It’s All About Customization
A Q&A with Nancy Lane, Senior Designer, Visual Merchandising & Product Concepts, Lakeside Manufacturing, Inc.
Q. What food trends are you seeing in K-12 foodservice?
Nancy Lane: There is a lot more of “create-your-own-way.” This generation coming up, the Gen Zs, want to customize. They’re used to seeing their food being made for them. You’re starting to see this on college campuses now, and the customer you have in K-12 today is the customer on campus tomorrow.
Another thing is the local farm-to-school programs. Those have increased over the past year. Districts are finding ways to incorporate some of their local farmers through co-ops.
Low-sodium foods are also trending. These are really a challenge [for directors], but they are finding ways to add flavor without adding sodium.
Q: How about trends in serving and merchandising in K-12?
NL: A lot more items are being brought to the customer “mobile,” being able to be transferred to other locations, and repurposed and reused in multiple ways. An example would be in a very busy school district, a mobile breakfast cart can be used as a serving cart in the morning, but in the afternoon it could be an extension of line service. They can’t get students through the [regular] line, so they’ll create another, customized line.
Q. What’s a quick tip that you’d give to K-12 foodservice directors to help increase participation?
NL: Merchandising their healthy choices, for one. When I see some locations, the merchandising is plain. It doesn’t have that “pop.” When we go in and help them merchandise, they’re increasing sales from the first day we put the program together. There are ways you can make the food look more appealing than just putting it in a stainless steel pan. Dress it up and incorporate communication on it. Chalkboards have been around as a trend for four or five years but that trend is stronger than ever.
Q. How does Lakeside/Multiteria help K-12 foodservice operations be successful?
NL: A foodservice director says, “I need help. This is what I want. Design it.” We go in we do research, and we watch their operation during peak serving hours and ask questions. We take photos of their space, then come back with ideas to address.
You need to be able to customize and offer flexibility when it comes to producing solutions for the customer.
The Mutiteria Flavor Station was driven by [the needs of] a director in California. It gives students’ the opportunity to customize their food and add a little more flavor — like lemon, cilantro and sauces — without adding sodium. And it can be used in multiple ways, for example a taco bar or as an extension of a salad bar.
Q. What differentiates Lakeside/Multiteria from other suppliers?
NL: We have a great team at Lakeside, with over 70 years’ experience. We have a great team of engineers. We offer the services of concept space design, merchandising design and exceptional customer service. We’ve had a lot of directors say, “This is the best thing I ever did because I have a great team behind me. They listen and understand what I’m looking for.”