Technology has touched almost every aspect of the food and beverage industry in the digital age, and while some companies have fallen behind the times, others have risen to the occasion, incorporating technology like e-commerce and mobile applications into their business strategies. One aspect of the food and beverage space that has benefited in the digital age is loyalty programs. And restaurants and retailers are increasingly using today’s tech tools to elevate their loyalty strategies.

For Jess Stephens, chief marketing officer at digital marketing firm SmartFocus, it is all about creating an omnichannel, personalized experience.

“It doesn’t really matter what the channel is, it’s more about making it personalized and relevant in real time,” she said.

Today’s digital world allows retailers and restaurants to approach loyalty programs through different tiers, from more traditional loyalty cards, to mobile apps and location-based services, Stephens said. These different tiers help companies increase the amount of information they know about their customers and allow companies to provide customers with a more personalized shopping or dining journey. (read more…)

Did you know you could save real money by composting waste at your restaurant?

In some cases, businesses can save up to 75% on trash removal services just by reducing the amount of waste that is hauled away.

With International Compost Awareness Week beginning May 3, the National Restaurant Association’s Conserve program is encouraging more restaurants and other small businesses to start composting their food waste. Yes, it can be challenging, but also rewarding. While it requires additional effort and planning, once a program is in place, operators will reduce their trash hauling and tipping fees by limiting the amount of food waste they send to landfills.

For anyone wondering what compost actually is, it’s the natural process of breaking down organic waste into a nutrient-rich soil mixture to feed plants. Compost is added to gardens, crops and landscaping to help fertilize plants and enrich the soil they’re grown in. (read more…)

On Sunday, May 17, professionals from the foodservice and hospitality industry will gather at Chicago’s Navy Pier for the 18th annual Championship BBQ to benefit Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign. More than 1,000 people are expected to attend the fundraiser, where they will sample tasty bites and beverages and watch chefs in action during the BBQ competition. This year’s chef lineup includes Missy Corey from Publican Quality Meats in Chicago, Stephen “Smokey” Schwartz from Burnt End BBQ in Kansas City, Mo., and judge Stepahanie Izard from Girl and the Goat.

SmartBrief interviewed Share Our Strength co-founder Debbie Shore and Championship BBQ creator and former publisher of Food Arts magazine Barbara Mathias about how the event helps combat child hunger and what attendees can expect this year.

How did you come up with the idea for the Championship BBQ fundraiser?

Mathias: I wanted to host an event during the NRA Show that would be fun and different from what everyone else did. (read more…)

I recently fell down a retail reading rabbit hole. A biography on entitled “The Everything Store” led me to “Sam Walton: Made in America,” the autobiography of the legendary Wal-Mart Stores founder, one of Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos’ inspirations, perhaps not surprisingly. Walton explained the rise of shopping centers in small towns all across America and how these enabled Wal-Mart to compete against the big city department stores.

So when I sat in the audience of the “Fast casual strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities: Is there still time to get in on the game?” panel at the most recent Restaurant Finance and Development Conference and heard Darren Tristano, Frank Paci, Jim Mizes and Philip Friedman talk about their real estate woes, I better understood the origins of their predicament: a fight for end-caps, as Einstein-Noah Restaurant Group CEO Frank Paci explained. In these shopping centers, a restaurant can either take space in-line or on an end-cap (versus standalone real estate not connected to other stores in a center). (read more…)

In the basement of The Plant, a 94,000-square-foot former meat-processing facility in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood, a company called Greens & Gills is raising fish and microgreens in the same “aquaponic” ecosystem. Those greens, including basil, kale and arugula, end up on the shelves at local supermarkets, and on the plates of some of the city’s hottest Michelin-starred restaurants, like Everest and El Ideas.

Greens & Gills is just one of a growing number of innovative food startups that are taking advantage of food/culinary incubators like The Plant, a self-sustaining, zero-waste vertical farm with a business incubator program designed to propel startup food businesses like Greens & Gills into viable ventures.

Meanwhile, every month in California, Kitchener Oakland invites locals to a free pop-up market featuring the latest food innovations from its roster of start-up businesses such as The Living Apothecary’s cold-pressed juices or Wooden Spoon’s jarred rillettes. (read more…)