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Natural Foods Merchandiser

4 signs your store is ready to take on catering

Charlene Venette of Sundance Natural Foods in Eugene, Oregon, shares her tips for going into catering.

In May 2014, Sundance Natural Foods in Eugene, Oregon, officially expanded into catering. “We found we were the only all-organic deli and buffet food establishment in the area, so we felt that we had something different to offer our community,” says culinary director Charlene Venette.

Today, nearly a year later, the store is benefiting in two important ways. First, perhaps obviously, Sundance has become an invaluable resource for customers who are hungry for healthy alternatives to traditional party foods. But what’s really driving business is the influx of new customers—the guests of parties catered by Sundance—who have tasted how delicious healthy foods can be.

While catering certainly has its benefits, Venette insists that it’s not a fit for every store. Retailers should have these four items in place before taking the leap:

1. A business plan.

A good plan will include a strong manager who can wear many hats as the service evolves, Venette says. “It should also include a well-laid-out budget, enough staff to handle the workload, and a really good menu that has been tested on a large customer base,” she advises.

2. Customers.

Word of mouth is the best advertisement, says Venette, so having an interested customer base will go a long way toward getting a catering plan off the ground. One sign you have those raving fans? A successful food program that is growing every quarter, she says.

3. Enthusiasm.

“The food industry is a hard one,” Venette says. “Work is hard and money is slight.” Therefore, managers and staff have to be excited about making the program work. “You have to love what you do and enjoy making others happy,” Venette adds.

4. Creativity.

In the catering world, natural and organic options are few and far between. Even so, stores must exceed expectations by offering not just healthy foods, but delicious foods. “The days of dry, tasteless health food are gone,” Venette says. “Today, customers are much more informed, and they are interested in ‘culinary delights,’ not beans and rice.” Keeping a menu simple but tasty is the key, she says, because word will get around—and it will be either the best or worst advertising you could ask for.

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