Covid-19 Resources | Labor and Staff

How Frozen Foods Can Improve Labor and Inventory Management During COVID-19

Nov 24, 2020

How Frozen Foods Can Improve Labor and Inventory Management During COVID-19

With local restrictions on restaurant dining evolving as coronavirus cases spike nationwide, inventory, food costs and labor are getting harder to manage. We’ve addressed forecasting sales to help with scheduling your staff and managing labor in this article in more depth. 

However, scheduling is only one part of the cost equation.

Your team might be having a hard time planning their prep lists and ordering.Your labor and food costs might be climbing as sales fluctuate. Though it sounds like a small thing, taking full advantage of frozen products can help you manage these costs through the uncertainty.

Common misconceptions

Restaurants of all sizes and business models use frozen foods to some extent, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, there are a lot of misconceptions about frozen foods that we’d like to debunk first.

  • Myth #1 - Frozen foods aren’t fresh. If you’re buying your fruits and vegetables straight from the farm and using them within a couple days, yes, the quality is great. But this isn’t the case in restaurants most of the time. If you’re ordering raw vegetables from large suppliers, these “fresh” vegetables have likely been transported long distances and stored in warehouses, so they’re weeks away from being fresh. Pick and processed right after harvest, frozen vegetables are arguably more “fresh” and more nutritious. This has to do with the flash-freezing process used to store the fruits and vegetables.

  • Myth #2 - Frozen foods aren’t as healthy as fresh. In the same vein, the flash-freezing process also means that vitamins and minerals are preserved, too, and in most frozen fruits and veggies, there are more than in some fresh produce. If we compare other forms of preservation, like canning, to frozen, freezing vegetables means there aren’t any preservatives and a lot less sodium. So in some cases frozen fruits and vegetables can actually be healthier.

How frozen helps you manage your food costs

Fresh produce is wonderful, but it’s a “use it or lose it” proposition. With individually quick frozen (IQF) products, you can use only what you need and store the rest in the freezer for later.

  • Flexibility. Even without a pandemic, using frozen products provides you and your team with more flexibility since you’re not racing against the clock to use things before they go bad.

  • Inconsistent ordering. With changes in types of allowed dining—from takeout to outdoor only, to indoor—it can be hard to forecast which menu items are going to be popular week to week. If you’re relying on fresh fruits and vegetables for menu items, weekly variation can cause a lot of food waste.

  • Cost. Restaurant margins were already slim pre-pandemic. Now it’s even more important to watch all your costs as closely as possible. Though outright it may look like frozen products are more expensive, once you take into account trimming and labor, frozen products are often less expensive pound-for-pound. So you can save on labor and food costs without sacrificing quality.

  • Keeping it in-house. If you want to keep certain recipes in-house, you can still make use of the freezer to save labor and food costs. One way you can avoid throwing out fresh products is by making big batches of your recipes and freezing them. This prevents a lot of food waste, plus it helps you control labor costs (more on that below).

Reducing overall labor and more

Because labor is such an enormous part of your costs, it’s critical to keep your team focused on those tasks with the biggest return on investment. Hint: shucking corn is not one of them. Here are four ways the heat-and-serve prep of frozen products pays dividends:

  • Replacing labor-intensive items. For example, it takes about 15 minutes to prepare about three pounds of avocado pulp from whole fruit. By the time you add-in the cost of labor (and roughly 50% loss from peels, pits and spoiled fruit), prepared products are often a better deal. Simplot Harvest Fresh™ Avocados pulp, guacamole and cut fruit (available frozen or fresh) are all great choices, especially with the unpredictable price volatility of whole fruit.

  • Taking the place of more complex recipes. If you equate frozen foods with straight packs of peas and carrots, think again. True value-added products like RoastWorks® Roasted Redskin Potatoes and Jalapeño Blend, or Good Grains™ Cilantro Lime Rice & Fire Roasted Corn Fiesta can take the place of recipes with fairly extensive ingredient lists that take a long time to make from scratch. This keeps things streamlined and simple during service, and faster service means happier takeout and delivery customers.

  • Improving consistency. Consistency is key in keeping guests and customers satisfied. When you’re running a skeleton crew, quality and consistency may be sacrificed for expediency. Frozen products like Simplot’s fries, avocado, vegetables, fruit and grains not only save money on food and labor, but also help ensure consistent quality so guests keep coming back.

  • Lowering labor cost per portion. Prepping menu items like sauces, soups, or casseroles in larger batches and freezing them saves on a lot of labor. The more you make, the less labor it will cost per portion. So have your prep team make these big batches on slower days and package them in vacuum-seal bags for later use to keep the quality.

With advancements in technology and improvements to recipes, the differences in quality between fresh and frozen are narrowing and, in many applications, imperceptible. In a time of uncertainty when restaurants are just trying to stay afloat, taking full advantage of your freezer is a great way to keep food costs down, keep your prep team from being overworked, and keep your customers satisfied.