The foodservice industry is no stranger to trends, with consumer behavior and interests changing quickly within the last year of a worldwide pandemic. Among these trends is the changing role of the ghost/virtual kitchens. They have emerged as replacements or extensions of existing kitchens to support the Pandemic-driven growth of takeout and delivery.
With many restaurants having to close their doors after the first lockdown, virtual kitchens offered what was in many cases was a lifeline to survival. Rich Products, a family-owned food company, spent months researching tools to help operators launch their own virtual kitchens. The Buffalo, NY innovator took a very different approach to researching and learning the dynamics of a successful virtual operation. They have collaborated with a Denver, CO-based company, Nextbite, to launch their own virtual restaurants.
Prior to the pandemic, Rich Products recognized the ambidexterity of virtual kitchens and began analyzing and allocating the necessary resources operators would need to launch one. Having met Nextbite through another innovator in the industry last year, the team at Rich Products became intrigued by what they were building. Liza Larson, Director of External Innovation at Rich Products shared her initial thoughts when considering the collaboration: “We saw an opportunity to learn about this model first-hand by serving as a virtual kitchen for them and supporting their brands. The popular trend of virtual kitchens and restaurants was increasing in value, and we knew Nextbite would be able to provide us with the knowledge to help our customers adapt to the evolving foodservice industry.” Many businesses will have to recover from the challenges faced during the pandemic and the collaboration with Nextbite allows Rich Products to help their customers use virtual kitchens to help their business’s endeavors.
The collaboration allows both Rich Products and Nextbite to use their strengths in the industry and develop a strategic product. Nextbite provides Rich Products with menus based on consumer insight and what is appropriate for the Western New York market. Rich Products’ chefs then build those menu concepts and have third-party delivery partners deliver (or fulfill) them.
Larson shared that the collaboration with Nextbite is not about competing with customers but is rather about helping businesses succeed. “The program is designed to be an addition to other delivery solutions out there. It’s about learning and giving back to the industry. The existing base of third-party delivery options are not as financially stable as they could be, and we expect to learn more about the economics needed to support the trend in take-out and delivery, which we know, is here to stay.” The consumer demand is still high for delivery options and Rich Products is determined to find solutions that solve the model. With 18 months of people getting accustomed to having food when and where they want it, Larson believes take-out and delivery will become a staple moving forward.
Rich’s understands that delivery processes can face challenges during transportation. Their innovative solutions allow them to provide advice on packaging until it reaches the consumer’s door, keeping the meal fresh and hot. “Food quality has to be maintained through the delivery process. We tested products to see how they perform through the delivery cycle and mastered the technique,” shared Larson.
Rich’s new virtual restaurants have three menu concepts: not your average grilled cheese, featuring muenster cheese and blue cheese crumble, patty melts with sauteed mushrooms and Sriracha ranch dressing, and an upscale take on mac and cheese with spicy grilled buffalo chicken. Every order is made on site.
With labor challenges more prominent from the aftermath of the pandemic, virtual restaurants enable operators to conduct a light labor model. The team at Rich’s recognize labor challenges and through this pilot will be able to analyze pain points and produce solutions. The focus can be honed in on the quality of the food with light labor virtual kitchens.
In navigating post-pandemic challenges, creating expanded virtual kitchens can be funded with a portion of RRF The Restaurant Revitalization Fund Funding. A collaboration with a food leader like Rich Products has the potential to maximize virtual kitchen revenue streams with minimum overhead and provides access to the expertise of one of the nation’s leading menu solutions manufacturers.
To learn more about Rich Products, visit their website