The Future of Consumer Comfort
Updated: Feb 10, 2022
Over the course of the past 18-plus months, nearly every aspect of “normal” life changed in one way or another — and the food and beverage industry was no exception. How consumers check out (and what that experience looks like) and an increased emphasis on cleanliness and air quality are just some of the many necessary improvements that have now become standards within the industry.
ConnexFM’s Food & Beverage Council is dedicated to identifying what’s working and what isn’t in the food service FM industry. Here, they identify the seven most impactful changes for consumers and facilities teams alike — and what’s here to stay going forward.
ConnexFM Food & Beverage Council
Chair: Karen Shriner, Weis Markets, Inc.
Steve Vollrath, Addilan Group
Samantha Boardstarr, Beyond Service Group
Jason Cherry, Cracker Barrel Old Country Store
Liz Peralta, Feed Forward
Caitlin Summers, Mom’s Organic Market
Robbie Drake, Murphy Oil USA, Inc.
Tom Coble, Pegnato Roof Intelligence Network
Michael McMahon, Phoenix Energy Technologies
Jon Makowski, Powerhouse
Aaron Daly, Ratio Institute
Looking to contribute to the conversation? Join in the conversation on the Food & Beverage Community.
Standardized Cleaning Methods
According to members of the ConnexFM Food & Beverage Council, facilities’ internal guidelines and instructions were likely long overdue for updates, regardless of the current climate. New cleaning supplies, including specific CDC-recommended products and UV technology have been introduced and are now common everywhere. Customers have noticed and expressed appreciation — and will expect it to continue in the future. For now, these improved and more frequent cleaning processes must remain in place, but eventually, they can be slightly reduced to “normal” levels once deemed appropriate.
Air Quality Improvements
In addition to ensuring air filters are routinely replaced, Multi-Site FMs across all industries have started to invest in new, advanced HVAC equipment. Formerly thought of as a “like-to-have,” these improved HVAC systems now are considered a “must-have.” Modern equipment increases air flow within a space, uses micron-blocking filters and treats the air to eliminate contaminants caught in the exchange. Although this change is relatively invisible to consumers, Jeffrey Taylor, AIA, Owner of Taylor Associates - Architects in White Plains, NY, said it will likely become a mainstay going forward. Facilities with new HVAC systems should develop plans for when the equipment should be in use, if not all the time.
Taylor said that due to supply and workforce shortages, getting construction materials and new HVAC installations can take three to four times longer than normal (and often at increased prices). “It used to take 6–8 weeks to get these HVAC systems, and now it’s taking 20–24 weeks,” he said.
This will continue to be a challenge going forward — possibly affecting consumer product pricing as well. “Not only has getting materials and product been a challenge, but so has getting everything to the site. Supply line, delivery and trucking have all been affected this year, and it’s still not completely resolved,” Taylor continued.
Taylor said one of the first and most accessible changes his facilities implemented was proper social distancing protocol, both at checkouts and throughout sales aisles wherever possible. “We tried to eliminate any pinch points, so people don’t have to get so close to each another while they’re traversing the store,” he added. Increasing aisle size allowed patients to shop more comfortably and increased traffic flow, and it will likely become standard going forward.
The idea of salad bars, communal cookers/cooking areas and sample stations will likely be reimagined or entirely abandoned in the years to come, according to members of the ConnexFM Food & Beverage Council. Some multi-site facilities kept salad bar stations closed and transitioned to an increased variety of take-home options while others repurposed the station materials to showcase general merchandise or converted them into storage closets. These interactive stations were popular and are dearly missed, so the potential for bringing them back, in some capacity, remains. Communal water and carbonated beverage stations have also been shut down due to repetitive, unregulated contact. Consumers don’t seem to mind this change.
Contactless Payment and Curbside Pickup/Delivery
Once very popular at the peak of the pandemic, curbside pickup frequency has dropped recently. The added flexibility and safety of buying products online and picking up orders with little to no contact was crucial for all multi-site facilities, and this new way of shopping will likely continue going forward. Robbie Drake, Senior Manager of Operations Maintenance at Murphy USA Inc., said the implementation of Tap2Pay stations at gas station pumps has positively affected both consumers and facilities teams in terms of safety, comfort, speed and even alleviating wear and tear on credit and debit cards. “The health and safety component is there, and transactions are still safe and secure,” Drake said. Initially, getting consumers to learn and adjust to contactless payment was a challenge, but now it has become the norm. “I think the challenges or disadvantages of it are mostly people not understanding new technology and processes and being reluctant to change what they’ve been doing for years,” Drake said. “But simply educating them on new options has really helped the transition.” For Multi-Site FMs, contactless payment options require less cleaning and repairs. It’s safe to say contactless payment is definitely here to stay.
Watch Robbie Drake on The Daily Grind
Self-checkout stations are also popular and will continue to be utilized in the long run. Most multi-site facilities are able to find a happy medium of both traditional and self-service check-out counters. “We’ve seen positive feedback from customers and facilities teams that the process is easier, quicker and less crowded,” Taylor said. Traditional checkout aisles are now equipped with cough and sneeze shields/guards, which will remain for the time being, at least. Given the increased awareness of public health and safety, keeping the shields would be a logical long-term investment. Taylor noted, however, that these clear dividers can sometimes cause confusion and communication difficulties, and overall make for a less-personable consumer experience. He hopes to see them eventually phase out once the time is right.
Back of House Updates
Taylor said most recently, his company has been adding separate employee-only bathrooms to grocery stores and other facilities. Invisible to consumers but a major benefit for facility team members, this allows employees to limit unnecessary interaction with guests and ultimately feel more comfortable in the workplace. “Additionally, staff break rooms have been enlarged to allow for social distancing from fellow crew members while eating lunch and taking breaks,” Taylor said.
Going forward, facilities are best set up for success by introducing a combination of all seven of these categories. Embracing technology, from app-originated curbside pickup orders to touchless payment options at checkout, is becoming the norm and will continue to evolve for years to come. Health, safety and comfort have never been more important to consumers and team members alike, and developing standard, clear-cut cleaning processes, although at times tedious and frequent, will continue to be part of facilities’ standard guidelines.