and even the U.S. Department of Defence.

Wilkinson Baking Co., whose BreadBot mixes, forms and bakes loaves of bread, has also been getting more inquiries. Randall Wilkinson, the CEO of the Walla Walla, Washington-based company, said the BreadBot serves shifting needs. Grocery shoppers no longer want self-serve options like olive bars, but they still want fresh and local food. Seeing how that food is made also gives them more confidence, he said.

Robot cooks haven’t always been successful. Spyce, a Boston restaurant with a robot-run kitchen, closed in November to retool its menu. Zume, a Silicon Valley startup that made pizzas with robots, shut down its pizza business in January. It’s now making face masks and biodegradable takeout containers.

Max Elder, research director of the Food Futures Lab at the Palo Alto, California-based Institute for the Future, is skeptical about the future of food prep robots once the pandemic has eased.

“Food is so personal, and it needs to involve humans,” he said.

Elder is also concerned that focusing on automating food preparation during the pandemic will shift attention from other problems in the food system, like outbreaks among meat industry workers or produce pickers.

“We can’t automate our way out of the pandemic because the pandemic affects much more than what can be automated,” Elder said.

Automated food companies insist they’re not trying to replace human workers. At White Castle, Richardson says Flippy will allow managers to redeploy workers to drive-thru lanes or help them cover a shift if an employee calls in sick. Wilmer, of Chowbotics, says Sally may actually create jobs, since it keeps selling food at times of day when it wouldn’t have been available before.

But robots can lower the demand for labour. At the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock, workers used to spend six hours per day prepping grab-and-go salads in the 24-hour cafe, said Tonya Johnson, the school’s director of nutrition services. But two years ago, the campus installed a Sally, which now makes an average of 40 salads per day. Sally allowed the school to eliminate a vacancy in its cooking staff, Johnson said.

Johnson said the campus is buying another Sally for students to use when they return this August, which will save four hours per day of grab-and-go salad prep in the college deli.

“I think the pandemic has made us realize how much we need more equipment like Sally,” Johnson said.

Miso Robotics co-founder and CEO Buck Jordan said fast food restaurants are already having trouble finding workers, due in part to a shrinking population of young workers.

“It’s our contention that automation is not a choice,” Jordan said. “You must automate in order to survive the future.”


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Burger King addresses climate change by changing cows’ diets

106613995-1594665222128cowsmenu_keyvisual_july2020Burger King is staging an intervention with its cows.

The chain has rebalanced the diet of some of the cows by adding lemon grass in a bid to limit bovines contributions to climate change. By tweaking their diet, Burger King said Tuesday that it believes it can reduce a cows’ daily methane emissions by about 33%.

Cows emit methane as a by-product of their digestion, and that has become a potential public relations hurdle for major burger chains.

Greenhouse gas emissions from the agriculture sector made up 9.9% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2018, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Of that amount, methane emissions from livestock (called enteric fermentation) comprised more than a quarter of the emissions from the agriculture sector.

With an over-the-top social media campaig n that teeters between vulgarity and science (sprinkled with more vulgarity), Burger King is banking on the heightened awareness of climate change and its responsibility to limit its own role.

According to a recent poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, about two out of three Americans say corporations have a responsibility to combat climate change. The gravitational pull of climate change is increasingly finding its way onto national political stage.

Potential customers are also cutting down on the amount of meat they consume, citing both environmental and dietary concerns. Burger King and rival McDonald’s have added meat alternatives to their menus.

Two years ago McDonald’s said it was taking steps to cut the greenhouse gases it emits. It tweaked the manner in which the beef in its Big Macs and Quarter Pounders was produced. The company said at the time that it expected the changes to prevent 150 million metric tons (165 million tons) of greenhouse gas emissions from being released into the atmosphere by 2030.

Burger King worked with scientists at the Autonomous University at the State of Mexico and at the University of California, Davis to test and develop its formula of adding 100 grams of lemongrass leaves to the cows’ daily diets. Preliminary tests indicate that the lemongrass leaves help the cows release less methane as they digest their food.

On Tuesday, Burger King introduced its Reduced Methane Emissions Beef Whopper, made with beef sourced from cows that emit reduced methane, in select restaurants in Miami, New York, Austin, Portland and Los Angeles, while supplies last.


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Canada’s growing food insecurity issue

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StatsCan confirmed what most of us already know: Canada is becoming a hungrier place.

According to a survey conducted by the federal agency in May, almost one in seven (14.6%) Canadians indicated they lived in a household where there was food insecurity in the past month. In 2017-18, a similar survey was conducted and 10.5% of households in Canada felt food insecure.

StatsCan results were consistent with a survey conducted by the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University around the same time, which found 61% of Canadians felt they had enough food and did not consider access to food an issue. That sentiment was at 72.6% last year, a drop of more than 12%. Alberta saw the largest drop between the two periods at 21.2%. More than 4.1 million Canadians now see access to affordable food for survival as a challenge, compared to a year ago. These are massive numbers. And chances are, the situation may get worse by the time this pandemic is over.

Most surveys will likely continue to point to a changing Canadian food security landscape. The hyper sentiment of food security is largely because many have lost their jobs and most of us face a future overflowing with uncertainty. More than 8 million Canadians applied for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), which will eventually come to an end. More than $52 billion has been paid out to Canadians so far. That is a third of Ontario’s entire budget.

What will likely make matters worse are food prices. The current food inflation rate is at 3.4% and could reach 4% by year’s end. The food inflation is likely to be much higher than the typical 1.5% to 2.5%. Costs to produce, process, and distribute are all increasing. Physical distancing, personnel turnover, training, double shifts, the use of personal protective gear, equipment modifications, and an increase in the use in automation are all factors contributing to cost increases. To get food to market, companies across the supply chain will need to charge more, full stop.

Grocers may be reluctant to pass on these extra costs to consumers, but eventually they won’t have much of a choice. Here is why: It is assumed that food companies face individual distribution challenges, but this isn’t entirely accurate. COVID-19 has affected the entire system the same way, at the same time. In this context, companies are facing the same challenges, and grocers know that.

The macroeconomic backdrop of this are deflationary pressures that are affecting many other aspects of our economy. Many things are getting cheaper. StatsCan noted that our general inflation rate is currently at -0.4%, a drop of 0.2% from the month before. Clothes, footwear, education and transportation, are many components of the consumer price index that are dropping. Some say consumers are spending less on certain things and thus will have more means to spend on food. Not really.

In the past, grocers have had to deal with a market in which food prices were much higher than the general inflation rate, but nothing like this. COVID-19 proved a simultaneous supply and demand shock, which has never happened before. With lower prices everywhere, expectations will shift and will lead to more frugality in the marketplace. Current market conditions suggest there is less cash in the market. Grocers, other food retailers and restaurants will have to fight to maintain market shares while dealing with higher costs. Fewer stores and fewer SKUs in stores is a likely scenario. There are some investments being made in e-commerce by many players, from farmers to processors to grocers, to help make the entire supply chain much more democratic.

To offset the effects of a higher-than-usual food inflation rate in a deflationary environment will be our grocers most significant challenge. However, some analysts predict our deflationary phase is only momentary and prices should get back into their inflationary groove within months. As people return to work, there will be more money in the economy, and hopefully an inflation rate that we can all afford. It is the only way to make Canada feel less food insecure.

Sylvain Charlebois is professor in food distribution policy and senior director/AGRI-FOOD ANALYTICS LAB at Dalhousie University. He writes for CSNC sister publication Canadian Grocer.