Web Exclusive | March 2011 | By Daniel P. Smith

Minding Your Guests, Menu, and Kitchen

Unilever relaunches brand, establishes three-tier approach to help restaurants maximize potential.

As foodservice operators endure the challenge of staying ahead of guests’ expectations, one reality is becoming increasingly clear in the restaurant game: The status quo will no longer do. Today’s consumers seek a greater mix of quality, value, and healthy options when dining out.

This foodservice reality prompted Unilever Food Solutions to reposition the company and set a new, determined course. With the global brand relaunch of Unilever Food Solutions, an event celebrated at Chicago’s exclusive Ria restaurant, the corporation took the first step toward doubling its growth rate while assembling its resources for the benefit of restaurant operators.

“To carry on the things we’ve been doing until now won’t be enough [moving forward],” Unilever Food Solutions North America president Simon Marshall told the crowd of 100 gathered at the event. “We want to provide operators greater help in understanding guests and efficiencies … [and] to take our capabilities and transfer them to the broader foodservice market.”

Three-Tiered Approach

The force behind established foodservice names such as Knorr, Hellmann’s, and Lipton, Unilever brands touch about 2 billion consumers in 74 countries daily. With a global reach, Unilever has a special position to move the foodservice needle with its latest, if not daring, aim: to be the single company that blends professional ingredients alongside expert consultative services to help restaurant operators strike a balance between profits and pleasing guests.

“There’s an important message here for foodservice operators of all types: When you purchase a Unilever product, you’re getting consulting behind that product, including insights on nutritional input, marketing, trends, data, and culinary creativity,” Unilever corporate chef David Russell says. “It’s comprehensive, clear, available, and helpful.”

The revised Unilever Food Solutions includes an enhanced focus on three separate tiers, all of which are vital to daily foodservice operations.

The first tier is in understanding more about guests. The “Your Guests” consulting branch of Unilever provides operators insight on diners’ evolving tastes and desires and is highlighted by the release of Unilever’s World Menu Report, a global survey measuring consumers’ attitudes and behaviors toward dining out.

The second tier is delivering nutritious, healthy, and profitable menus. The “Your Menu” branch provides innovations and inspiration that can help foodservice personnel keep menus fresh, exciting, and nutritious.

“Here’s an opportunity to take something that’s at fine dining and bring it into the quick-service level.”

Lastly, Unilever is enhancing its focus on keeping kitchens efficient and thriving. The “Your Kitchen” service provides operators realistic ways to run more efficient kitchens with ingredients and ideas that save prep time without compromising flavor or flair.

“This entire brand relaunch is built upon bringing practical tips to operators so they can have better operations and more profitable restaurants,” Unilever Food Solutions channel marketing director Ted Skodol says. “We’re going to help operators create items that are healthy and tasty, control costs, and meet the evolving tastes of consumers.”

Not Just for Fine Dining

Despite Ria’s posh location and consistent event references to fine dining as the restaurant industry’s trend-driving think tank, Unilever officials insist the company’s relaunch holds importance across the spectrum of the restaurant industry, including quick service.

“From check averages of $5 to $50, the tips and messages we’re providing are universal,” Skodol says.

For quick-service establishments seeking fresh menu items that capture today’s fascination with bold flavors, for instance, Unilever can help fashion a solution. With a collection of ready-to-use flavor profiles, quick-service eateries can produce menu offerings that are consistent, systematic, and on trend. Unilever executive chef Gerald Tomlinson, a former executive chef at McDonald’s, cites Unilever’s newest line of aiolis under the Hellmann’s banner as a particularly appealing option.

“Here’s an opportunity to take something that’s at fine dining and bring it into the quick-service level in an inventive way that respects the time and labor needs of the [quick-serve] kitchen,” Tomlinson says. “You know you can get product from us and it might be the third item on a four-item build sheet.”

With the World Menu Report, Unilever identified burgeoning consumer interest in the nutritional content of restaurants’ menu items. Unilever is helping with this long-term journey by reducing its products’ numbers in areas such as fats, sugars, and sodium to respond to growing consumer attentiveness. As a result, operators will be better equipped to meet consumer demands for healthy food with savory tastes.

“We want to be a part of the solution and an ally in our operators’ quest to win customers,” Skodol says.