Five Ways to Keep Retail Foodservice Alive During COVID-19

Think individually wrapped items, bulk packaging and grab-and-go. 

August 06, 2020

SEATTLE—Michael Droke, food industry veteran and attorney at Seattle-based Dorsey & Whitney, speaks to U.S. executives from various industries, “and not a single one expects to return to the way things were before COVID-19,” he said. “And they don’t want to.”

According to a report in Supermarket News, businesses have found efficiencies in having employees work from home and likely won’t send the entire workforce back to the office full time. “Retailers should be thinking about that,” Droke said. “There are all kinds of new habits about where and how people are doing work and, as a result, eating their meals. What kinds of things are we learning now that we might need to use forever?” Here are five things Droke has learned.

1. Goodbye self-serve food bar.

“People don’t feel safe getting food from them anymore,” Droke said. Instead, retailers can offer what they previously put on their food bars in pre-packaged formats to appeal to shoppers who now work from home.

“If you used to have a taco bar, offer pre-made tacos or burritos,” Droke recommended. “If you used to have a salad bar, pre-package a variety of salads for at-home lunches.” Essentially, grab-and-go is replacing the self-serve food bar.

2. Conversion is key.

“There are conversion kits available that can convert self-serve bars to full-service from behind the bar,” said Droke, which reassures customers that food is safe from shoppers passing by.

3. Bulk is back.

The new work-from-home culture means that more people of all ages are home for lunch and snack time. But that doesn’t mean they always want to prepare their own meals. This is where bulk packaging can be a great foodservice solution.

“Customer demand is increasing for larger volumes of hot and cold food items,” Droke said, “because they now need to feed the whole family at lunchtime rather than grabbing something close to the office or sending their kids to school with money or a packed lunch.” A larger volume meal or even a multi-day offering can appeal to these families.

4. Individually wraps items.

“When it comes to bakery items like cookies and breads, present as many things as you can in individual wrapping,” said Droke. This should replace the open bakery bins where shoppers could serve themselves and possibly cross-contaminate.

5. Take it outside.

Consumers are accustomed to food trucks and eating outside in general. Let shoppers know that retail foodservice is alive and well with an outdoor barbecue or even a popcorn machine.

“The smell will lure shoppers over, where you can have these and other pre-packaged items available for purchase,” Droke recommended.

Coronavirus Resources

NACS has compiled resources to help the convenience retail community navigate the COVID-19 crisis. For news updates and guidance, visit our coronavirus resources page.