Deli-quality means sandwiches with premium meats, natural cheeses and artisan breads, explained Hill. The packaging also plays an important role in fresh food success. Hand wrapped sandwiches in clear cellophane, or clear clam shell containers, display the items much better than an item bagged in the traditional vending style, KF Foods has found. Fresh salads need to look like they were just made and work best when Romaine lettuce or spring mix greens take the place of iceberg lettuce. The presentation, packaging and ingredients raise the price point while lowering the shelf life.
“There is an average 30 percent reduction in shelf life for these foods [compared to vending],” said Hill, “and they cost more.” Still, fresh food makes up nearly a third of market revenue and more customers are shopping the micro markets for these items than previous vending locations. Because of this trend, Hill recommends operators really think about merchandising. “In vending, an operator on the KF program has 100 plus fresh items per day to pick from, rotating through 440 fresh food items offered,” said Hill. “In retail, that is too much variety to manage in the space available.” The problem is how the food is presented. In a traditional food carousel, there is one product per slot. A customer can rotate the machine and shop every slot for a specific food product. In a micro market cooler there are only 15 to 20 facings, depending on product and cooler size. Hill suggests limiting food products in the market to the facings available, adjusting volume for the location’s need. This means an item could be three or four deep, instead of different varieties hidden behind each other, forcing the customer to reach in and search through the cooler.
“Less food variety gives you the ability to merchandise better in the micro market [cooler],” finished Hill.
Micro market food trends quality
Some of KF Foods top food sellers include the “easy peel” boiled egg pack, ham or turkey flat pack sandwiches and large deli wraps. Interestingly enough, salads are the most requested item group, but are not the best movers. “Salads are only 5 percent of our sales [in micro market fresh food],” said Hill. There continues to be conversation towards healthier items in micro market products, but Hill reports the sales don’t support the level operators might think was required.
“One hurdle for operators launching a micro market fresh food program is understanding proper food handling with regards to temperature control,” said Hill. Receiving, distributing and displaying an item at the correct temperature is key to its freshness. “If a product is in ambient temperature for 20 minutes, it loses a day of shelf life,” explained Hill. He feels operators need to be sensitive to how long food is outside a cooled environment, such as being transported into a location.
Refrigerate even in the warehouse
Maintaining food temperatures should also be considered in the inventory and picking process. According to Randy Smith, president of LightSpeed, with new technology micro market operators have the ability to take electronic pick lists directly into their coolers. Using a device like the LightSpeed mobile, warehouse staff can take the iPad into the refrigeration unit and “pick” food for a specific micro market location based on the replenishment list from the backend system, without it leaving a refrigerated space.
Products: hand wrapped, fresh
Jeremy Cauble, marketing manager at Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Gallins Foods, Inc., a long-time vending operation with 20 micro markets, understands the value of fresh food. He believes one of the things that sets Gallins’ micro market food apart from vending food is the packaging. Gallins’ food provider, also MG Foods, still does a lot of hand wrapping. “Customers can see it wasn’t run through a machine,” he said. The product’s appearance is paramount to the consumer coming to a market. “With a lot of sandwiches, when you put them in the freezer and then thaw them, it affects the look of the product,” explained Cauble. “Many manufacturers are trying to remedy this, but when we first started out, there was a noticeable difference to customers.”