The COVID-19 pandemic forced many senior life service providers to readjust their meal plans in the short term.
Operational challenges can be hard, and often confusing as they try to bring residents together with leading caterers to provide higher levels of experience. Indeed, in recent years, many providers have spent a lot of time and money to provide residents with multiple dining options and lengthy custom menus. Now, in just a few weeks, many high-end residential communities have shifted from managing packaged dining rooms to serving meals to residents’ rooms. Others implemented social alienation measures while eating in public places.
However, senior living providers have to encounter dining challenges. This crisis could be solved by using high-quality, pre-packaged meals provided by companies like Luvo and Ghost Kitchen. Providers are aware that food is important for well-being, and they are working to find a solution that maximizes the benefits in the community.
Brookdale Vice President of Catering, Marjan Kodric, said that around 750 communities could use interlaced catering instead of just delivering these services.
Other providers-such as Garden Spot Communities in New Holland, Pennsylvania, Kendal Corporation, and Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, have moved away from large public dining venues and are now distributing in the face of social alienation Takeaway, meal packs, and ready-to-eat hot food. The two vendors also found new responsibilities for staff who used to work at the front desk, such as servers or bartenders.
However, this is still a challenging time. Chief Executive of Garden Resident’s Community, Steve Lindsey, said that residents are not allowed to eat meals together, which can be frustrating for residents and operators.
Hospitality company Morrison Living’s customer list includes up to 500 elderly residential communities across the United States, so it has a unique advantage to investigate the industry. The Atlanta-based company is part of the Compass Group.
Angus Brown, the company’s Vice President of national accounts, said that so far, Morrison and its customers are tackling creativity and compassion.
In recent years, many senior life service providers have focused on dining to differentiate themselves from other local competitors. Therefore, when COVID-19 was a sensation, some operators scrambled to find ways to feed and interact with residents outside the restaurant.
Ben Butler, Vice President of the culinary services department, said, “Kendal has 13 CCRC portfolios in seven states and has long been proud of its culinary services and socialization.” Therefore, getting rid of public dining is not easy.
In response to the damage caused by the pandemic, Kendall now offers only limited meals to take away. The organization also strengthened the inventory of these ready-to-eat and ready-to-eat foods such as chicken soup, frozen lasagna, and casseroles. All along, the organization has maintained close contact with the providers and partners Ecolab and Sysco.
At the same time, Butler said residents are looking for creative ways to maintain social connections, such as talking to each other via HAM radio. In a community in Hanover, New Hampshire, some people are even using the conference application Zoom to eat with each other remotely.
In terms of personnel, Kendal does not have to take vacations or dismiss any front-line cooking workers. Instead, organizations are finding new roles for them. For example, there may have been an employee who previously helped serve residents in the dining room. Still, now they are required to pack meals for transportation or cleaning.
In the kitchen, Kendal increased his cleaning efforts.
However, although the COVID-19 pandemic has caused substantial financial losses to Kendal’s employees and residents, operators are making strides.
Similar trends have played a role in the non-profit CCRC Garden Spot Village, which provides services to nearly 1,000 senior citizens. In the event of a pandemic, the provider has reduced all meal plans in their living environment. All of the supplier’s seated dining venues have been closed. They cannot provide public meals, but instead, provide food delivery and takeaway services for residents.
However, Garden Spot does not need to reduce dining services in medical institutions because these services are organized in a family model. A smaller group of people can eat together at one time.
To provide residents with physical and mental nutrition, Garden Spot has expanded its standard menu to include more items that residents can go home and keep warm. Like Kendal, the community also offers many comfort foods.
Waiters who used to wait for residents in the dining room now serve meals directly to residents. The provider also organized social evacuation measures at the dining venues to allow residents to order meals.
At the same time, in many Brookdale communities, providers insist on using the usual number of menu items. Some additional details may be added here and there to limit the interference of residents who are trying to cope with enough changes. Specifically, senior life operators have adjusted their menus to include items that can be kept longer and transported better.
If alternate dining is allowed, as long as they are six feet apart, up to 10 residents can eat at the same place at the same time. Brookdale has also transitioned to in-room dining in many of its communities.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Brookdale maintained close ties with its food suppliers. So far, the crisis has had a small impact on the supply of food that operators typically source. However, operators have seen changes in the availability of paper products and disposables.
Although more and more providers are providing more ready-to-eat options for their community’s catering plans, there are already some companies focused on doing so. This can include the companies working with Welltower, such as Priya Living and Luvo. Priya Living is a senior living community headquartered in San Francisco. Luvo is a frozen food company whose goal is also to provide affordable meals to seniors.
Priya Living is an active adult company with three open communities in its portfolio. Other companies working with Welltower have also established partnerships with a remote “cloud kitchen” service, which has been named Shef. Shef allows Priya residents to order a pre-packaged, refrigerated meal for between $8 and $10, and then deliver them directly to their room.
Luvo, on the other hand, is a producer of ready-to-eat frozen foods. The company, at this moment, owns 2 brands, Performance Kitchen Crafted and Performance Kitchen. It is working with Welltower to provide affordable meals to some communities under the REIT. Luvo also works with Welltower to provide nutritional, frozen food to seniors discharged from skilled care facilities owned by REIT.
Currently, Luvo has about 130 wholesale accounts and is committed to building a distribution network, which may include different senior lifestyle providers and grocers across the country.
The company is in talks about selling frozen foods in Whole Foods supermarkets. However, no products are currently being sold in those stores.
Although Luvo does not currently provide food to elderly residential areas targeted by COVID-19, CEO Christine Day believes that the company’s frozen foods are the ideal way to provide food to residents who are estranged from society.
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