No ordinary apple.

Scooping the Next-Gen: A Q&A With Stacey Kinkaid, Vice President, Product Development and Innovation, US Foods

Scooping the Next-Gen: A Q&A With Stacey Kinkaid, Vice President, Product Development and Innovation, US Foods

The next generation of diners will either make or break your business.

Stacey Kinkaid, Vice President, Product Development and Innovation at US Foods, communicates this message with urgency. As we continue moving through a pivotal period in the history of foodservice and labor, resources such as US Foods’ Scoop magazines have played an indelible role in operators’ ability to succeed in an ever-changing landscape.

The magazine’s tenth-anniversary issue, themed “Next-Gen Ideas for Next-Gen Diners,” was officially released in September 2021 and could not have come at a more crucial time. We are now in the heart of the holiday season, and the resources provided by US Foods are helping prepare operators for the seasonal rush amidst continued labor shortages across the sector.

New eating experiences, world-changing actions, and evolving consumer trends are wielding the pen in this Fall Scoop, and Stacey unfurls the issue’s scroll for me in our interview.

Chandler James: I always love seeing new issues of Scoop magazine and the innovations that come with them. As you narrow in on next-gen eating experiences, what are the key areas of focus in this issue?

Stacey Kinkaid, Vice President, Product Development and Innovation, US Foods: With this issue, we celebrate ten years of Scoop not by looking back but by looking forward. Fall Scoop features products that appeal to Gen Z and millennials, groups that, when combined, become larger than any other age group. These generations of diners are different from their predecessors. They care about the planet and reducing their meat consumption, they want menu items with a twist, and going out to eat is an event for them—one they document with enthusiasm and detail on social media.

We conducted research and narrowed in on three focus areas for our products that are made to entice, attract, and delight this young group of diners:

1. Tradition with a Twist: fun twists on familiar favorites, like the Monarch Pickle Fries

2. Positive Impact: sustainably sourced, plant-forward products like meatless wings, Molly’s Kitchen® Plant-Based Italian-Style Saus’ge Topping, and sustainable and durable to-go containers that are inexpensive and functional

3. Foodstagram: photo-ready, Instagrammable dishes like the Chef’s Line® Iced Pumpkin Swirl Loaf Cake, and the Chef’s Line Salted Caramel Chocolate Brownie

CJ: In the food industry, we are always looking for the next big driver of consumer trends, and generational influences are often at the forefront. Why is now the time for foodservice operators to reinforce their strategies surrounding next-gen consumers?

SK: This next generation of diners has the largest wallet share. They are spending more money and going out to eat more often, and we knew it was important to work directly with them to gather insights and feedback on the trends shaping their dining experience.

We conducted research on dishes and ingredients that over-index with the next generation versus the population overall, social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram, and our newest class of US Foods Scholars. After individual interviews with the students, we paired them with our Food Fanatics chefs to test this issue’s Scoop products in-person (while following all COVID-19 safety protocols).

Students also shared application ideas for the products that would appeal to their generation, allowing us to develop the most useful and relevant products possible.

CJ: As a trade news writer in the produce industry, I am acutely aware of how fresh vegetables have influenced many new restaurant trends as younger consumers seek out unique eating experiences. How does the Fall Scoop take advantage of this?

SK: Fall Scoop features several fresh vegetable items that are versatile and require little-to-no back-of-house prep.

Our two prominent vegetable items include The Cross Valley Farms® Shaved Purple and Green Brussels Sprouts, which come prewashed and pre-cut and can be served raw or sautéed; and The Cross Valley Farms Diced Colorful Veggie Blend with Sweet Potatoes, a ready-to-use mix of broccoli stems, candy cane beets, and fennel.

Both of these items are very colorful and fresh, which appeals to the diner, and they can be placed on the menu in a variety of ways, which helps the operator with seamless usage ideas. The products are also labor-saving options as they require expertise and knife skills to replicate in the back of the house.

“Our culinary leadership always puts a new twist on familiar items while infusing the latest trends to provide restaurant operators with recipes for success.”

Stacey Kinkaid, Vice President, Product Development and Innovation, US Foods

CJ: I could easily talk about these mouthwatering products all day, but they are only half of the equation. Can you tell me more about the operational implementations available to restaurateurs in this Scoop?

SK: US Foods has many different programs and services to make sure businesses are efficient, profitable, and easy to manage. We strive to lead the industry in terms of providing impactful content and making that content easily accessible.

We support our partners through our one-of-a-kind Restaurant Operations Consultants, who are available 24/7 to advise, counsel, and support restaurateurs with 1:1 personalized consultations. Free webinars are also available on our website, such as “Labor-Saving Kitchen Hacks” and “What Should I Post Today? Top Tips for Effective Social Content,” which both took place in August. Upcoming webinars can be found on the US Foods website.

Users looking to implement Fall Scoop products into their menu can visit our website for on-trend recipe ideas, as well as other tools and resources that can help with menu ideas and operational support. Our culinary leadership always puts a new twist on familiar items while infusing the latest trends to provide restaurant operators with recipes for success.

CJ: Services such as these are exactly what set US Foods’ Scoop issues apart from other restaurant resources. And, as the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic continue, these resources are more needed than ever. How does Fall Scoop support the foodservice industry specifically in terms of pandemic-related challenges?

SK: The labor shortage continues to be one of the biggest challenges operators face today. Our latest edition of Fall Scoop helps address these challenges with innovative products that can drive higher profits and help operators save back-of-house preparation time. Many operators are scaling back their menus to address the labor shortage, but with prepared and semi-prepared products like ours, they can keep their menus fresh. In our Scoop magazine, we bring labor savings to life by including the estimated time savings per case.

Additionally, appealing to younger generations who hold the majority of the dining dollar share is crucial to preserving foodservice businesses during this difficult time.

CJ: While this Scoop commemorates the tenth anniversary, you began providing products and services such as these far before the pandemic began. What is the underlying mission behind Scoop, and how does US Foods’ research continue to fuel those values?

SK: Scoop was designed as an exclusive product launch of innovative, on-trend items developed to solve operator pain points, inspire new menu ideas, and help restaurateurs generate additional revenue. Along with following societal and industry trends, we systematically scour the food world for bleeding-edge ideas, which are often ones our customers aren’t even aware of yet.

We aim to offer time-saving products to bolster operators when there is less labor available, reduce the skill level required in terms of preparation, and build profit-supporting solutions to offset rising costs. Each issue of Scoop serves on-trend products with new application ideas and is always about innovation, versatility, and helping our customers “make it.”

As Thanksgiving draws nearer in the U.S., and as Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s, and additional North American holidays round the corner, it will be interesting to see whether or not these younger generations will continue their devotion toward eating out or settle into home cooking for the holidays.

Either way, US Foods’ Fall Scoop has you covered front of house, back of house, and all the tables in between.