Mike Raven: Thank you for your time, Alicia. Can you give us a brief overview of the Design & Development team you manage for Aramark Sports & Entertainment? How do they perform as a function of marketing and data analytics?
Alicia Woznicki: The Design & Development team is really the innovation engine for the Sports & Entertainment Division. We take guest interactions from transactional to experiential, developing meaningful connections with every guest through concepts, programs and branding that brings cuisine and merchandise to life! Our team pushes the boundaries of innovation with a keen focus on what really matters: our clients and their customers. We work hand in hand with our Data Science team of analysts, researchers and data engineers who delve deep into data and insights that drive our business to ensure that what we develop not only looks great, but ultimately drives revenue.
MR: Aramark has partnered with IMI over the last 10 years to grow and develop the adult beverage program for venues. How have you seen it evolve over the last three years since it became a function and part of your team?
AW: With adult beverage making up such a large portion of our sales mix, having oversight of the program made perfect sense. We wanted to apply the same methodology to our adult beverage program that we do to all other categories of our business. We wanted to not only develop a program that spoke to the various types of guests we serve, but also to drive adoption through the development of scalable beverage programs and proprietary brands within our portfolio. It was also important to us to be able to partner with suppliers to bring both product and experiential innovation to our venues.
MR: How has the collaboration with Jeanette Rolla, Senior Account Manager for IMI and former Aramark S&E Operator supported your beverage initiatives?
AW: Jeanette is a rock star and we consider her a key member of the D&D team. She understands our business and is able to effectively translate that knowledge to our suppliers, which has really strengthened our relationships. She has also been able to work hand in hand with our operations team to implement our programs and grow their beverage sales. She has developed so many fun, beverage-centered programs with us, including signature souvenir cocktails and mobile solutions, like airline–cart bottle service and bikes that serve beer or alcoholic popsicles.
MR: What is your approach to beverage category management and selecting the right brands and products to appeal to such a diverse guest and fan base in your 100+ venues?
AW: We live in a sponsorship-heavy marketplace, so it is important for us to have a keen understanding of guest preferences to achieve the best balance of product to drive revenue. We have market specific planograms and recommendations for our different beverage concepts to guide our operations teams, but also allow for flexibility. We want to make sure that we build a tiered program across all categories so we can serve the masses in concessions with quick, convenient options and deliver the highest–end experience in our exclusive clubs and suite experiences with super premium and handcrafted options.
MR: A lot of the technology and innovation you had focused on implementing pre-pandemic has become even more necessary and adoptable in the last year. I know Empower Field where the Broncos play is using contactless payment and self-checkout. Can you give us an insight to that technology and explain what your core strategy has been coming out of COVID?
AW: Before the pandemic, our Data Science and Design & Development teams studied technology and consumer trends like touchless and frictionless vendor experiences. We had already developed, tested and proven innovations that could improve speed of service and also happened to limit close contact and reduce congestion. With a pipeline of solutions at the ready, we were poised to help our clients bring visitors back as soon as they safely could, minimizing the potential for disease exposure, while elevating venue capabilities and expanding amenities to keep crowds coming back.
Throughout the pandemic we have seen an uptick of adult beverage sales, driven by a changing demographic and increased distribution points. It is now more important than ever to sustain that growth as things return to normal, so our key strategy is to do everything we can to speed up transaction times to serve more guests in our peak periods. We have gone cashless, broadly deployed kiosk ordering, mobile ordering and AI-powered self-checkout and checkout-free locations. The important thing for us is to make sure these technologies aren’t just plugged into the operation as is. Rather, we develop concepts around the tech with both the customer journey and operations in mind so we end up with an amazing guest experience that also drives revenue.
MR: Kiosk Ordering and Mobile Ordering — I read it has shown to lead to increased sales by as much as 18 percent. How does it work and have fans begun to adapt to it as venues begin to resume full capacity?
AW: So truth be told, adoption of these service styles has definitely lagged in the sports and entertainment world, compared with what we have seen throughout the pandemic in the broader marketplace. That said, once people use them, they spend more (typically around 20 percent) and become repeat users. We truly see the best results when we pair these technologies with highly desirable products and drive orders solely through mobile and kiosk channels. A great example of this is our Hall of Favs concept, which I describe as a virtual food hall. Guests can order from a mobile device or kiosk and pick up all the most popular items in the building at one convenient location.
MR: The ZIPPIN Drink Market — I love this one. You pick what you want and simply walk out. How does it work?
AW: So, we are rapidly deploying our checkout-free Drink MKT locations. In fact, we will have 11 of them at Empower Field, home of the Denver Broncos, this season. You swipe your credit card or scan the QR code from the mobile app to enter the store. Camera vision and shelf sensors track what you pick up, and you simply walk out with your items and your card is billed without having to check out.
MR: Mashgin combines self-serve and self-checkout. What exactly is Mashgin; is it a market of sorts?
AW: Mashgin is a technology that similarly uses camera vision the way that our check-out free stores do. You walk into to an environment where you shop on your own, pick up your items, and place them all at once on the device. It simultaneously recognizes all the items, gives you a total, and you simply insert your credit card and are on your way. We have built three concessions brands around this technology: Fan Favorites Express (where you can quickly get your standard stadium fare), Walk Thru Bru (the next generation beer portable) and Drink Mkt (a walk-in market with unbelievable beverage variety). What I love about these concepts is that traditionally in our world, you have to sacrifice variety for speed of service. But not with these! You get incredible variety with minimal transaction times.
MR: How do you see contactless age verification technology affecting traditional staffing models? Are major league sports responding to this option with confidence?
AW: We have piloted biometric age validation, and I definitely think that is the future as more states adopt digital IDs. We will still need the human element to verify that we are complying with our service policy and not overserving any guests.
MR: The Ready to Drink Category has exploded. Are spirit and wine RTDs in cans or alternate formats popular in your venues, or are the hard seltzers and beer the true revenue generators?
AW: From a speed of service perspective, we see a lot of application for RTDs. Prior to COVID, guests didn’t have a lot of brand awareness around these products. I think now with the proliferation of really great products with well-known spirits, we’ll see sales jump. We have definitely expanded this category of our beverage program in anticipation of that. We can’t overlook the importance of beer and seltzer in our world though; that is still driving the bulk of our sales.
MR: I hear you have piloted selling premium wine by the bottle in concessions. What is the sales strategy behind this?
AW: So this is something that as a wine drinker myself, I am super passionate about. The adage is that wine doesn’t sell in concessions. But I think it is because we aren’t offering the products that wine drinkers expect. We have implemented our Buy the Bottle program in order to improve our product variety and quality in concessions. Two people can buy a bottle to split and we offer them a souvenir carafe to bring back to their seats.
Photos of Alicia Woznicki by Philip Gabriel Photography