Expert Interview – Catering to your Customers’ Needs

Catering is the fastest growing segment in the foodservice industry and is currently a $55 Billion marketplace with average annual growth between 4% – 6%. For this edition of The Expert Interview I spoke with Kathy Deignan, Senior Vice President of Sales, Marketing & New Product Development at Sabert Corporation.

LC: How long have you been in the foodservice industry and what types of positions have you held during that time?

KD: I have been in the foodservice industry for over 25 years.  I have been with Sabert for 14 years and prior to that I was with Sweetheart Cup Company where I held leadership positions in both Sales and Marketing.  I began my career in Operations as a supervisor in a manufacturing plant to gain a complete understanding of how products are made.

LC: Catering packaging is an important focus for Sabert. Has that always been the case?

KD: Catering is our heritage at Sabert. Our company was founded 35 years ago with innovative catering products as our foundation.  We are rooted in the marketplace and we keep the consumer experience at the heart of everything we do allowing us to create products that enhance and advance the way people enjoy food.

LC: Tell me about the catering market, the types of operators and their specific needs.

KD: The two main segments are business and social catering.  In both segments, to achieve guest satisfaction operators must sell stress-free and predictable experiences to both business and social consumer.

Catering to business consumers is an opportunity to impress clients and bring style to the boardroom. Office life presents a chance for operators to create a brand experience that can translate across different business occasions.  Given the often-short window to break for lunch or a snack, the goal of the operator is to offer a convenient catering experience.  The corporate catering consumer values an experience that is easy to order, serve, eat and clean.

For the social catering consumers living busy lifestyles, bringing the convenience of catering home during the week presents new opportunities for operators.  Operators who put forward catering programs that align with everyday celebrated occasions will cash-in with the social consumer.  Packaging can help drive menu development and operators can create different menu options for a variety of different serving sizes.

LC: What are the changes in the catering market that you’ve seen over the last few years?

KD: The biggest shift is the exponential growth of delivery. 57% of consumers received their order delivered either by the foodservice establishment or via a third-party provider versus picking their order up themselves. With catering consumers demanding more delivery services, third-party providers are rising to answer the challenge.

An even more interesting change we have seen is that about 81% of consumers who order from restaurants for catering selected a trusted brand chain restaurant. Brand recognition attracts young consumers and serves a double benefit, inspiring confidence in the customer placing the order and the guest who sees the brand name.

LC: What are the latest trends in catering?

KD: The biggest trend we have is the boost of social catering. Weeknight dinnertime presents an incremental revenue opportunity for operators to put forward catering packages that align with everyday occasions. For households, multi-serve and family-style catering packages can bridge the gap between individual takeout meals and large-party catering events. With today’s consumer socially engaged and focused on sharing experiences, catering offers the unique ability to bring people together, enjoy food and create photo-shareable experiences.

LC: Instagram-worthy meals. I enjoy sharing those images myself.

KD: On the other hand, inferior packaging can adversely affect the operators’ brand with consumers sharing negative experiences socially as well.

LC: Can you explain more about the importance of packaging from the customers’ point of view?

KD: The catering industry is agile by nature due to ever-evolving customer interests and needs. Packaging plays several roles in a catering occasion. We have noticed that consumers do not just rely on packaging to securely transport the food from the foodservice establishment to the venue, nearly 50% of consumers use the packaging to serve the meal and over 33% also used the original packaging to store left overs.  Because packaging may be used at multiple points during the dining occasion, attractive and well-designed packaging for transport, serving and storage is extremely beneficial to the consumer.

LC: What advice can you give a caterer that would help them save time, money and/or increase sales?

KD: The path to incremental catering revenue is through existing customers, at least initially.  Operators who focus on activating catering revenue from loyal customers will find they can grow catering sales quickly and steadily.  Layering a catering program on top of an established dine-in or take-out business gives existing customers easier access to a brand they already know and trust. Through catering, current customers can now share and experience the brand across a more diversified variety of everyday occasions elevating the brand to a new level.

Developing a catering program and menu isn’t enough. Operators really cash in and score more orders by providing a full service, stress free environment and offering the right disposable tabletop and serving utensils with their catering orders. Nearly 70% of consumers are upset if their catering order does not include the necessary disposable cutlery, plates and serving utensils with 25% admitting that it’s a deal breaker and would never order catering again if they did not receive those items with their order. Offering a complete catering program that includes the right disposable items will contribute positively to customer satisfaction. To take the catering experience to the next level, operators can also use disposable serving items to create different levels of consumption experiences. The ability to offer a variety of different tabletop and serving utensil items helps catering programs align with more occasion types. On top of that, it adds a layer of customization allowing consumers the ability to create elaborate tablescapes and upscale presentations as they please.

LC: What do you think the future holds for the catering segment?

KD: As we look at trends from years past, we are already starting to see what the next 5 years in catering and packaging will look like. With the rapid growth of convenience and delivery, we continue to invest in the importance of tailor-made packaging for specific food temperatures and needs. For example, 3 out of 4 consumers typically receive their hot food hot and serve within 30 minutes. This trend indicates packaging that can serve multiple people and present hot food immediately is an essential part of the catering piece. Durable packaging designed for hot food, like the polypropylene options available in our Collections product line allow guests to customize their individual meal and encourage consumers to order catering more frequently.

One trend operators can expect to see for years to come is the need for sustainable options in all aspects of catering programs. From food to packaging and tableware, we can expect to see the importance of responsibly made products increase in years to come.

LC: Any last advice for our readers?

KD: Consumers look for the full-service experience and prefer to work with operators that allow for customization, sustainability and offer a stress-free, seamless experience. Operators should work with packaging providers that offer them that same seamless experience and understand the consumers need and experience.

LC: Thanks, Kathy!

KD: Thanks for having me.

For more information about Sabert’s catering packaging, visit and contact your Imperial Dade representative for a personal consultation regarding your catering operation.  


Author: Imperial Dade

Imperial Dade is the leading independent distributor of foodservice packaging, industrial packaging, janitorial supplies and equipment in the United States. We serve over 80,000 customers nationwide. To learn how we can help your business thrive, contact us today!

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