College, university foodservice operators look to distributors, manufacturers for help

College and university foodservice operators are constantly trying to stay ahead of the latest trends. With a young customer base that is starting to exercise its own decisions and form its own tastes and preferences, C&U decision makers are always on the lookout for the concepts, ingredients and dishes that will resonate with students. After all, nearly 80% of college operators say campus dining plays a key role in student recruitment and over a quarter say they are more driven by student satisfaction that profit, based on research from Datassential’s recent C&U Keynote Report.

But where do C&U decision makers get their trend information from – or decision makers from any segment? According to Datassential’s brand new 2016 PULSE Report, over half of C&U operators want consumer trend insights from suppliers, while 40% of convenience store operators said they want flavor trends. Every year Datassential dives deep into operator needs and wants with our annual PULSE Report, surveying over 1,000 foodservice decision makers across 15 different segments, from restaurants to on-site to retail, so that subscribers can form segment-specific targeting strategies.

Every segment is different

While colleges are looking for information on trends, K-12 operators want nutrition and labeling information from suppliers -- three-quarters said the availability of nutritional information and labeling was important when deciding where to buy products. With the segment’s ever-changing rules and regulations, it’s not surprising that K-12 decision makers need help ensuring that their products meet National School Lunch Program guidelines (if kids’ menus matter to you, ask about our brand new MenuTrends Keynote Report: Kids’ Menus).

We asked all 15 segments for the services that mattered most to them – did they want more recipes, help training staff, product comparison tools, industry trend information or menu design assistance? The answers varied widely from segment to segment; while only 1 in 10 fine dining operators was interested in loyalty program assistance (though 28% offer a loyalty program, and 21% plan to implement one in the future), 36% of c-store operators said help with their loyalty program was an important factor in deciding where to buy products.

Who Is making the decisions?

Decision maker titles vary by segment, which means their priorities also vary – an owner likely has very different considerations compared to an executive chef. Over half of the decision makers in the c-store segment are general managers, compared to only 6% of long-term care decision makers – decisions are far more likely to be made by foodservice directors in LTC. At the same time, 63% of fast casual decision makers are the business owners.

Datassential’s PULSE Report not only looks at which job titles are likely to be the decision maker in every segment, but breaks down decision maker demographics on multiple metrics -- gender, ethnicity, age, experience, culinary training. Can you guess the segment where four out of every five decisions makers have more than two decades of experience in the industry?

Sampling goes a long way

To persuade an operator to purchase your product, a free sample doesn’t hurt -- 42% of operators said a free sample spurred them to purchase a new product in the past month, the top-scoring purchase activator. Free samples are particularly motivating for retail decision makers -- 55% of grocery deli operators said a free sample drove a recent purchase, while only 31% of fast food operators agreed. Overall, however, free samples have been the top-scoring new product purchase activators for the past three years.

Mike Kostyo is the senior publications manager of Datassential, a supplier of trends, analysis and concept testing for the food industry. To subscribe to the 2016 PULSE Report or purchase any of the reports mentioned in this article, contact Datassential managing director Brian Darr at brian.darr@datassential.com.

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