Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Re Cycle in 2011

In the line at the store, the cashier told the older woman that plastic bags weren’t good for the environment. The woman apologized to her and explained, “We didn’t have the green thing back in my day.”

That’s right, they didn’t have the green thing in her day.Back then,they returned their milk bottles, Coke bottles and beer bottles to the store.The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, using the same bottles over and over.So they really were recycled.

But they didn’t have the green thing back her day.

In her day, they walked up stairs, because they didn’t have an escalator in every store and office building. They walked to the grocery store and didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time they had to go two blocks.

But she’s right.They didn’t have the green thing in her day.

Back then, they washed the baby’s diapers because they didn’t have the throw-away kind. They dried clothes on a line, not in an energy gobbling machine burning up 220 volts – wind and solar power really did dry the clothes.Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing.

But that old lady is right,they didn’t have the green thing back in her day.

Back then, they had one TV, or radio, in the house – not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a pizza dish, not a screen the size of the state of Montana. In the kitchen, they blended and stirred by hand because they didn’t have electric machines to do everything for you. When they packaged a fragile item to send in the post, they used wadded up newspaper to cushion it, not styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.

Back then, they didn’t fire up an engine and burn petrol just to cut the lawn. They used a push mower that ran on human power. They exercised by working so they didn’t need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity.

But she’s right,they didn’t have the green thing back then.

They drank from a fountain when they were thirsty, instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time they had a drink of water.They refilled pens with ink, instead of buying a new pen, and they replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull.

But they didn’t have the green thing back then.

Back then, people took the bus or tram and kids rode their bikes to school or rode the school bus, instead of turning their mums into a 24-hour taxi service. They had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And they didn’t need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 2,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest pizza joint.
People sat down and wrote letters and cards, the personal touch too, not printed off Xmas form letters and posted out by the hundreds!
It’s a crying shame that we didn’t have “the green thing” back then!

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Sandwich Market. Yoiur update not mine

Sandwiches provide bread and butter revenue to many caterers – but how has this British classic adapted to an age of consumer thrift? UB talks to some of Britain’s most significant brands, and discovers how customer focus has helped them win a bigger slice of the student market.

Sliced bread is one of modernity’s most lauded achievements. So much so that it has penetrated our speech – becoming the figurative yardstick against which all other triumphs are considered the best thing since. Despite this consensus, asking what particular filling should be wedged in-between it proves extraordinarily divisive. Ask your customers ‘sandwhich?” and you’ll receive a smorgasbord in response.

This eclecticism begins to make sense when you analyse the gob-smacking size of the industry. Over 11.5 billion butties were eaten by us in 2009, according to the British Sandwich Association (BSA). Despite recession fears, the BSA measured a 4% increase in pre-packaged sales that year, indicating a negligible impact “Indications are that sandwich purchasing was initially affected at the start of the recession, but quickly bounced back as consumers became bored with their own made-at-home sandwiches”, confirms Simon Ambrose, Editor of International Sandwich & Snack News. “While retailers have had to adapt their offers to meet the demands of the recession with budget offers” he continues, “there is also increasing demand for more expensive, indulgent or gourmet sandwiches at the other end of the spectrum.”

2009’s sandwich revenues totalled £6 billion, offering a scrumptious proposition for franchises such as Subway, who dominate the UK market. The country’s 2.3m students comprise a significant portion of it, with food their second highest expense after accommodation. Vying for their custom are two main types of outlet: fresh deli bars offering bespoke and gourmet options, alongside retailers vending pre-packaged types. Students are presented with a clear choice at point of sale: freshness or convenience?

Catering to the latter desire is fundamental to Ginsters, a brand which has become a virtual synonym for the packaged savoury. It’s a significant presence at universities, having sold 3m sandwiches and wraps on campus in 2010. Off-the-shelf sandwiches offer benefits which are clearly relevant to students, argues John Want, Brand Manager at the firm. “The grab & go nature of lunch and 'between lectures' occasions mean a well stock range of chilled FTG [Food to Go] is essential to drive loyalty and footfall” he asserts.

Offering nearly 30 sandwiches - from entry-level £1.79 items to £3.49 big eat XLs, Ginsters has experimented with fresh options, but concentrates its business around the convenience model. Fresh delis take “a very specialist retailer to make them work, such are the requirements for food safety, training, stock & waste management, in-store facilities”, Want comments. Absence of these resources may preclude the deli option for some units. “They work in a number of locations very well, but are not the best route for the majority of traditional 'shops'”, Want concludes. For those seeking to offer a deli-style food fix within existing premises, Ginsters Panini range – which can be heated in a microwave – offers a pragmatic compromise.

Value is an important trend Want identifies, though this doesn’t imply qualitative compromise. “Value … doesn't necessarily mean just low price, but being seen to give bang for your buck” he elaborates. This has been a more discernible than buyers opting for cheaper items. Want continues: “Consumers don't seem to be willing to scrimp on the quality they get … and so actively look for deals, offers and discounts”. Evolving to accommodate the prudent student, Ginsters offers a ‘Meal Deal’ within NUS outlets.

Buyers also expect increased choice, and Ginsters has diversified to entice with explorative palates. John Want perceives that “There is an increasing need for a variety of world flavours, both due to the diverse nationalities on campus but also due to the growth in travelling and the demand for spicier flavours.” In response, Ginsters has begun to market ‘special edition’ sandwiches, its recent offerings including New York deli style beef and cheddar & chilli jam. “Consumers still like their core favourites” says Want, “but want increased choice if they fancy something different.”

Mr Want’s conclusion is validated by a BSA survey of UK sandwich preferences. Favourites are fashion-led, but the top 3 entries – chicken salad, prawn mayonnaise and egg & cress – are all stalwarts, betraying no hint of faddism.

