Nine in 10 adults now snack more often than before the COVID-19 pandemic1—and due to efforts to limit close contact to reduce the virus’ spread, prepackaged items have become a popular choice.
Foodservice provider Morrison Healthcare, which works with more than 800 hospitals and healthcare systems, has seen a notable uptick in prepackaged snack interest during the past 18 months—although Jeffrey Quasha, Morrison’s director of retail culinary innovation, says customers have actually been drawn to prepackaged options for several years.“Our clientele eats in our cafes five to seven times a week,” Quasha says. “When they’re coming in for breakfast, they might grab two snacks and several bottled beverages—because if it’s a doctor or a nurse, or frontline service personnel, they might, depending on what’s happening, not get another opportunity to come down to the cafe or any of our engaged spaces.”
In the current foodservice climate, prepackaged snacks can potentially help healthcare, hospitality and other noncommercial venues continue to increase sales. To capitalize on the snacks’ appeal, operators may want to consider the following elements.
Consumers Crave Variety
While numerous customers gravitated toward health and wellness-focused snacks before the pandemic, some have since adopted a more decadent snacking approach that extends throughout various dayparts, according to Scott Harris, director of category growth at Morrison.
Although more than half of adults say they’ve relied on snacks for nourishment during the pandemic (54%), the salty snacks category showed the largest year-over-year consumption increase in 2020. In the U.S., the chocolate, cookie and candy snack categories all showed significant growth, according to Mondelēz International’s annual State of Snacking™ report.1
With a roster of wellness facility clients, Morrison tries to strike a balance between providing functional fare and more indulgent treats like cake pops and brownies.
In recent years, Morrison has found that offering a wide array of items can translate into customers picking up multiple snacks, due in part to the convenience factor—particularly during the pandemic.
“People bought one-and-a-half more products because they wanted to have something for later, so they didn’t have to deal with going to the grocery store or supply shortages,” Quasha says.
Familiar Tastes Can Attract Customers
Some of the prepackaged branded products hotels and medical centers sell may also, when used as an ingredient, help increase interest in limited-time offer and grab-and-go items.
Approximately 27% of consumers feel an item being made by a brand they like is very important when deciding which snacks to eat or drink2; more than half of adults—53%—say they’ve been buying nostalgic stack brands during the pandemic.1
Offering an LTO item that contains a branded ingredient can allow operators tap into the product’s consumer loyalty, trust and following—and serve as a low-risk way to test the item’s marketability, according to Malcolm McAlpine, business manager for branded snacks and confections at Mondelēz International.
“A lot of permanent menu items started as LTOs but were so successful they became mainstream,” McAlpine says. “People experiment, see what sells, what consumers have a stomach for; that’s the beauty of LTOs.”
Morrison, Quasha says, has drawn inspiration from social media influencers, foodservice industry research and other data to give classic desserts and snacks “a 2.0 application.”
“We do a lot of parfaits made from products that have a distinguished feature or characteristic—making a mousse or a parfait from OREO Creme Variegate, and then crumbling up the rest of the OREO cookie to make a dust that’s a garnish,” he says.
Simplifying Snacking May Boost Sales
To accommodate healthcare facilities and hotel customers’ nosh-related needs, Morrison is installing round-the-clock markets with self-checkout options where guests can just scan the packaging to pay at some of the locations it serves.
“Some of our operations are open 24 hours a day; that resident, guest or patient is looking for a snack or meal in the middle of the night,” Quasha says. “In Georgia, we just opened a 24-hour market where they have the ability to heat up a composed meal and grab some snacks and beverages—no different than what they would receive in the cafeteria during the day.”
Scan-and-go kiosks, a mobile market cart that’s pushed from floor to floor, refrigerated structures that allow access with payment and other automated formats can potentially reduce the manpower needs associated with ringing up customers—a boon for organizations that are short on staff in today’s tight labor market. More than 80% of healthcare foodservice providers have experienced staffing shortage-related challenges during the pandemic.3
Morrison has found scan-and-go setups can be helpful, Harris says.
“We lost a lot of employees,” he says. “We are rapidly addressing the issue with smart walls with snacks, grab-and-go coolers—stuff that can hold a lot of snacks.”
Prepackaged items may also be able to help operators with another operational aspect—reducing food waste as they try to determine what post-pandemic production numbers should be with a different number of employees and visitors on-site.
“We’re seeing a tremendous rise in packaged items for breakfast. For instance, belVita, a breakfast biscuit item, is a perfect item for grab-and-go,” McAlpine says. “Operators like prepackaged products—basically, there’s no spoilage because of their shelf life. That’s going to apply to cafeterias as well as micro markets; preparing food for any meal daypart, there’s no prediction to how many people will be there on that day.”
A Strong Prepackaged Value Proposition
Even with social distancing and other pandemic guidelines reduced in some regions, the demand for individually-wrapped prepackaged items isn’t going away anytime soon, according to Harris.
“We’re still seeing people lean toward packaged items,” he says. “Because of the current situation with the delta [variant], people are still concerned. If they can get a cookie sitting out on a tray with tongs, they’d much rather get a package of cookies.”
Offering a robust selection of easy-to-pick-up packaged snacks can help hospital and hotel cafes, gift shops and other healthcare and hospitality foodservice locations enhance sales both during—and likely after—the pandemic.
Operators that are able to also find unique ways to capitalize on iconic brands’ name recognition by incorporating them into single-serving treats may find they can have the best of both worlds: increased prepackaged item sales from customers looking to load up on sustenance to get through the day—along with impulse buys visitors make after seeing their favorite cookie or other product featured in an irresistible new dessert or snack.
To get more up-to-the-minute healthcare, hospitality and other noncommercial foodservice insights, check out the latest edition of our Culinary Inspiration Guide.
1 State of Snacking™ report, Mondelēz International and The Harris Poll, 2020
2 “Snacking During COVID-19: Finding Comfort in Familiar Brands,” The Hartman Group, 2021
3 The State of Healthcare Foodservice: Full 2021 Survey Results, FoodService Director, June 15, 2021