Driven to serve
Top executives: Chairman, President and CEO Eric Foss; Marc Bruno, COO, sports, leisure, corrections, dining and K-12; Carl Mittleman, president, sports and entertainment division
Top venues: Quicken Loans Arena, Minute Maid Park, Arrowhead Stadium, Kauffman Stadium, Pepsi Center, Soldier Field
Venues added in past 24 months: Rogers Place, LSU, U.S. Bank Stadium
Carl Mittleman has tried to fool Mashgin several times. He just hasn’t been able to do it.
Mashgin is a Silicon Valley company that has developed smart technology for retail points of sale.
“It’s not bar coded. It’s not scanned,” said Mittleman, president of Aramark’s sports and entertainment division. The Mashgin technology involves 3-D photography to identify and scan items without a cashier or swiping bar codes. The technology has been implemented at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Minute Maid Park in Houston and Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City.
“Mashgin knows I’m buying a bottle of wine, bag of peanuts and a chicken Caesar salad,” said Mittleman who oversees 150 stadiums, arenas and convention centers. “I’ve tried several times to fool it.”
Mittleman said he expects to see more growth and deployment for checkout technology where cashier, cash and even scanning aren’t needed, including Aramark’s “Zoom Food” areas where fans can buy food and drinks via kiosks.
He estimates that as many as two out of three sports fans are content with conventional ballpark food and experiences. But it’s the other third of fans — including millennials and women — who are more interested in the experience. That’s where ease of service technology, a sense of place and events, and more original and customizable food and drink offerings are needed.
Customization and local, unique drink offerings, such as craft beer and cocktails or locally distilled spirits, help make attending a game or concert more personal to the Instagram generation, Mittleman said. “They’re willing to pay a little more” than their more traditional counterparts, he said.
He said contingents of younger fans and consumers want “the opportunity to participate” at events. “It’s an extension of their personal brand,” Mittleman said.
Aramark has increased its partnership with local restaurants, craft breweries, food trucks and distilleries. Venues and large-scale food operators can learn a lot from local chefs and restaurants that are often more flexible and open with dishes and approaches, he said.
“The notion of how to be flexible in your concept,” Mittleman said. “We’re able to develop that in a large-volume setting.”
In December, Aramark, the Cleveland Cavaliers and NAACP welcomed 18 minority chefs who own local restaurants, food trucks and catering companies to the Launch Test Kitchen Food Tasting and Business Development Experience where they made their signature dishes. Attendees voted on their favorites, three of which were added in January to the Launch Test Kitchen stand at Quicken Loans Arena. The stand rotates food and chef concepts throughout the Cavs season and allows real-time fan feedback.
The idea fits into the venue’s efforts on two fronts — increasing community involvement and bringing more diverse food and beverage items to fans. Mittleman said he would like to expand the Cleveland effort to other Aramark venues.
Another focus for Aramark is sustainability. The company has developed a compostable peanut bag at Arrowhead Stadium in conjunction with BASF and the Kansas City Chiefs. With the expectation to sell more than 1.1 million peanut bags this year and the potential to expand the biodegradable bag beyond Kansas City, the development would have a big sustainability impact.
Aramark and the NFL also touted efforts at this year’s Super Bowl at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis to reduce net waste. Mittleman said that 91 percent of the garbage at the game was recycled or composted and a major push is underway to expand such efforts.
* * * *
Headquarters: Stamford, Conn.
Top executives: CEO Chris Verros, CFO/Senior Vice President Hadi Monavar, CMO Bob Pascal
Top venues: BB&T Center, BC Place, Hard Rock Stadium, Lucas Oil Field, Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Safeco Field, Smoothie King Center
Instagram isn’t just for Cristiano Ronaldo’s chiseled abs or Kylie Jenner’s pouty selfies. It’s also for cool shots of food and drink. And that is showing up at the ballpark for Centerplate’s Diana Evans.
“We are in the show me state of food service,” said Evans, vice president of marketing and communications. Food that looks interesting, unique, innovative or comforting has its appeal to the visual taste buds, she added. That feeds into countervailing food trends manifested in the age of Instagram.
