APOPKA, Fla. -- Gooding's Supermarkets has elected to grab a bigger share of the food-service market with an innovative move.
The 13-unit, upscale chain here, is breaking into the institutional food-service market with its newly created Gooding's Warehouse division. The chain is off to a good start, recently winning two college contracts and a private high school account.
Gooding's won a contract worth at least $1.2 million for Valencia College's four campuses, replacing Sodexho Marriott Management, which had held the contract for more than 20 years.
Gooding's pays the college a 10% to 22% commission on food sales, according to Bob Austin, vice president of Valencia. Valencia's student enrollment is up 2,000 this year to 38,000, and Gooding's officials are adding equipment to keep up with food demand.
Valencia officials formed a review committee of faculty, students and staff late last year to re-bid the contract to "insure we were getting the best products and service available," according to Steven Childress, purchasing manager at Valencia.
Although Gooding's Warehouse is a start-up company, it won the contract over three giant food-service suppliers: Fine Host and Aramark as well as Marriott. It also got the edge over several vending management companies.
Gooding's came out on top because it agreed to handle all services, including catering, outdoor food bars and vending, and is known as a "well-operated, quality food vendor in the area," Childress said.
"Their supermarkets are outstanding, and that quality of service and attention to detail will carry over to food-service operations," he said.
In addition, Gooding's has an extra incentive: officials know they must represent themselves well in the community in order to protect their retail business, according to Childress.
Seminole Community College, with nearly 23,000 students on its main campus, started with Gooding's in January, replacing Kanteen. Gooding's handles vending and catering at the school, along with dry cleaning and video rental services.
As students walk past two checkouts, they enter a beverage area with fountain drinks, cappuccino, milk and juice, along with a self-serve display case that offers several varieties of bagels. A sign on the nearby salad bar advertises a soup, salad and drink special for $2.50. Students have several meal options: veggie burgers, hamburgers and other items from the grill, hot entrees, a pasta bar and a sandwich bar.
An entree, starch and vegetable sells for $3.50, while a carved meat entree with side items is $3.75. Veggie burgers -- one of the school's most popular items with about 300 sold weekly -- retail for $2.00 each. Hamburgers are $1.60 each; Fish & Chips, $2.55; and Buffalo Wings, $1.25.
At the pasta bar, a chef prepares pasta dishes in front of the students. At the sandwich station, some of the 20 sandwich and sub varieties are also prepared in front of students. Sandwiches sell for between $1.75 and $2.75 each. The Gooding's cafeteria includes a "Works For Me" bar: selected entrees at a reduced price.
Recent examples included a potato bar, a hamburger bar and tuna casserole. However, Gooding's does not focus solely on discounted items. Seminole students can serve themselves specialty salads and Gooding's roll-ups with cream cheese and tabouli or couscous from a large glass case.
Sushi, a popular item at Gooding's stores, will also be added to Seminole's menu in the near future.
Bishop Moore High School, a private Catholic school with about 1,000 students, started working with Gooding's this fall. For three years before Gooding's came on board, a McDonald's franchise was the only lunch service for the students.
"Although the kids were all excited to go to McDonald's [at first], they really did get a bit bored with not having variety," said Connie Halscott, principal at Bishop Moore.
Now, with Gooding's, the students can choose from two or three entrees daily, along with a starch and vegetable. Grilled items are offered as well. On a recent school day, Gooding's served pineapple chicken, chicken fingers (the most popular item), rice pilaf, scalloped potatoes, mashed potatoes and three choices of vegetables.
The buffet -- which includes an entree, starch and vegetable -- is priced at $3.50. Students also can order items separately at $2.00 for an entree and 75 cents for a vegetable or starch. Charges are higher than a typical public school lunch because the private school does not receive federal funding, Halscott pointed out. Gooding's has kept prices at a "bare minimum," she said.
Sodas from the fountain sell for $1.20 each or $1.50 for a soda that includes refills. Students can also grab sodas from a glass cooler case near the checkouts or serve themselves iced tea, coffee or cappuccino.
Juice and milk are sold in self-serve glass cases at the start and end of the serving line. The Bishop Moore lunchroom includes several vending machines -- five for sodas, two for snacks and one featuring refrigerated products such as sandwiches and microwavable Hormel chili cups.
It also caters to students interested in healthy items with salads, sandwiches and fruit in a self-serve glass case. Prepared sandwiches sell for $1.75 each, slices of cake sell for $1.25 each, precut fruit in plastic bowls with clear snap-on lids sell for $1.25 each, Chicken Caesar Salad is $2.00 and Chef Salad is $2.25.
Gooding's also serves breakfast to about 200 students, which includes croissant sandwiches with scrambled eggs for $2.00 each, along with muffins, bagels and juice.
At Bishop Moore, Gooding's employees do most of the food preparation at its warehouse facility and transport it to the school. Vegetables, fruit and salads are usually prepared on-site.
When Bishop Moore officials were searching for a food-service provider, some firms would not submit a bid because it is such a small account, according to Halscott. "Others were hesitant because of the time when students are not in school," she said.
Halscott chose the school after visiting a college serviced by Gooding's, and she said she believes the school made the right choice.
"Students are happy with the food variety, cleanliness and attitude of the workers. A captive audience is very easy to take for granted, but they don't," she said.
Although officials at the schools are pleased with Gooding's services, the retailer's biggest challenge may simply be keeping up with demand from institutions. Food-service accounts have come on faster than officials expected and they are rushing to get in new equipment, according to one Gooding's source.
Gooding's Warehouse is also in the midst of a move to a larger facility to better accommodate food preparation for current and future accounts. The retailer is expected to continue seeking institutional contracts, as well as large corporate accounts.
Officials at Gooding's declined to offer any details about the Gooding's Warehouse division food-service operation. However, the chain's spokesman, Mike Garlich, did say the company is pleased with the operation which it launched about a year ago.