Fresh Opportunities For Hotel Produce — Where Do We Go From Here?

Fresh Opportunities For Hotel Produce

By Sharon Olson, Executive Director, Culinary Visions

April 2020 – Consumers are constantly balancing healthfulness, indulgence and convenience when they dine away from home. The hospitality industry faces unique challenges in feeding consumers when they travel beyond their home territory.

Two studies from Culinary Visions asked more than 3,000 consumers questions regarding their experiences, revealing a consumer trend toward delicious, yet convenient meals.

Serving up comfort and satisfaction to guests is a priority for successful hospitality operators. Today’s consumers crave comfort in fresh alternatives or enhancements to standard restaurant fare. Fifty-eight percent of travelers look for dishes with local ingredients, and 75% of consumers found a hotel restaurant that serves dishes unique to the area appealing.


Fresh Grab And Go

Hotel guests are often looking for a quick bite, and 64% of consumers agree they are interested in a hotel “marketplace” store within the lobby that is more convenient than a restaurant or café. If high quality options are available, travelers want to buy. Sixty-two percent of survey participants said they would purchase fresh grab-and-go meals from a hotel marketplace suggesting that to-go meals are often an important part of their experience at the hotel.

Fresh food offerings have universal appeal, yet for younger consumers, ages 18-34, they are an even stronger allure. They want to put less processed foods on their plates, but they don’t want to sacrifice the convenience-driven lifestyles they have grown accustomed to. Eighty-nine percent of consumers ages 18-34 say they would like to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, and 76% of consumers in that age group say they shouldn’t have to try too hard to eat healthy.

From the consumer’s perspective, fresh is synonymous with healthy and points to a significant opportunity for the produce industry to serve the hospitality market.


Fueling Travel Appetites

The vast majority of consumers surveyed (80%) said they eat their meals around their schedules instead of planning their schedules around their meals. Fast and easy food options that fit their evolving routines appeal to travelers. Sixty-six percent of consumers surveyed agree it is difficult to find fresh snacks on-the-go, suggesting there are plenty of opportunities for prepared fruits, vegetables and salad options to grow.

Food markets onsite or adjacent to hotel properties allow solo diners to create dining experiences. Food marketplaces have captured a unique foothold within to-go food options, with 60% of consumers agreeing that shopping at food markets is one of their favorite types of food experiences, and 62% agreeing they love the collaborative energy at a food market. Sixty percent of consumers agree they like to roam around with a beverage and absorb the whole environment of the market. It’s no surprise hotel guests look to local food markets for convenient bites.

With their emphasis on fresh produce and natural ingredients, fast casual marketplaces make getting a quick, produce-centric meal that consumers feel good about a desirable and hassle-free process.


Technology’s Role

Technology within foodservice offers consumers the speed and convenience they’re looking for from food providers, with almost half of consumers believing that using technology to order food is easier than ordering from a person. However, consumers and operators are still adjusting to technology within some segments of the foodservice industry.

Hotels are in a unique position as a home away from home for travelers. Forty-three percent of survey participants say they would be uncomfortable with robotic technology delivering food to their hotel room, and 53% of consumers think using technology to order food does not ensure the order will be correct. While convenience is important, quality and service still factor into consumers’ overall impression.

Hotels are constantly adapting to travelers’ ever-changing needs. Looking to popular food experiences and attitudes among hotel guests is helping the hospitality industry predict the needs and wants of their guests and fuel the fresh food culture that travelers enjoy.      Pb

Sharon Olson is executive director of Culinary Visions, a division of Olson Communications based in Chicago. Culinary Visions is a food-focused insight and trend-forecasting firm that provides original consumer and culinary professional research for companies in the food industry.



Where Do We Go From Here?

By Jim Prevor, Editor-in-chief, Produce Business

Shortly after Sharon Olson submitted her piece, she flew off to South Africa with her husband and a close friend to enjoy a grand expedition through that beautiful country. The expedition was, however, cancelled en route due to the coronavirus. They had to improvise, with a few days seeing sights in Cape Town, and then they hunkered down in quarantine in an apartment they were able to rent in Cape Town.

So they’ve created their own “hotel,” and this analysis of her research now seems almost quaint, as we don’t really know what people staying at hotels will seek out post-pandemic. If society opens up, but without a vaccine, how will people view social spaces? One can imagine that many people will still want to travel. There are business opportunities, educational opportunities, things to see and do — and people won’t want to simply give all this up. But the idea of crowded urban restaurants, such as you find in many top hotels, seems a little disconcerting.

Yet, it is also possible that the response will be very different by age. Even after the coronavirus was an issue, but before the Florida beaches were officially closed, there seemed to be no shortage of college students willing to go to Florida for spring break and party in close contact with lots of people their own age. The risk seemed small as, even if they caught the virus, a very small percentage of young people die, and most of those who do pass away seem to have pre-existing conditions — though sometimes they don’t know it.

Is it possible that the sick and elderly — because they are vulnerable — will be isolated for a long time, but the young and healthy will resume a life more consistent with what we had all been accustomed to?

Will middle-aged men and women, traveling on business, think room service and its isolation a wise alternative? When they send employees on business trips, will company executives think that they would prefer healthy and disease-resistant employees in their 20s or 30s and let them communicate and consult by phone and email with their senior coworkers and bosses? Might companies advise, or permit, older employees to stay home, to “shelter in place”?

One wonders if attitudes toward technology might change. Sharon points out that her research shows consumers were not thrilled with the idea of robotic technology being used to deliver food. What if the question was asked differently today: “Would you prefer to have your food delivered to your room by a human being who might be a carrier of the coronavirus and could infect you, or would you prefer a robot that cannot be infected with the coronavirus and thus cannot infect you?” Sometimes the answer you get depends on the question you ask.

Stores, such as the “marketplace” stores Sharon mentions, might not be feasible if social spacing requirements keep purchase volume down. Setting out stickers or tape spaced on the floor six feet apart, allowing one person at a time to order… just may not be very fun. Sharon points out that younger adults love the “collaborative energy at a food market,” but will they enjoy it if they are “social distancing” at the same time?

One can sense the struggle… People yearn for social connection, they want to meet and date, interact and have relationships — and much of this happens over food and drink. But, of course, they don’t want to get sick or, worse, die, and, beyond that, it is not likely to be good policy for businesses to send employees off to contagions or, for that matter, for hotels and restaurants to be the site of contagions.

Now, perhaps, technology such as vaccines will make the issue moot. There is also the possibility that we will learn with greater certainty that those who have had the coronavirus are immune and that young people are not at great risk. Attitudes may change and as a society we may even accept young people getting COVID-19, knowing they will be asymptomatic and there getting the condition will help produce “herd immunity,” which will make it safer for more vulnerable people to travel and mix with family, friends and business associates.

Yet, it is also true that there is no particular reason to think COVID-19 is the end of all contagions. Perhaps this experience will make people more cautious both about known illnesses — such as the flu, which many people die from each year — and about the fact that new diseases can spring up at any time. With a world where people travel frequently, there is no real protection.

Then again, most of us want to live — not merely survive — and we tend to get used to risks as we have to influenzas. Taking risks is a long-standing human trait. In Ecclesiastes 8:15, it is written: “Then I command mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry” Though in Isaiah 22:13, it is more somber: “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we shall die.               pb