Evans said millennial culture and habits are driving the sports concessions business, but it is evident in two very different ways.
Demand for local cuisine and regional dishes continues to grow and can include unique dishes, such as the toasted grasshoppers served at Seattle Mariners games. “People still like the hyperlocal,” Evans said.
But Centerplate also sees increased popularity for comfort foods, such as Rice Krispies Treats or chicken and waffles, which she said she can’t keep stocked. “You are also seeing an explosion of throwback kind of nostalgia.”
So how do hipster food truck fare and comfort dishes straight out of Cracker Barrel drive on the same trend lines?
Evans says it’s all about the visuals. If it looks good or looks comforting then it’s got legs with customers. “It’s primarily driven by social media,” she said.
Evans also said the DIY trend shows up in food and challenges the industry. She points to the two dozen toppings for Jets dogs at MTS Bell Arena in Winnipeg. It’s a popular offering, but customization requires bringing consumer choices to large-scale events and operations.
“We have 60,000 people but they each want things their own way,” she said. That requires a variety of toppings and options without sacrificing food quality or speed of service.
As for beverages, Evans is seeing strength in craft cocktails to go along with the established craft beer segment. She also expects to see more bars and socializing areas at ballparks, including in the minor leagues.
She points to the success of The Band Box, a bar at First Tennessee Park, home to the Class AAA Nashville Sounds. “It has surpassed all of our expectations,” Evans said in terms of popularity across various customer demographics and performance.
She said Sodexo’s $675 million acquisition of Centerplate is resulting in greater purchasing power and expanded data analytics. Sodexo is keeping Centerplate CEO Chris Verros and his leadership team in place and folding its sports operations under Centerplate.
* * * *
Delaware North Sportservice
Top executives: Chairman Jeremy Jacobs Sr., Boston Holdings CEO Charlie Jacobs, Co-CEO Jeremy Jacobs Jr., Co-CEO Lou Jacobs, Sportservice President Carlos Bernal
Top venues: Lambeau Field, TD Garden, Target Field, MetLife Stadium, Petco Park, Oriole Park, Globe Life Park
Venues added in past 24 months: Allianz Field, Little Caesars Arena, SunTrust Park
Outside the arena and ballpark is becoming as important as inside for teams, venue operators and concessionaires.
Activating plaza areas outside buildings and attracting visitors to bigger development plans around ballparks and arenas is a potential growth stream for the concessions industry, said Richard Schneider, COO for Delaware North Sportservice.
“I think it is an area where we are all looking to grow,” he said.
Atlanta Braves President Mike Plant said Delaware North has been a key partner inside SunTrust Park, which opened last year. “They are joined at the hip with us,” Plant said.
He said the company also will be a partner as the Braves move forward with further development of The Battery Atlanta. “We’re rolling out the $300 million phase two of our mixed-use development,” Plant said.
Schneider said he couldn’t talk about new real estate partnerships Delaware North was working on but said there will be more. He points to the type of downtown activation and efforts in Detroit where Sportservice handles concessions at Little Caesars Arena and Comerica Park.
On the food front, “craveable items are a big hit,” Schneider said. That can require finding that happy medium between comfort foods and something visually appealing and unique.
The need to constantly adjust to keep up with changing tastes and trends is the biggest challenge and biggest opportunity in the sector, Schneider said. That requires changing menus and partnering with popular chefs. “How can you bring in more local chefs into your venue?” he said. “You might also partner with a Food Network chef who has a more national following.”
He said venues should keep in mind a large portion of fans still like traditional ballpark food and drinks as well as comfort food. “People still love comfort.”
Schneider said Sportservice has responded to the social media and culture trend with its Dilly Dogs — a hot dog wiener inside a dill pickle wrapped in a corn dog. The new item has been a big hit at the Texas Rangers’ Globe Life Park in Arlington.
Sportservice sees continued growth in craft cocktails and spirits as well as wine, Schneider said, and it’s important to know where and how fans enjoy those beverages. That will propel more pop-up and mobile stands and a variety of seating, ranging from party decks and standing railings to bar and lounge chair areas.
