Bob Whitcomb, COO, Prepared Meals at Whitsons Culinary Group
What do you think creates the greatest challenge to our industry?
I feel the greatest challenge to our industry is to remain relevant to our clients and customers. We curate exciting fresh menu selections, made from scratch, that reflect what’s new in the market place and still offer traditional items that customers trust! We present our chef crafted products in dynamic action stations that bring the food to life, so customers crave the food and experience. All this must be accomplished in an efficient manner that controls costs so that our products remain accessible to customers at all income levels.
How has your marketing approach evolved within the last five years?
Our marketing has become very boutique, targeted and highly customized to our clients' environments. We are using digital technology at an increasing rate, such as digital menu boards and iPad customer survey kiosks. This helps us learn from our customers and maintain a dialogue with them. We are keeping our customers updated on allergens contained within our food. However, what is not in our food is becoming even more important. Our customers demand that we eliminate artificial agents, so our no-no list keeps growing. For example, we have eliminated artificial coloring agents, high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils, trans fats, vanillin and our milk is hormone free, among other initiatives.
How has the advent of social media changed your company’s approach to marketing?
From a social media perspective we are using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Instagram. This helps us in our ongoing dialogue with our customers. Our challenge here is to monitor the process but to allow our accounts to create their own social media presence geared toward their community.
What do you consider to be the most valuable part of doing business with Whitsons for your customers?
I feel the most valuable part of doing business with Whitsons is that you become part of our extended family. We truly love our clients, and our team will go to great lengths to keep our service exciting, responsive and relevant. We are committed to delighting our customers so we can enjoy the trust of our clients and we will not disappoint. We live this every day!
Please share a good story about your early foodservice career that still serves you well today.
I entered the food business in 1979 when my family purchased our first restaurant in Garden City, NY. We worked hard, putting in long hours, and the challenges were epic and we all know that we only as good as our last meal. However despite all this, or perhaps because of it, we managed to grow to three restaurants. We then expanded into the on-site foodservice market. We quickly realized we had to dedicate ourselves to learning as much about this industry as possible, in order to ensure our success. These were stressful times in our development, as we were called to continuously grow as professionals, transform our business processes and put new systems into place so we could remain competitive and successfully grow the business. There were times when we suffered setbacks that were discouraging. At these moments I also felt isolated, as we were new to the industry. At about this time, circa 1989, a friend introduced me to what is now SHFM and I was delighted to become a member of an organization where I could meet so many professionals facing the same challenges as me. I also became friends with many people including industry leaders. This was a transformative experience and boosted my confidence. We learned from each other or, more accurately, I learned from them. I have the greatest respect for the people in our industry because, as service providers, we are gifted with an affinity for people, we are tolerant and have a great capacity for hard work.
Today, Whitsons has grown from its modest beginnings to a regional foodservice business employing over 3000 Team Members and doing business in several markets across seven states. We have reinvested heavily in our teams and have developed the coolest systems that help our TMs spend more time in front of customers, not in the back office. I have a tender spot in my heart for SHFM, which has played a very important role in my career.