When it comes to retail foodservice catering operations, “grocers need to be more like restaurants,” says Russell McVeigh, catering director at Uncle Giuseppe’s Marketplace, a Melville, N.Y.-based specialty grocer with nine locations in New York and New Jersey and a 10th slated to open later this year.
Like many grocers, until recently, Uncle Giuseppe’s kept old-school catering books with handwritten orders. And if it wanted to make additions or changes to its catering menu online, it had to make those adjustments for each location. It was a time-consuming and often frustrating process, admits McVeigh.
Earlier this year, Uncle Giuseppe’s partnered with Foodstorm, developers of a catering software management system specifically designed for the grocery industry. FoodStorm’s software automates the entire catering/prepared foods ordering, production, payment and fulfillment process from one centralized system.
“Although catering and prepared foods are among a grocer’s most profitable offerings, most grocers still manage these orders using spreadsheets, paper order forms and sticky notes,” says FoodStorm. “Their existing e-commerce, inventory and POS systems don’t support the complexities of catering and prepared foods, including managing production, ingredients, lead times and shelf life.
Since moving to FoodStorm’s software, Uncle Giuseppe’s has doubled its online catering sales, McVeigh told WGB. The software provides a catering-specific e-commerce website to match the grocery brand, order and production management, PCI-compliant payment processing, CRM tools to market and grow the business, and reporting features with a live business dashboard.
“Previously, if the price changed on our potato salad, we had to go into the system and manually change it for eight different stores. There were also different taxes on the salad depending on where the store is located,” explains McVeigh. “Now, in 10 seconds, we can update the price of an item across all stores.”
Similarly, Uncle Giuseppe’s used to upload catering photography to its website one image at a time for each store. Now McVeigh can instantly upload new images for all stores, effortlessly giving both his internal team and customers an accurate visual depiction of each catering platter.
“Having control of what the shopper sees has been great, and the database is so easy to use—both on our side and the customer’s—it doesn’t make me afraid to try something new,” he adds.
FoodStorm also allows Uncle Giuseppe’s to run a single catering report across its eight stores that offer catering, as well as individual reports for each location. This is key for an operation that does everything in-house. The specialty grocer offers 140 dishes in its deli cases, all made in-store.
“We’ve got 30 people our in kitchens hand-breading eggplant and more,” says McVeigh. “We don’t commissary anything and we’re not a traditional grocery store. We do legit catering with an advanced menu,” he continues, adding that Uncle Giuseppe’s also handles waitstaff rentals and three of its stores have the distinction of serving as official Hyatt caterers.
As with most grocers, the pandemic drove a surge in online ordering at Uncle Giuseppe’s. As pandemic restrictions ease and people gather once again, McVeigh is seeing yet another wave in demand for catering and predicts 70% of its holiday orders will be online this year.
Through the FoodStorm online ordering system, customers can choose whether they want items delivered hot or cold; add a tip; and set a delivery time.
“There’s a proprietary view so we can look at the delivery log for each store and know if we’re booked for deliveries between, say, 12 p.m. and 4 p.m. We can then adjust to only take early deliveries,” says McVeigh, who says that under its old system, which depended heavily on handwritten orders, the delivery function was either on or off. Uncle Giuseppe’s has further streamlined its delivery operations through FoodStorm to offer delivery twice per hour.
Since implementing FoodStorm, Uncle Giuseppe’s catering business is “crushing last year’s numbers,” he says. “It’s wild—our average orders are up $150 year over year,” adds McVeigh who sees a number of contributing factors including pent up demand, the return of weddings and events, and more robust savings accounts among consumers who spent less on food and entertainment during the peak of COVID. “People are now spending faster than we can produce,” he jokes.
Uncle Giuseppe’s newly streamlined online catering offerings also allow customers to include items from multiple departments such as the deli, bakery and produce. As a result, McVeigh estimates bakery catering sales alone will likely double this year compared to last.
Since March 2021, FoodStorm has signed eight new U.S. grocery customers, including DeCicco & Sons, Cardiff Seaside Market, Village Market, Fruit Center Marketplace and Caraluzzi’s Markets. In use at thousands of sites around the world, FoodStorm processes more than $1.5 billion in catering and prepared-food orders for grocers, caterers and corporate dining operations.