* * * *
Headquarters: New York
Top executives: President and CEO Shervin Mirhashemi; COO Mike Tomon; Dan Smith, president of hospitality; CFO Joe Cormier
Top venues and clients: Yankee Stadium, Angel Stadium, AT&T Stadium, FC Barcelona, Wimbledon Tennis Championships
Venues added in past 24 months: Banc of California Stadium, Golden 1 Center, Nissan Stadium
Variety is the bread and butter for chefs Robert Biebrich and Matt Eland.
Both are executive chefs with Legends Hospitality: Biebrich at Angel Stadium in Anaheim and Eland at Banc of California Stadium, the new $350 million home to Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles FC.
Biebrich said sports venues need to mix up their menus to keep up with consumer tastes that are driven by bars and restaurants outside the friendly confines. That’s not easy for a sports concessions business used to a history of ballpark food, sodas and draft beer.
Biebrich said Legends has launched a “Change the Kitchen” concept at Angel Stadium. “It’s a concessions stand that changes after either every homestand or every month,” he said.
In April, the Angels and Legends crafted an Asian menu in the rotating kitchen in honor of 23-year-old Japanese phenom Shohei Ohtani. The May menu has Philadelphia dishes for slugger Mike Trout, a southern New Jersey native.
Biebrich said fans — just like restaurant patrons — increasingly expect a variety of food options and like to see new menu and drink items regardless of venue “to break up the monotony.”
Biebrich, who was previously the executive chef at the Rose Bowl, said mixing up the menu is especially important for season-ticket holders and those in premium sections who might otherwise eat or drink at restaurants and bars outside the stadium.
Eland and LAFC have partnered with a number of local restaurants and food vendors in L.A. for a menu that represents the ethnic diversity around the stadium just south of downtown and USC’s campus. That includes Seoul Sausage, a Korean street food concept that started out as a food truck and won Food Network’s “Great Food Truck Race,” a barbecue concept from Compton, and L.A. restaurant Beer Belly, which centers its menu around duck fat fries.
“We worked to bring in the local community,” Eland said.
Chris McConnaughey, Legends’ general manager at Banc of California Stadium, and Eland said they wanted to bring up-and-coming restaurant and food concepts to help highlight them instead of more established local brands.
“People want to see representation of their community,” McConnaughey said.
Biebrich and Legends also see continued growth of sustainable and locally sourced produce and other ingredients at U.S. venues, especially in politically progressive regions such as California and the Pacific Northwest. Such sourcing efforts show a commitment to sustainability, quality and local products, he said.
* * * *
Top executives: Andy Lansing, president and CEO; Jeff Wineman, executive vice president of business development; Alison Weber, chief creative officer
Top venues: Churchill Downs, Dodger Stadium, Nationals Park, Marlins Park, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, StubHub Center, T-Mobile Arena
Venues added in past 24 months: Audi Field, CenturyLink Field, Chase Center, Levi’s Stadium, Providence Park, Target Center, Tropicana Field, T-Mobile Arena, Vivint Smart Home Arena
The world of concessions has come a long way since Alison Weber sold hot dogs as a teenager at Cleveland Municipal Stadium.
Weber, who is now chief creative officer for Levy Restaurants and one of the top executives in the concessions industry, says data analytics, automation and local food and beverage brands are big focus and growth areas.
“We continue to keep a focus on hyperlocal in our concessions areas,” Weber said. That includes food truck staples such as street tacos and Asian street foods in coastal markets, and barbecue in others.
She also sees the now established trend of craft beers at ballparks, stadiums and arenas expanding more into craft cocktails and “home-grown liquors and craft distilleries.” That mirrors consumers’ preference for local at bars and restaurants and continues to expand ballpark menus beyond hot dogs and nachos.
But the challenge for Chicago-based Levy is translating local food and drink into a larger scale and busy game-day setting while not compromising taste.
“We have to figure out how to serve it to the masses,” Weber said. On the food side, she said, that can include “making space in our concession stand to hand-press tortillas.”
