6 Ways Commodity Boards Build Relationships With Foodservice Operators
When I was starting out in my career, I vividly remember walking into my first menu ideation session with a large-scale foodservice operator. Despite my nerves, I felt a rush of energy getting a glimpse behind the magic of a brand I had known since childhood. I had the opportunity to see where it all began and to learn first-hand where the brand planned to go in the future.
It took over eight months to get a meeting with this particular operator, but we finally made it happen. We had all of the key players and the decision makers from the restaurant group in the room. My colleagues and I presented our products through a symphony of innovative dishes that directly related to the operator’s menu. I couldn’t help but to think how cool it would be if one our menu ideas made it to their mainstream menu.
Photos courtesy of Evans Hardy + Young client, California Walnuts.
Post meeting, we received wonderful feedback from the operator and confirmation that they’d roll a few of our menu items into their test phase. I was over the moon! Several months later, with plenty of follow-up on my part, we learned one of our concepts would appear as a featured LTO (Limited Time Offer) later that year with a three-month run.
Although ultimately the item didn’t make it to the permanent menu, it did help to garner positive exposure for the product and increase sales volume in the short time it was promoted, which made it a success story for our client!
So why should commodity boards want to work with foodservice operators?
According to Datassential, 70% of US consumers indicate that their food preferences are driven primarily by what they encounter on restaurant menus – more so than what they find on grocery store shelves or in a recipe book, making the foodservice sector an invaluable player in the industry.
Commodity boards start to recognize the important role the foodservice industry can play in promoting their products and driving volume. In turn, boards make wonderful marketing partners to foodservice operators, as they can offer free marketing services and will often share costs of co-marketing an LTO menu item or special program that features their product.
Tips for Positioning Your Brand to Operators:
Provide assets such such as pictures, videos, or real-life farmers for promotional purposes, for a leg up in working with the operator. Boards can help operators market their menu items by connecting them to the land where they began. Other helpful assets include: recent research studies, trend reports, and media articles.
Make Them Believe
Create experiences and educational opportunities to engage operators. Fam trips work well. These sponsored foodservice tours are one of the best ways to connect operators with the products they promote. Tell your captive audience all the wonderful ways to use your product and why they should put it on their menu as soon as possible. Operators tend to have busy schedules, making fam trip planning a challenge, so as an alternative, offer a personalized hands-on presentation at the operator’s office.
Know Your Audience
Be everywhere and stay top of mind! Participate in industry events, attend networking mixers, make friends, engage in research studies, work with foodservice media as often as possible, and spend time to educate consumers about your product so they request it! Most commodity boards and marketers have done their research to know what’s on trend and what’s emerging—invaluable info for busy operators.
Commodity boards usually have trained culinary professionals on staff for recipe testing and educational assistance, positioning them as natural menu innovators. If a commodity item is already in existence on an operator menu, suggest new and interesting ways to include it across different day parts and menu parts that work for their concept. This may help to move product without bringing in other pantry items.
Create ROI Menuing
Provide attractive promotional support by dedicating a portion of marketing budgets to operator LTO programs. Offer social media support, media outreach, and other PR solutions to drive traffic to the restaurant during the promotion.
Do your homework and know the menu cycle for operators you want to target. Follow up, but don’t be a pest. Operators manage a number of moving parts every day, making it tough to return emails and calls right away. Be flexible, give various date options when trying to secure an immersion meeting.
In the foodservice industry, commodity boards hold many keys to consumer research and insight into their niche demographic, so be confident in your outreach. Operators and chefs benefit from the in-depth statistics, recipe ideas, advertising suggestions, and answers about the commodities for which they place orders every day. Next time you dine at your favorite fast-causal, audit the menu and see where you might lend some insight. You may have the next big trend at your fingertips!