Wrapid is another campus retailer which has also successfully plied students with exotic flavours. Embracing ethnic cuisine, Wrapid’s top selling wraps are chicken fajita, pepperoni pizza and red Thai chicken. The product’s simple construction makes for timeless takeaway. “A wrap is a perfect portable product”, eulogises Stephen Minall, director of the firm.

Wrapid franchises have a presence at 9 HE establishments in the UK, consolidated by 24 ’whistle stop’ sites at railway stations and in convenience stores. Vendors set tariff for Wrapid’s products, with its core range of hot wraps typically selling between £3.00 and £3.75. These can also be offered direct from fridges, offering a 6 day shelf life - a longevity which may offer distinct advantages to HE vendors.

Convenience is key to the brand’s success, Minall vouches. “The volume remains in “express” product choice”, allowing for impulse buys. Furthermore, “Made to order is fine, but does not manage queues well or allow for volume.” Creating, and delivering their products entirely ‘on demand’ helps to reduce wastage at Wrapid, making their refrigerated portfolio a budget-conscious option.

Carefully balancing product selection is perhaps the most important activity caterers can undertake to increase sales, he suggests. “70% of consumers know which sandwich they are looking for prior to approaching the fixture. If they can’t find that product then potentially the sale is lost.” For example, the UK’s multicultural composition means that certain flavours will be unpalatable to some groups of students. “Where there is a high Muslim mix, tuna based products tend to increase in sales mix as these are a safe purchase, whereas Chicken based products are not trusted as to their Halal source”.

Understanding – and managing the dynamics – of meal deals and margins is a consideration he considers equally paramount. Rather than “single item GP needs”, Minall urges them to develop in such areas as “group values in meal deals, capturing loyalty and offering loss leaders to increase traffic flows”.

Feel-good, healthy eating options are also in demand, although, he counters, “when price is brought into the equation, price invariably wins”. Moving Food - a business linked to Wrapid – has recently launched a £1 RSP sandwich in convenience stores, but Minall insists displays should offer diverse selections. “Every fixture should have a balance of “extreme value products”, together with indulgent products to appeal to all tastes and spending occasions” he relates. “The same person can want to indulge one day and penny pinch the next.”

It’s perhaps worth remembering that, originally, the sandwich was designed to cater for the demandingly esoteric tastes of an Earl.

A recent arrival on the student scene is Urban Eat, a brand created by Food Partners Group. Available through TUCO and NUS outlets, Urban Eat’s diverse range offers upper crust ‘gourmet’ varieties (fillings include crayfish and rocket with lemon mayo) alongside cheaper wraps and ‘basic’ and ‘everyday’ varieties. Explaining this broad strategy, Ben Smeal, Marketing Manager for the label, cites a study of student lunching spends. It revealed that 40% spent less than £2 a day, with the same proportion outlaying between £2 and £3.49. Only 20% of students paid more than £3.50 – indicating deli options may well be off-budget for all but the elite. Accordingly, their portfolio caters for both polarities of the budget spectrum.

Urban Eat’s product is designed to seamlessly integrate with different retail environments. “Customers can really tailor the range” Smeal details. “For example, the Gourmet range, combined with hot eats can really boost the offer of a coffee shop or coffee based environment.”

Smeal concurs that speed, convenience and value are all current motivating factors for consumers, but also perceives expanding vegetarian demand and a tangible drop in demand for meat fillings. To accommodate this, Food Partners supplies universities with a range of ‘Cranks’ sandwiches and salads, marketed under the strap line “Real feel-good recipes”.

Another company value that may accord with student sentiments is a ‘green’ approach to packaging – which comes at no additional cost to the consumer. “Environmentally friendly packaging is part of the brands core values ... this approach has clearly proved popular with our student consumers” Smeal attests.

Whilst pre-packaged suppliers clearly cater for a vast swathe of the market, there’s another demographic which is prepared to wait – and pay a premium – for a sandwich made their way. And – worryingly for some – it’s a sector being eyed by one of the UK’s commercial heavyweights.

Opening early in 2011, Sainsbury’s quietly opened a “Fresh Kitchen” store on London’s Fleet Street, serving a variety of hot and cold food made on premises. Though defined by the grocer as a ‘concept store’, market expectation is that the pilot will eventually unroll nationwide, competing with established players such as Greggs and Pret-A-Manger. There’s no indication of a move into the HE sector – yet – but the low-cost deli model may well appeal to thrifty students formerly deterred by typically higher prices.

A spokesperson from Sainsbury’s commented that “The UK lunchtime market is worth over £13 billion, and as Sainsbury’s already has a fantastic reputation for fresh food combined with great value, this trial store represents an obvious opportunity for us. We are sure that Sainsbury’s famous quality and the fact that the food is prepared on site at fair prices will ensure that The Fresh Kitchen is a real hit with customers”.

Fresh Kitchen’s sandwich pricing starts at £1.29, rising to £4.50 for a freshly made baguette. The outlet offers a variety of daily specials, and its product values incorporate nutrition, value and all-important convenience. “We’re targeting customers that are looking for a quick and healthy meal on the go”, the spokesperson clarifies.

When queried about Sainsbury’s plans, Wrapid’s Director sounds a cautionary note, recalling that other retailers have mooted similarly expansive plans in the past. “Marks and Spencer launched their Food to go offer some time ago” he remembers, “which was met with much noise in the press after they stated they would be doing hundreds of the outlets and creating many jobs. This never happened - as their concept was over complex”.

Whatever forms it assumes, the humble sandwich – going strong since the 1700’s – will no doubt continue to evolve. As flavours proliferate, and growth appears at opposite ends of the market, its success remains intimately linked to the practical benefits which it embodies. Simple, available and affordable – values of yesteryear which continue to define student lunching needs today.