Looking to grow its retail segment at venues where it operates team shops, Levy rebranded its retail arm last year by launching Rank + Rally. The company works with teams including the Vegas Golden Knights, Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Blues and Golden State Warriors on team shops and merchandise sales.
There is also a big push on two technology fronts — automation and data analytics.
Levy and Miso Robotics announced in March they would bring robotic kitchen assistants to sports venues to help prepare food. “We believe in AI,” Weber said, adding that automation and AI can help create frictionless and more efficient operations. The venture is being launched by Levy at Dodger Stadium. Levy is also an investor in a $10 million funding round for Miso.
Weber said the food preparation assistance will give more time for concession employees to focus on customer service and get them to “front of the house.” That might encourage more concessions workers to stay in the business if they aren’t stuck in the back, she said.
Levy also is investing in and growing its data analytics efforts. That data includes not only purchases inside venues but consumer behaviors away from the game.
“We’re interested in what’s going on outside the building,” Weber said, referring to segments such as coffee consumption and retail.
Levy looks at social media activity in and around venues and works with data analytics firms to gain insights from those numbers. “We take those experiences and that data helps shape how we program buildings,” Weber said.
* * * *
Top executives: CEO Dave Scott; President John Wentzell; Scott Swiger, vice president, culinary excellence
Top venues: Avaya Stadium, Citizens Bank Park, Wells Fargo Center, XL Center, Singapore National Stadium, Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium
Venues added in past 24 months: Orlando City Stadium, Regency Furniture Stadium
Nothing beats an origins story — for millennials and foodies.
But your father’s greasy spoon hamburger or grandfather’s drink of choice aren’t what Mike Pulscak and Scott Swiger are talking about as the next big things for ballpark food and drink. It’s plant-based burgers, craft and virgin “mocktails,” and foods with authentic origins that are top of mind for them.
Swiger is vice president of culinary excellence and Pulscak is western regional chef for Spectra Food Services & Hospitality. The Spectra duo see demand for regional cuisines, especially those from Mexico that drill down to the provincial and local levels.
“There’s interest in the different regions of Mexico,” Pulscak said of wider restaurant and food trends. “Regional Mexican cuisine is hot right now.”
That includes sourcing and finding ingredients unique to those areas, such as peppers.
“They want to know the region it’s from,” Swiger said, noting that the greater foodie culture likes origin stories but also food from ballparks and stadiums that is authentic. That includes interest in fusion foods that combine flavors and different types of cuisine.
To foster a culture of innovation, Swiger organized the company’s first Culinary Innovation Summit last year in Chicago. The event brought together Spectra’s top culinary professionals to discuss the latest trends, techniques and concepts while also competing to create new menu additions to be implemented in venues across the country. The second summit is planned for this August in Philadelphia.
As more consumers focus on sustainability and eating organic, healthy or vegan, Pulscak sees growth for plant-based burgers. To that end, Spectra is serving The Impossible Burger at Oakland A’s games at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. The burger is made of soy, wheat, potato protein and coconut oil. It is provided by Silicon Valley Impossible Burger, whose investors include Bill Gates and Google Ventures. Spectra touts the non-meat burger as requiring about 75 percent less water, 95 percent less land and producing 87 percent fewer greenhouse gases than ground beef from cows.
On the drink side, Pulscak and Swiger project the now-established craft beer trend is extending into more venues picking up drinks and partnering with local micro-distilleries. “You are going to see the same things with spirits,” Pulscak said.
The Spectra chef is also bullish on mocktails — virgin cocktails without alcohol. “For people who don’t drink,” he said, “you need to be able to serve them something beyond water and soda pop.”
That also stems from some current millennial and cultural trends around cocktails and more sports venues serving margaritas, piña coladas and other mixed drinks.
Spectra also touts its sustainability efforts, including retrofitting 18 venues with high-efficiency LED lighting. That has helped save 6 billion watts of energy, and those savings equate to the emissions from 850 cars for an entire year. Spectra plans on expanding the LED program to other venues.