When it comes to the grocery perimeter, there’s a huge data gap that products like MenuTrends are there to fill.
By Andy Nelson
Commissaries, central kitchens and other suppliers of prepared and other foods to retail groceries often struggle with recipe management.
Wynne Barrett, one of four partners in Hopkinton, Massachusetts-based Jera Concepts, says that for foodservice providers, the addition of a single new ingredient to a recipe can create significant complexities.
“Say they switch to a new chicken breast. Now they have to update all their recipes for that item, and that can be a problem,” Barrett says. “We recommend that if there is a new item, choose a generic item. Otherwise you’re getting into managing each individual chicken breast from this or that manufacturer, rather than just chicken breast in general.”
One client Jera is currently working with gets many of the ingredients for their recipes from several different countries, which also can create challenges, Barrett says.
“All their recipes are item-specific, so we’ve had to expand our software platform to allow recipes to be imported so they know they can maintain those thousands of recipes. From our perspective, with recipe management, we’re always updating how people manage can recipes to be simpler, because most people don’t want to have to do that. What was once a real cool recipe gets changed slightly to reflect ingredients people are using now, vs. what they started out using.”
Staying on top of trends
One recipe management tool Barrett is bullish on is menu-tracking technology from Chicago-based Datassential, which allows clients to build recipes and then rate them based on the current popularity of the items in them, as measured by their appearance on foodservice menus.
Mark DiDomenico, Datassential’s director of customer solutions, says the tool, called MenuTrends, helps clients understand what’s trending in the marketplace and gives them new ideas for product development.
“We get menus from restaurants — all the way from QSRs to fine dining, chains to independents,” DiDomenico says. “It’s a curated database. We get the menus and make phone calls to make sure they have the entire menu listed on their website. All items are hand-coded and classed.”
Food manufacturer clients of Datassential can then take that information to grocery retailers and say, ‘Hey, here’s something you may want to start serving in your deli or prepared foods section,’ DiDomenico says. Datassential can help its clients figure out what’s likely to be a fad and what’s a long-term trend.
When it comes to the grocery perimeter, there’s a huge data gap that products like MenuTrends are there to fill, DiDomenico says.
“For a number of years the call has been, ‘We need data to understand what’s happening,’” he says. “Especially in retail, the center-store data is often driven by IRI and Nielsen. But center-store is not the bastion of innovation it used to be. The big excitement is in the perimeter. And there, the data — what’s selling — is hard to come by.”
Inventory management — bridging the gap between expectations and reality
Recipe management software, Barrett says, helps remove a lot of the uncertainty from inventory management. In particular, it can help foodservice operators determine if what they think is getting used, actually is.
“Something I hear from everybody is that getting people to actually follow recipes is a big challenge,” he says. “At the end of the week, if you’ve used 40 more pounds of American cheese than you were supposed to, you know you’ve got a problem. Or maybe someone doesn’t like basil, so they don’t put in as much as they should.”
It’s the gap between what in the industry is called “perpetual” vs. “periodic” inventory use, Barrett says. “If you can find a system that can track that, you end up with better quality assurance and your recipes get managed better.”
One of the big things that’s changed in recipe management in recent years is the acceptance of technology, Barrett says.
“I would say in general the entire industry is more receptive than it was three years ago. They’re allowing tablets on the production floor. They’re not worried about them being stolen because software can lock them down.”
Or take Android-based scanning technology. The entry point for scanners used to be as much as $1,500. Now, for $600, you get “an awesome little handheld computer that’s also a phone.”
“Costs have come down, so you don’t need to be an early adopter now to jump in like you used to,” Barrett says. “Tablets have protective covers now. They’re a lot more rugged than they used to be. Anybody still using paper is who are our target audience is, and most people are still using paper on spreadsheets. So we see a lot of room for growth.”
Putting nutrition front and center
Recipe management software not only makes the jobs of grocery foodservice and other foodservice providers easier, it also helps them meet the needs of 21st century consumers, says Terry Corcoran, national account manager for Bowling Green, Ohio-based DayMark Safety Systems.
“Shoppers are focused on less processed, high quality, and fresh foods,” Corcoran says. “Having the right nutritional recipe management software is very important to offer consumers an exact detailed balance of nutritional guidelines.”
Recipe management systems are also crucial for commissaries, central kitchens and other providers of prepared foods and other value-added items to grocery retailers, Corcoran says.
“The success of consumer loyalty and repeat sales today depends on how commissaries and kitchens can provide not only good tasting foods, but also a good balanced nutritional diet that meets their needs.”
In 2017, DayMark partnered with British nutrition analyst software provider Nutritics on a system to help grocery deli, bakery and prepared food departments accurately and conveniently perform nutritional analyses of grab-and-go items.
Nutritics Insight is a comprehensive recipe management and nutrition labeling software that allows kitchen managers and staff to build and manage recipes and menu data and create custom grab-and-go labels using an intuitive, easy to use system that can serve one or multiple locations.
Nutritics Insight can break down instore items by calories; sugar, sodium and vitamin content; glycemic index; and other components. The system also provides a breakdown of overall recipe costs, costs-per-portion, and reports cost contribution of individual ingredients, helping to manage recipe profitability. And the platform’s label creator helps maintain FDA compliant nutrition panels and complete labels for grab-and-go items.
“Nutritics has been working closely with DayMark to deliver a market leading solution to foodservice clients across the US and beyond and we continue to innovate together to offer our clients a unique software offering,” says Stephen Nolan, Nutritics’ chief operating officer. “As part of this, we have commenced offering our shared clients a free trial of the software to show them the capability and power of our solutions before purchasing.”
A strong recipe management culture, Nolan says, should be the backbone of any foodservice organization. When running successfully, it’s proven to reduce costs, reduce the risk of allergen contamination and provide increased transparency to the end customer.
“Customers are demanding more information on what they are eating and having this available through a centralized library of electronic recipes allows you to print accurate food labels, deliver recipe information digitally and control what is in your recipes,” he says.
Further, as information is passed through to the end customer, it’s crucial, Nolan adds, to maximize the food labelling opportunity available. “It can be a key point of differentiation to your competitors and offers the opportunity to showcase product information such as food provenance, health claims and nutrition. This information can all be stored in your recipe management software and leveraged to give you the extra edge over the competition.”