Have you considered the foodservice segment as part of your company’s channel strategy? Compass Group is the largest contract foodservice company in the world and serves over 10 million meals every day in corporate cafes, arenas, schools, hospitals and more across North America.
So, if you’re considering getting into foodservice, it’s important to know Compass Group.
Susie Weintraub leads the Envision Group within Compass Group, the growth and innovation arm for the majority of the North American business. With an influx of innovative brands entering the space, along with increased consumer demand of better-for-you products, possibilities for natural products brands are plentiful in the world of foodservice.
While Compass Group serves food companies in the “true” foodservice sense (think salad dressing at a cafeteria salad bar), it also runs the spectrum. “There aren’t guardrails to say we can only do this product or that type of product,” says Weintraub.
It’s just a matter of, from a manufacturing perspective, how the company is packaging the product, she says. In other words, a hummus could become an ingredient on a sandwich, or in a snack pack in a grab-and-go case in a corporate café, depending on how the food or beverage is packaged. Both can find a fit in Compass Group environments.
A living lab
Weintraub’s division, Envision Group, is charged with finding new products from emerging brands that could potentially have application in foodservice. This means it’s a great gateway into Compass because brands can test out how the product is going to respond by piloting in existing Compass Group accounts. “As opposed to an innovation lab in a corporate office, we test the products with clients and accounts where it can truly get the response of our end user customers and clients,” she says.
It’s more like a living lab, she says. “We really want to get the pulse of the consumers that are ultimately going to be purchasing and experiencing the product in a real live setting.”
Characteristics of great partner brands
When it comes to products Compass Group is looking for, Weintraub says it tries to weigh what consumers are asking for—natural, seasonal, clean, local—with what it’s putting in its cafes. It responds to trends that are mainstreaming; all those characteristics the mainstream is saying they want to see, the foodservice company is seeing the same thing in its environments. But the products need to stand on their own, she says. “We’re mindful when we’re selecting new products that there is a differentiator about that product that we don’t already have in our product portfolio,” says Weintraub.
Functionality is another characteristic that Weintraub acknowledges is something the company is talking a lot about these days. “Consumers really want beverages that will do something personally for them,” she says. “Whether it’s physical energy, mental energy … whatever they’re trying to do that day, they’re really purposeful in choosing what products they’re putting into their bodies.”
Weintraub acknowledges that the process for getting into Compass Group comes with a lot of complexities, but the benefits outweigh the hassle once a brand gets into the system. What’s the advantage of going into foodservice? Scale. “Once you get a product into the system, you get that instant scale,” she says.
She believes another advantage is the feedback brands receive by Compass Group working closely with its clients. “We have the advantage to do that because all of the chefs and management and staff that are in the account are having day-to-day interactions with our customers,” she says. “It’s instantaneous feedback directly from our consumers.” That feedback is then relayed to the manufacturer, so they know the pulse on how a product or recipe is doing.
Compass Group can also get brands closer to the red carpet than they’ve been before. It has provided catering to special events like the U.S. Open and the Academy Awards. And if it’s the right fit, those opportunities are available to emerging natural products brands, too. Though, Weintraub admits, the clients for those events typically have strong ideas about their menus, and Compass Group always has to be respectful of what its clients are asking for.
Nevertheless, "There’s no reason a new product couldn’t be part of the U.S. Open menu,” she says.