freshness in full bloom

Exotic sushi, ready-made salads and fresh-cut fruit are ushering in tasty new eating options while helping customers watch their waistlines.

When it comes to developingan exotic fresh food menu, U.S.retailers are drawing on inspirationfrom around the world.

Take Torrance, Calif.-based FamimaUSA, for example. The U.S. subsidiary ofJapan’s FamilyMart Co. is drawing on itsJapanese heritage by incorporating freshsushi into its daily foodservice offering.Sushi typically made for c-stores and otherlong-shelf life environments may use artificialingredients and heavy seasoning tokeep it fresh, but Famima opted to haveits sushi made fresh every morning by atrained chef and have it delivered to all 12of its locations.

Famima has removed all MSG from itsfresh sushi, even in the seafood productssuch as crab. The chain has also startedoffering customers a choice of the brownrice with their sushi, since it’s a bettersource of fiber than white rice.

“The introduction of brown rice hasgone over very well with our customers,”said Hidenari Sato, executive vicepresident of marketing and merchandisefor Famima. “Brown rice now makes upabout 50% of our sushi sales, and we keepgetting requests for more options.”

Because Famima is based in the everhealth-conscious Los Angeles market, ithas to compete with the multitude ofhealthy eating options available in the city.Sushi has become one of the most populardishes for people residing near the chain.

“Our customers expect our sushi to beon the same level as what’s being madein traditional Japanese sushi houses,” saidSato. “We have to deliver the quality offood they are looking for.”

Famima’s sushi is made fresh anddelivered in small packages every morning.The rice is brought in from Japan andcan hold moisture longer than traditionalrice, which helps the sushi remain fresh.

Shoppers in their 20s and 30s stop byin the morning to pick up a hand roll forlunch and may return later for a mid-eveningsnack. Famima’s professional andsingle customers need something they canuse for one or two meals, since they stopby the store everyday.

The chain rotates its food offeringsevery week by introducing about eightnew products across all its categories.Each week, the three lowest selling typesof sushi are taken off the shelves andreplaced by three new flavors. Sato makessure to stock 15 to 20 varieties on the shelfat one time so customers have a revolvingselection to choose from.

Of the 2,800 different types of sushiavailable, only 25% remains a constant onthe shelf. Usually Famima will not stock asingle type of sushi for more than a year,except for staples such as the Californiaroll and spicy tuna roll. Customers don’twant to stockpile on groceries for a weekso they prefer single use items, accordingto Sato.

“People are looking for a new productalternative to traditional snack foods,”said Sato. “Sushi is a wonderful item thatcan be interchanged between a full mealor a quick snack.”

Tossed in Freshness

For those retailers who want to stick toa more traditional path of fresh produceand lean protein, Whitehouse Station,N.J.-based QuickChek boasts high-qualityhealthy food offerings.

The fresh produce and salad categorycomprises about 10% of the chain’sfoodservice sales, according to MandySteindl-Kwiecien, category managerfor QuickChek.

Before the lunch rush, employeesprepare fresh packaged salads in-housedaily, including signature recipes such aschicken bacon ranch and the garden saladwith tuna. The smaller side garden saladoption is a strong add-on sale when customerspair it with a sandwich or soup,plus it boosts category profitability.

QuickChek’s made-to-order menuallows customers to choose exactly whatgoes into their salads, allowing them topile it high with veggies or protein-packedmeats. Full-sized salads generally carry a60% profit margin and sell for $4.99, whichis still a low enough price to encourageadd-on sales. Whole and packaged slicedfruits are popular for lunch and also as anadd-on item for breakfast. The refrigeratedwalk-around cases dedicated to grab-andgosnacks showcases packaged fruit salad,sliced apples and carrot and celery cups.Whole fruit is merchandised on displayracks by the register to encourage impulsepurchases since it’s a lower-priced retailitem, ringing in around 79 cents.

The chain stocks healthy items thathave mass appeal to all demographics.Baby carrots and sliced apples are perfectfor small children and soccer moms.Whole fruits and salads are easily portablefor working customers who need to effortlesslytransport their meals.

“The recent publicity push behind freshfoods has really helped strengthen ourproduce category,” said Steindl-Kwiecien.“People are identifying the health benefitsand feel better about eating fruit than junkfood.”

Playing on National Trends

Both Famima and QuickChek agreedthat suppliers are working with them tocreate healthier options. A big push recentlyin the industry has been the eliminationof trans fats from popular items found inc-stores. As of July, Famima and its vendorsare now stocking products free oftrans fats.

7-Eleven is reportedly looking to followthat trend. The Dallas-based chainhas been an industry leader in urging suppliersto work with the convenience storecompanies to stock and develop innovativeproducts that feed into customertrends. One segment that Joseph DePinto, president and chief executive of 7-Eleven,is extremely bullish on is the chain’s freshfood program.

“We are spending $1 billion overthe next four years to renovate theinsides of our stores to make them morepresentable from the fresh foodsperspective,” said DePinto at therecent Grocery ManufacturersAssociation/Food Products AssociationExecutive Conference.

7-Eleven is counting on suppliersto work with third-party operators onthe logistical and distribution changesneeded to house fresh foods. Under thenew plan, each store will get an enlargeddaily delivery of fresh foods and bread toaccommodate the additional customerswho will seek out the new items.

QuickChek is also working with manufacturesto supply foods that are keepingin line with new health trends.

“Our suppliers got on board quicklywith the trans fat-free products,” saidSteindl-Kwiecien. “It helped us makechanges within the store to take advantageof the new offerings.”

 

Safety Nets
When dealing with freshproduce and meats, foodservice operatorshave to be aware of certain safety issuesthat may arise. Marsha Robbins, environmentalhealth specialist for HACCPPlus,identifies several key safety tips to keepin mind when preparing fresh food in ac-store environment.

  • Stores should have someone certified infood safety on site at all times.
  • Proper refrigeration and acidification canextend shelf life. Adding lemon juice tosliced fruit, especially cut apples, can helpkeep fruit from discoloring.
  • Melons are particularly susceptible to contaminationdue to their high levels of moisture,which can allow bacteria to grow. Fruitsshould be chilled before cutting with cleanknives to prevent transferring the contaminationfrom the outside rind to the insidefruit.
  • Coolers that merchandise salads, cut fruitsand vegetables should be kept below 40degrees Fahrenheit to prevent the productsfrom going bad.
  • Make sure store-level employees practicegood personal hygiene and hand washing.Employees should wear single use glovesand use utensils to minimize direct handcontact.
  • Minimize time that fresh food is in thedanger zone, which is 41 to 135 degreesFahrenheit.
  • Prevent cross-contamination by properlypreparing and storing food.

Retailers should take proper measuresto train employees who handle food withthe latest food safety practices and requirements.Chains that have salads and f
reshfoods prepackaged and delivered by suppliersstill have the responsibility to keep thefood protected and maintain safe transitions.

“The transition for retailers into foodservicecan be a challenging one,” said Robbins.“But with the proper planning, buildingand groundwork for safe food preparation,the change will be very successful.”

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