“This whole shift is about the acceptance in the marketplace of a grab ‘n go environment where expectations for the quality have been raised by the consumer,” Salerno says. “That’s because of suppliers, like us, continually raising the bar and concerning ourselves with the end result of the products.”
NuVue, headquartered in Hamtramck, Michigan, is a manufacturer of ready-to-eat, single-serve fresh and frozen foodservice items. The company distributes to convenience stores and also has a strong focus on the business dining segment — with both micro markets and high-end vending options.
The company, privately owned since 1987, staffs a full-time R&D culinary staff and more than 100 other employees in its 30,000-square-foot culinary center just north of downtown Detroit. That workforce helps produce a line of eight fresh and two frozen brands, which are continually updated with new, on-trend menu items.
“What we’ve tried to do is, at the least, have quarterly additions to our menu, if not more often,” says Paul Dodson, national sales manager for NuVue. “And we try to add new items to the menus for each of our segments. We have a research and development team that looks at trends and other things that we see in the marketplace.”
Ideas for NuVue’s ever-expanding menus come from all over the place, especially when team members are on the road.
“We do a lot of research, whether it’s keeping up on food trends, trade magazines, restaurants, anywhere we can get cumulative information that gives us a feel for what’s going on out there,” Salerno says. “We’re always looking for any place to get ideas. One of our guys, or myself, could go to a restaurant and get something and say ‘Hey, there’s something here. We can do something similar to this and make it work.’”
The work begins in making those new ideas fit the parameters of NueVue’s business.
“We’re trying to bring flavor profiles to the market that are not just your typical meat, cheese and a piece of bread,” Salerno says. “We’re not copying anything, but we can take any idea and make it fit our model.”
An example is NuVue’s “The Ultimate Little Meal” tapas line. Each recipe in the line is hand crafted with high-quality ingredients. The single-serve menu items — ideal for c-stores, micro markets or vending — hit on the growing popularity of grab ‘n go snacking as well as consumer desire for new and exciting flavors.
“As consumer confidence has been raised, people are more willing to buy grab ‘n go items that are not between two pieces of bread,” Salerno says. “Fifteen years ago, the only thing you thought about when talking about grab-and-go was a wedge sandwich of some sort. The tapas line is a great example of that.”
The quick nature of NuVue’s fresh lines — especially its business dining segment — make it a perfect testing ground for these new ideas. If a new menu item goes over well, it’s apparent fairly quickly, and it can be added to other lines if needed.
“Because we have that fresh local market where we deal with customers on a daily basis, that allows us the opportunity to take a trial product and put that out in our fresh vending line, where we get very quick feedback,” Dodson says. “We can see how well it’s doing. If it does well, that’s when it makes it out to our convenience store market.”
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Like other commissaries, NuVue helps retailers make the leap from simple prepared foodservice items to menu items more in line with today’s trends.
“We do quite a bit of traveling in the springtime, attending shows across the nation,” Dodson says. “That gives us the opportunity to talk to customers, and many of them that we have acquired over the years have been folks who have tried to do this on their own.”
Those retailers, however, soon run into problems. Regulations have increased and food safety laws have become more stringent over the last several years.
Throw in labeling laws, the cost of production, workforce issues and more, and offering a diverse fresh menu has become challenging for the average retailer to do.
The size, and customer base, of companies like NuVue give them the bandwidth to crank out those high-quality, on-trend items for the retailers.
“We have the ability to do a lot of things. It’s nothing for us to do 160 to 200 different menu items in a week,” Dodson says. “A customer can do ham sandwiches and maybe put it on two or three different styles of bread. They’ve got a very limited variety that they can offer their customers. When they try to expand that variety, what they end up doing is running into a real waste problem. It just doesn’t work.
“That’s where a company like ours, with a USDA-inspected culinary center with all the bells and whistles and is daily on top of all the rules and regulations, can provide them a safe high-quality product with variety that they just can’t get when they’re trying to do it themselves.”
Salerno says he feels confident in the future of fresh-prepared grab ‘n go foods. Recent trends have stuck around long enough that they’re showing the way of the future, he says.
“I think the growth of grab ‘n go, ready-to-eat, fresh or frozen, is on a rise. As the American consumer becomes more and more involved and busy, and as they have a million things to do, grab ‘n go is going to continue to show itslef as the way of the future,” he says. “With the rise of delivered grocery meals, I think the days of planning a meal weeks in advance and doing the whole grocery store thing and planning it all out are being eliminated.”
Done are the days of planning out meals days, or a week, in advance. Consumers are far less likely to prepare a shopping list and go to the store to buy items that will be used day slater to prepare a meal. Today, Salerno says, it’s a 10-minute process. A consumer gets hungry and looks for something to change that in 10 minutes.
“The trends are all leading towards grab ‘n go, ready-to-eat, anything you can do at all levels,” he says. “it’s a trend you’re going to see growth in for years to come.”