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Foodservice Forum: Newly launched web sites aim to help foodservice operators and foodies thrive

by Christina DiMartino | July 20, 2010

A collaboration between the Food Channel, the popular television and on-line network, and U.S. Foodservice, a leading national food distributor headquartered in Perth Amboy, NJ, has resulted in two new web sites that share a common goal. They strive to help foodservice operators grow their businesses and to provide information to help foodies hone their passion for food.

The web sites -- and -- were launched in April.

Eric Cronert, vice president of marketing and merchandising at U.S. Foodservice, told The Produce News that usfoodsight and beyondtheplate are both sponsored by the company.

"Beyondtheplate is a place for people to learn new ways to incorporate fresh, seasonal produce into their menu items through articles, recipes, interactive resources and a chat room to connect with peers and consumers," said Mr. Cronert. "It is an on-line interactive resource center where foodies and professionals can learn about and discuss new products, marketplace trends and the art and enjoyment of good food. Visitors can look for the latest recipes and view the how-to-prepare videos."

Usfoodsight is geared specifically toward the foodservice trade rather than consumers. It is the place to go for business solutions, product information, tips and new ideas that operators can apply to their businesses.

"Updated every quarter, usfoodsight will showcase an in-depth look at a different product category, and each month we will refresh the site with new ideas," said Mr. Cronert. "It was created to be a virtual resource center for foodservice operators, and as such it offers business solutions, product information, tips and new ideas for businesses."

The usfoodsight website offers five main sections of valuable input. Market Insights offers the latest industry trends and key operator insights. Business Solutions is the place to go for management tools and pertinent articles to help businesses succeed with new ideas. The Additional Products page is updated daily with product information. The Resources link, also updated daily, provides partner links and program information. Operator News publishes the latest success stories about U.S. Foodservice's customers.

"The site also offers an in-depth look at the product category, with features that include the center of the plate, appetizers, disposables and side dishes," said Mr. Cronert. "There are also demonstration videos, recipes and much more that foodservice operators will find valuable."

At beyondtheplate, visitors can read news on fruit beverages and how to get kids to eat more vegetables. It offers just about everything from super foods, the growing interest in Mediterranean foods, creating vegan and vegetarian menus and healthy eating trends, to identifying and choosing fresh produce in season.

There is also a special Ask the Chef feature where visitors can get answers to their questions. Visitors who click on Produce are directed to a Food Channel site that offers numerous articles about fresh produce, such as detailed information on seasonal items, preparation tips, trends and news.

"Chefs and consumers alike are looking at all kinds of social media to gain information," said Mr. Cronert. "Foodservice operators want to stay updated on all aspects of the foodservice business, and they continually look for ways to help them increase their efficiencies and grow their businesses. Consumers also want to stay abreast of food trends and to learn more about products and how to prepare them at home. The two web sites take a true operator platform as compared to blogs. The information offered is reliable, accurate and provided in an easy-to-understand and enjoyable format."

Mr. Cronert said that the usfoodsight web site was developed with three goals in mind. It wants to help foodservice operators find ways to increase their efficiencies by reducing their cost of operation, to help increase traffic to their restaurants and to help them understand consumer trends.

"Usfoodsight is uniquely situated to reach these goals," he said. "It was initially launched on a couple of core initiatives: resources, menu planning, software, trend information and recipes. Fresh produce plays a major role in all of these initiatives.

"For example, the locally grown trend is one that chefs and consumers alike are keyed into today," Mr. Cronert continued. "We want visitors to know that although U.S. Foodservice is a national distributor, we are also local in every division. We have the tools in place that help us to understand what is seasonal in every area of the country."

U.S. Foodservice is using a number of sources for the information it offers to web site visitors. It confers with organizations such as Technomic, a leading foodservice industry research company, and Data Mine software for formatting recipes accurately. It conducts direct foodservice operator interviews, and shares best practice information and updates.

The company also has a culinary team in the marketplace that works directly with foodservice operators, and they too contribute valuable information to the site.

"Our strategy is to evolve the web site with frequently updated information and interaction with operators," said Mr. Cronert. "We will also utilize it as a direct link back to operators so they can share their information with us. U.S. Foodservice has a great group of professionals that includes experts in food safety, food sourcing, recipes and every other aspect of the foodservice business, and they can respond to just about any need an operator has within minutes. The web sites are an added source of information to help them do their jobs better and enjoy greater success."

(For more on foodservice, see the July 19, 2010, issue of The Produce News.)