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Defining “Fresh” in Foodservice

Staying ahead of customer expectations in foodservice can seem like a moving target, but one attribute that will always be relevant and a purchase driver is the perception of how fresh a food item is. Quality is closely tied to how fresh an item is perceived to be — through its appearance and taste.

As the lines between C-stores and traditional foodservice operations blur, it’s even more important to stand out in this key area to gain your share of daily traffic and loyal customers. Having products and menu items that are perceived and taste fresh will go a long way in achieving those goals.

But what do we mean by “fresh”? Let’s take a look.

Woman loading mini tacos in paper boats into a hot case in a convenience store

What Cues “Fresh”?

It’s often said that we eat with our eyes, and that’s certainly where our definition of fresh begins. To be quickly recognized as appealing, customers will gauge how long they feel a food item has been sitting out — choices can’t look “tired”.

Many prepared foods are created to stay looking fresh for hours after preparation. Tortilla-based items such as taquitos, burritos and empanadas keep the filling from drying out by being fully or mostly sealed from outside air.

Next, there’s the obvious component of taste along with the textures that create the overall perception of how fresh an item is. Is it crispy or soggy? Has the food maintained its flavor? These areas are crucial in appealing to customers’ appetites.

What to Watch For

It’s likely easy to conjure images of foods that don’t convey freshness. Be sure you’ve trained employees to be on the lookout for wrinkled hot dogs/sausages, congealed cheese, wilted produce (whether out on its own or included on sandwiches or salads) or pizza with grease pools. Training materials that include images will make the task easier.

Chicken tenders that soften, dried out burritos and burned hot dogs are other items to watch out for, but they can be harder to spot. Working in quality checks and samples throughout shifts can help catch un-fresh products before a consumer selects them.

chicken empanadas, beef mini tacos and el monterey xxl arge spicy red hot beef and bean burrito

How to Stay Fresh

This important attribute is a main trigger for trial, and fresh taste can differentiate products from one another. Packaging and product design play a key role in ensuring a fresh experience. Individually wrapped products like El Monterey® Burritos provide a barrier to protect the quality of the tortilla. Our hot, prepared foods are designed with quality in mind and will maintain freshness and flavor for up to 4 hours or more in the hot case or on the roller grill. Plus, Tornados®, El Monterey® Empanadas and El Monterey® Mini Tacos are available with sleeves to help retain freshness so the product doesn’t dry out.

Source: Ruiz C-Store Demand Strategy – Consumer Survey (2019); TCG Analysis

Questions About Freshness?

Let’s start the conversation about how Ruiz Foodservice can help you create the optimal mix of easy-to-prepare items that deliver the characteristics customers are looking for.

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