Grocerant Expert Profile: Brian Dunn
Foodservice at Retail: Grocerants discusses innovation as a success engine for in-store dining spots with Brian Dunn, Culinary Business Development Manager at Hans Kissle, Haverhill, MA, preparer of upscale prepared foods, salads and desserts. He was formerly Corporate Culinary Innovation Chef at 20-store Roche Bros., Wellesley, MA. Innovation gives diners the “new” they want that drives trips – and that image extends to the rest of the store.
Foodservice at Retail: Grocerants: What inspires you to pursue the grocerant opportunity today?
Brian Dunn, Hans Kissle: Personally, it’s my passion for good food and my work as a retail chef where I can quickly see customers react to products we develop. At Roche Bros., I formed a trends committee and shared ideas with everyone. At Hans Kissle, my role and relationship with Culinary R&D Manager Laura Henry-Zoubir is evolving.
Grocerants should ideally be at least three months, if not six months, ahead of the season or time they want to display product. Depending on how elaborate a developed product is, I aim to move from product creation to consumer tests within a month and then roll out if consumers like it.
FRG: Tell us the first three words that come to mind when you think of the grocerants you’ve developed and currently serve.
Dunn: Fresh. Quality. Service. Both Roche Bros. and Hans Kissle emphasize these traits and are highly ethical. It stems from the owners. On the manufacturing side, Hans Kissle is looking into cleaner ingredients and natural preservatives to keep food quality and food safety high.
FRG: What sets your efforts apart to win meal share vs. many kinds of eateries and food retailers?
Dunn: Our ability to attract younger clientele through restaurant-quality foods in a retail setting, where customers can also shop. For example, Roche Bros. powerfully draws in blue- and white-collar Millennials in downtown Boston. The 30,000-square-foot Downtown Crossing store is a former two-story Filene’s. Roche placed 3,000 square feet of grab-and-go prepared foods (hot bar, salad bar, hot cooking station, coffee) with four to six bench-style tables upstairs, and another eight to ten tables on the patio. The downstairs anchor, prominent by the escalator, is a display case of 65 protein, salad and starch items with platters, and eight to ten small round tables for dining. Incredible lunchtime volume led Roche to dedicate four, then six, registers in that area. Also, by produce is a smoothie bar and chop shop for fresh-cut fruit. The deli has a make-to-order charcuterie and salad station.
FRG: What is your take on “free-from” products for grocerants?
Dunn: No GMOs will be the next hot “free-from” claim that foodservice suppliers should focus on. They’ll need to find small, specialty purveyors. It’s still a challenge for grocerants to source thes, and even more so for manufacturers to source because supplier capacity is so limited. People are concerned about how foods are produced and what’s in them. The more a grocerant aligns with their personal health concerns, the better people feel about dining and shopping by you.
FRG: How can grocerants fit in with the trend to smaller-format stores?
Dunn: Roche Bros. did this already with two stores under its Brothers Marketplace banner. One in Medfield, MA, opened a year-a-half ago in a 9,000-square-foot former Lord’s department store on a main commuting road, which had a popular diner café inside. Roche designed a malt shop concept with burgers, shakes and a soda fountain, placed an in-store bakery adjacent to it, and assorted the store with 70 percent perishables and 30 percent grocery items. It’s a fun, good-for-you environment with lots of sampling, a heavy mix of organic, natural, clean labels, and framed pictures and write-ups of local suppliers. Seating and wifi attracts an after-school crowd and a post-soccer family crowd for quick dinners.
FRG: Describe the importance of the grocerant to the rest of the store.
Dunn: A grocerant can help you wow customers and make them want to come back. For example, most dollar volume comes from the kitchen of the Roche Bros. Boston store, and at better margins than other departments. We pulled business from tons of competing eateries nearby.
Yet retailers need to profit and that means cost controls. The scratch making of grocerant foods is a tough business model these days and will worsen with the minimum-wage rise. Why pay someone $15 an hour to make a salad from scratch especially if you have to train him or her? Grocerant operators should start thinking about using a resource like Hans Kissle for their most labor-intensive items that require consistent taste, freshness and quality, so they don’t have to make them in-house.
FRG: In your experience, can a grocerant change how shoppers view a store, and perhaps visit more often, linger and be receptive to buying more?
Dunn: Yes, because customers know more about what they want. Customers often have smaller kitchens. Millennials churn to get through each day, cook less and eat out more because they lack time. Draw them in with a conducive environment, and they tend to follow each other like packs.
FRG: Share with us your own food background and how you see the role of grocerant chef enhancing a store’s success.
Dunn: Before eight years at Roche Bros., I cooked at an upscale senior living facility, was a chef for an archbishop, a sous chef at P.F. Chang’s, and a prep cook and sous chef at a country club. These experiences gave me insights on many different roles, and ideas on how to deal with the job at hand – all of which helped me grow. My favorite statement is that being a retail chef is more challenging than being a restaurant chef. In a restaurant, you create a plate, put it together, it goes to customers, and they love it. Take that exact same plate in retail, you have to be able to chill it, put in a container or on a platter and present it for some time. Then the customer takes it home where it needs to present, reheat, and eat well once done. There are so many layers to that. Also, the retail chef should be a known personality in the store, which the marketing director at Roche always helped me achieve.
FRG: What can NRA Show do to help grocerants be more successful?
Dunn: Being on the manufacturing side now, I’d like NRA to push to find more components that help us prepare foods for grocerants. It would also be valuable for NRA to establish a discussion platform on how grocerants can save on labor and be consistent, especially with minimum wage increases.