As online shopping, and increasingly, online grocery shopping, has become ubiquitous in the lives of consumers everywhere, supermarkets and grocery stores are jumping in line to serve the needs of today’s busy consumer. From Webvan to Amazon Fresh, online grocery shopping sites have come and gone over the past 10-plus years. Still, Zach Buckner, CEO of Charlottesville, Va.-based Relay Foods, saw a need to feed consumers’ growing hunger for convenience, and started the online food marketplace focused on delivering groceries, local and organic produce, and specialty items in 2009.

Now, with five years under its belt, Relay Foods is looking to the future with new priorities including investing in tools, products and enhancements to its website in order to streamline and simplify customers’ efforts to incorporate high-quality foods into their lives, Buckner told SmartBrief.

We talked to Buckner about his journey in starting Relay Foods, the lessons it’s taught him and what he looks for in potential leaders. (read more…)

Tight economic times, trends toward healthier dining and new seasonal flavors may drive us to change our dessert habits at times, but Americans still want to indulge in after-dinner sweets and, when they do, it’s most likely they’ll be having something chocolate. More than two-thirds of restaurant menus boast at least one chocolate dessert, with vanilla a far-off second at about 40%, according to Datassential, and many restaurants are seeing that old classics with new twists, as well as desserts that offer guests a different way of dining, are trending with consumers today.

There’s evidence that eateries are innovating in the area of chocolate, even as they downsize the menu. Restaurant menus were 2% smaller in the third-quarter of 2014, compared to the same period last year, and dessert menus shrank 3%, according to Technomic.

“The overall trend of downsizing menus means restaurants are focusing on the highest-reward items, the ones with the highest margins or the biggest sellers or the ones with the biggest buzz, and that’s certainly true with desserts,” said Technomic restaurant industry watcher Mary Chapman. (read more…)

Mayor Bloomberg’s push to outlaw over-sized sugary drinks in New York City didn’t succeed, but that and other efforts, including upcoming “soda tax” ballot measures in San Francisco and Berkeley, Calif., have kept the debate going about the health consequences associated with the drinks we consume, and helped fuel a shift toward healthy beverages.

Last month, the American Beverage Association and major soda companies joined with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation in a voluntary effort to reduce beverage calories consumed by 20% by 2025. Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Dr. Pepper Snapple Group will invest in local and national initiatives, including making and marketing smaller-sized sodas, bottled water and new lower-calorie calorie drinks.

The measures come amid changing consumer habits. U.S. soda consumption has been falling since hitting a high in 1998 and calories from soda fell 23% from 2000 and 2013, according to Beverage Digest. Meanwhile, a new generation of soft drinks is growing up to quench the thirst of health-conscious consumers. (read more…)

This post is sponsored by LINKFRESH. Consumers continue to ask where their food comes from and if it is sustainably produced. Companies have the opportunity to earn trust and win business by providing answers to these critical questions. In this Spotlight, we’ll share ways food providers can leverage technology to meet changing consumer demands.

Robert (Rob) Frost is group chief executive officer for LINKFRESH. Since joining the company in 1998 as finance director, he has worked closely with the Board of Directors in realizing a new vision for the business. In 2010, LINKFRESH began to expand internationally and now has offices in California. In addition to Europe, USA and Canada, LINKFRESH is also active in Australia and the Middle East. Robert’s early career was in the finance departments of large organizations, notably the University of Cambridge and BUPA private healthcare provider.

How can an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution help companies grow their business? (read more…)

Good food and a pleasant atmosphere are a big part of bringing customers in the door, but building relationships with those customers is important to securing repeat business. Tools like post-dining surveys, mobile applications and customer recovery programs are key for restaurants that want to get to know their customers and keep them coming back for more, a panel of experts said in a webinar presented Tuesday by NCR titled “Closing the Loop: Turning Customer Engagement into Repeat Business“.

Here are some key takeaways from the panel discussion:

Invest in tech

Technology is quickly becoming an inextricable part of the dining experience for many consumers, whether they are placing an order on a tabletop tablet or using Twitter or Facebook to leave feedback about their experience. Many customers — especially tech-savvy millennials — are starting to expect eateries to offer online ordering and mobile payment, and brands that fail to integrate tech solutions could lose business to competitors who are quicker to embrace tech. (read more…)