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C+R’s frozen food manufacturer client is the share leader in the kindergarten through high school channel for pizza while their Asian meals and appetizers are undeveloped in this channel. The client wanted to better understand the attitudes toward having Asian appetizers and meals on school menus – from the perspective of food service operators, as well as students. 

Problem

C+R’s client is a frozen foods manufacturer in the school channel (kindergarten through 12th grade) which is the largest channel for them. The client is a share leader in fully topped pizza in this sector but feel that their Asian meal offerings are underdeveloped here. The team feels that Asian cuisine should have greater success in the school channel and is a relevant offering for students, especially given the popularity of Panda Express among younger consumers. 

Our client needed to understand attitudes toward having Asian food items on the school menu from both the food operators’ perspectives, as well as the students’ perspectives. The focus of this research centered on understanding barriers to Asian cuisine and how to overcome these barriers. We went into this research with the following hypotheses to confirm or reject:

  • There is a disconnect between what operators think is popular and what students want.
  • Operators perceive Asian dishes as too complicated to menu and serve (too many different options and ingredients).
     
Result

Our approach of qualitative and quantitative research among both food service operators and students resulted in a clear roadmap for our client – we were able to inform marketing strategies by identifying relevant and compelling needs and wants.  Our client is using these results to accelerate ethnic growth through innovation (new products and partnerships), renovation (offering a “twist” on the items’ are served, making sure that items remain hot and have the best taste, etc.), and communication (easy recipes, and how to feature them on school menus, etc.).

Solution

We developed a multi-phase research program for our client that started with qualitative research among operators. We then conducted an online community and webcam interviews. The food operator participants were responsible for decisions regarding food purchases for the school. In this phase, we conducted a deep dive to: 

  • Better understand the operators’ needs specific to menu planning (overall and specific to Asian/Asian-inspired meals).
  • Understand operators’ top “go-to” solutions on their menus (and what makes them a success).
  • Explore motivators and barriers to menuing Asian cuisine.

For the student phase of the research, an online community provided the perfect vehicle to gain insights from middle and high schoolers (5th – 12th grade). Specifically, we explored students’ perceptions, expectations, barriers, and desires around Asian foods in and out of school.  To quantify what we learned in the qualitative, we implemented surveys among 200 foodservice operators, and 400 students (1/2 being middle schoolers and 1/2 being high schoolers). Our analysis focused on how operators feel about Asian cuisine (relative to other items they frequently menu), students’ perceptions of Asian cuisine in school (relative to eating Asian outside of school as well as other items), and then we compared operators and students to see if their attitudes were aligned or not.