Mark Moeller | The Recipe of Success

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Long before the coronavirus pandemic, consumers were embracing off-premise dining in unprecedented numbers, lured by the convenience, ease and variety it provided. But several years into a booming trend, off-premise dining isn’t without its issues. Beverages, in particular, pose challenges as customers question the safety and deal with the spills associated with non-sealed drink cups.

To address those concerns, some restaurant operators sell only sealed bottled beverages. Compared to fountain drinks, however, bottles are costly, consume cooler space and reduce customer choice on size and variety.

Seeing restaurant delivery sales on the rise, GP PRO identified an opportunity to return fountain beverages to the mix by helping solve the “spillage” problem.

“It was one of those times where we noticed a pain point for our customers and started looking for a better way to manage it,” says Alec Frisch, vice president and general manager of foodservice at GP PRO. “As we talked to operators about it, we realized we could solve a lot of problems with one machine.”

The machine is the GP PRO Automated Sealing Machine for beverages. It eliminates plastic press-on lids by applying a plastic seal on to-go hot and cold cups. To seal cups of almost any size, a worker places the filled cup into a vertical port on the machine where a liquid-tight, tamper-evident plastic seal is applied to the top in about two seconds. When correctly handled at the bottom of the cup, workers do not contact the brim of the cup or the sanitary seal.

GP PRO, a division of Georgia-Pacific, began market tests of the GP PRO Automated Sealing Machine in late 2019. Months later, as COVID-19 raced across the globe, the Auto Sealer’s value as being hygienically sound took on new meaning.

“Sealing to-go cups has the potential to be hugely beneficial from a food-safety perspective,” says Janilyn Hutchings, a food scientist and certified professional in food safety at StateFoodSafety. “When cups are sealed, they’re a lot less likely to become contaminated.”

Beverage safety amid a pandemic notwithstanding, Frisch says the GP PRO Automated Sealing Machine’s practical advantages in restaurant operations are its greatest virtues. Meeting the surging industrywide demand for food and drink delivery was GP PRO’s starting point.

“While COVID-19 heightened the value proposition to the industry, the challenge to deliver hot and cold beverages and move them through the drive-thru was where we started,” Frisch says. “When you’re busy and trying to get lids on drinks, and they pop off, it’s a problem. And most are not tamper-evident.”

Positive feedback

Ronnie Davis, a single-unit franchisee of Fat Shack, a 23-unit quick-service hot sandwich chain based in Fort Worth, Texas, took part in the early tests of the GP PRO Automated Sealing Machine. Instantly, he got feedback from third-party delivery drivers who loved the sealed cups’ spill-resistant characteristics.

“When those drivers leave with six to eight fountain drinks, they’re hoping they’ll not have them spill all over their cars,” Davis says. “They get [the sealed cups] from us and [say] they’re great.”

Customers like them as well, he adds.

“The response to them has been very positive, and partly because [customers] can get fountain drinks now,” Davis says. “A lot of people prefer them over bottled drinks. And as soon as we started sending them out sealed, drink sales went up.”

That spike in fountain drink sales led Davis to create new bargain combo meals with a sandwich, side and fountain drink—options he says bottled drinks made price prohibitive.

“The cost [of selling fountain drinks using the Auto Sealer] is so much more affordable in a combo,” he says. “We give a great value to the customer and generate a good margin. Our costs on a bottled drink would have been $1 to $1.50 more on a combo deal.”

Waste case

Mark Moeller, owner of The Recipe of Success, a Westport, Connecticut, restaurant consulting firm, says the savings operators can realize by using the GP PRO Automated Sealing Machine presents “myriad benefits for the restaurateur. The cost of lids versus the cost of the machine is just one of them. [The plastic seal roll] creates a much smaller carbon footprint. I really like the technology.”

Others say space savings gained by not using lids is an additional plus. “Storage is so much better,” Davis says. “Instead of having thousands of lids in a single big box, you’ve got a tiny box with two sealing film rolls in it.”

Frisch provides more precise details. “Since the Auto Sealer works whether you’re using 8-ounce cups or 44-ounce cups, it eliminates lid SKUs,” he says. The Auto Sealer, he continues, reduces plastic usage by about 65 percent. “If you think of a case of snap-on lids that contains 1,000 in a case, you know it’s big. But one roll of our Auto Sealer film makes about 2,500 lids, and that comes in a case pack of two rolls. That would be the same as having five big boxes full of lids.”

Reduces space requirements

The GP PRO Automated Sealing Machine itself is compact—27 inches long, 16 inches wide and 24 inches tall—making it easily placed in a drive-thru window service slot or on a worktable for delivery drivers.

“When you get rid of the lids, you have space for it,” Davis says. “It takes up very little space, so it was easy for us to find a spot.”

Since the GP PRO Automated Sealing Machine eliminates lid waste, Frisch says other savings are realized. “A situation like a stack of lids getting knocked onto the floor and having to throw them away, that doesn’t happen with the Auto Sealer,” he says.

Davis says training workers to use the GP PRO Automated Sealing Machine takes only minutes, “which is important in a place like ours where turnover is so high.”

He adds that other restaurant operators in his market have learned of the GP PRO Automated Sealing Machine and have inquired about it. “We’ve had other owners coming in and asking how they could get one,” he says. Asked if he’d want to operate his restaurant without it, he says, “That wouldn’t be my choice. We really like it.”

The GP PRO Auto Sealer brings spill-resistant, tamper-evident beverages to the takeout, delivery and drive-thru space. It’s easy for operators to use, and it helps generate off-premise drink sales, all of which adds up to a timely and innovative solution from GP PRO. The GP PRO Automated Sealing Machine can be seen in action on this video. For more details on the Auto Sealer, visit this GP PRO website.