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Foodservice operaters look for labor-saving help

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Prior to joining the National Restaurant Association, where he is VP-sales and marketing for the convention division, Greg Kirrish spent much of his career as a foodservice marketer at companies including Kraft Foods, Sara Lee Corp. and Kerry Group. In the three years he's been at the NRA, Kirrish has seen firsthand how exhibitors at the NRA's annual megashow target restaurant owners and foodservice operators—and how those attendees respond to those efforts.

BtoB: What trends are affecting the way marketers target foodservice operators?

Kirrish: Our audience is dealing with everything that it takes to run a restaurant. That's everything from legal services to the carpeting to energy to the silverware to employee retention. The trends and issues really driving the whole picture are the ones we hear about in the newspaper every day, for example, labor—the cost of labor, consequently finding employees and retaining employees—all the issues about trying to streamline operations. So any kind of labor-saving messaging has a very receptive audience. Because of the cost of energy, any kind of energy savings are key, whether it's hot water, using less electricity for lighting, heating your establishment, cooling your establishment. The third is the whole issue of "green." Again, you have a very receptive audience because restaurateurs are finding that being green is actually good for their business in a lot of ways. There is a cost savings, but it's also a great marketing tool because, all things being equal, with two restaurants right next to each other, consumers are looking for the green operator.

BtoB: What challenges do marketers face in reaching this audience?

Kirrish: One of the challenges is just the scale of things, and how to keep delivering the quality the operator and the consumer demand. When you look at the foodservice market in the U.S., it's now approaching $6oo billion and there are 950,000 individual outlets around the country. How do you supply on a just-in-time basis, to distribute to all of those sites? So you have to make your decisions. Are you going to go to independent restaurants or the [chains]?

BtoB: Why are trade shows significant in reaching this audience?

Kirrish: It comes down to a couple of aspects: What other medium does a potential buyer pay to come and see you, and go to the trouble of driving or flying to see you? ... It's a fantastic medium where you can touch and taste. Especially for food, demonstrations are so important. If I was selling you a mustard or a salsa, we could talk all day about how great it is, but unless you taste it, it's hard to sell it.

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