“COVID-19 and the continued threat from Amazon and Walmart has really forced independent grocers to differentiate and provide better options in catering and fresh prepared foods,” said Rob Hill, CEO of FoodStorm, in a statement. “Our software makes it simple for these grocers to execute on this important piece of their business very efficiently and track everything from one central location. As FoodStorm rapidly expands our footprint in the U.S., we’re excited to work with these grocers all across the country.”
From its old-world Italian decor, house-made fresh foods, weekly sampling events and in-store live music performances, Farmingdale, N.Y.-based Uncle Giuseppe’s Marketplace has earned its reputation as not just a grocery shopping destination but also an interactive oasis for Italian-Americans and all-encompassing food lovers alike.
Sprung from the ashes of a former Waldbaum’s, Uncle Giuseppe’s newest location in Melville, N.Y., more than fills the grocery void that had previously plagued the community since 2015. Marking the Italian-themed grocer’s seventh and largest location, the 53,000-square-foot showplace, which made its debut in December, is a feast for the senses. Its interior design oozes authentic visual charm, with Corinthian-style stone columns, intricate murals of the scenic country and a cloud-adorned blue-sky ceiling that evokes the feeling of an outdoor market. The tantalizing aroma of fresh-baked treats and the soothing sounds of Italian opera ballads flood the aisles, where shoppers can find a variety of gourmet imports, chef-prepared meals and extensive fresh departments, as well as a full array of traditional grocery items.
“We try to hit all the senses here at Uncle Giuseppe’s,” says co-founder and CEO Carl DelPrete. Founded in 1998 with a mission to provide a one-stop-shop Italian marketplace, the company’s “display point of view is to make things look how we remember them when we were young,” he says, referencing his childhood visits to Italian bakeries, butcher shops and fresh markets as a point of inspiration for the store’s elaborate, open-air format.
A 128-foot deli and prepared foods counter adorned with dangling meats, fruits and floral greens serves as the cornerstone of the store, which boasts an assortment of fresh entrees, salads and side dishes made in-house daily by the kitchen’s 60-person staff. Massive windows frame the store’s pasta- and mozzarella-making rooms, offering shoppers a behind-the-scenes look at Uncle Giuseppe’s signature homemade products, which are continuously prepared and hand packaged throughout the day. An expansive hot bar, sushi counter, pizza station, cafe and carnevale-themed gelato bar provide countless fresh-made offerings for shoppers to grab and go or leisurely enjoy in-store at the social seating area. On weekends, the retailer hosts informative product samplings and a live opera singer, known to draw crowds big enough to require advanced reservations to secure a table, DelPrete says.
At the heart of Uncle Giuseppe’s engaging approach and high-quality products is a customer-orientated staff of more than 250 people who’ve undergone an intensive training program to uphold the retailer’s high standard of dedication to quality and service. The company provides team members with 50% lunch discounts and 10% shopping discounts, offering an added perk as well as the opportunity to taste and enhance staff knowledge of new and seasonal offerings. Each team member has a discernible nametag to encourage both employees and shoppers to greet one another by name.
“We get many more compliments on our customer service than not,” says DelPrete. “It’s very hard to find really great bakers and great cooks and pizza makers, but you can find really friendly customer service-oriented people and then train them how to be great at the task.”
From seasoned fishmongers and butchers to cheesemongers and bakers, Uncle Giuseppe’s well-trained team serves as the foundation of the business, crafting unique items such as its new yeast-raised fried doughnuts, as well as educating and guiding shoppers through their purchase decisions. To ensure satisfaction not only for customers but also for employees, the retailer has initiated store-based focus groups for its human resources department to remain connected to staff needs. “If our employees are not happy, how can they possibly service the customer and keep them happy?” says DelPrete. “That’s very important to us.”
As for its customer base, the specialty grocer says it draws consumers of all ages and demographics, but it has found an increasing number of millennial shoppers at the Melville location compared to its other smaller-format stores due to its expanded departments and interactive experiences. To appeal to convenience-focused shoppers, the retailer is partnering with DoorDash in June to launch pizza delivery and Instacart for grocery delivery, and it plans to expand its store footprint throughout New York and New Jersey to keep up with demand from foodie-focused consumers who “live to eat.”