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Behind the Line: Room for growth

Hyatt strengthens seafood focus

By Lauren Kramer
March 05, 2012

When you operate 450 restaurants in North America, small changes in buying habits can have big results. Hyatt’s 132 hotels contain establishments that run the gamut from full service to quick service to restaurant bars. Each one menus between three and six seafood items, or 20 percent of the offerings.

“Demand for seafood at our hotels has definitely increased over the last five years, up between 10 and 15 percent,” says Jim Milkovich, Hyatt’s corporate director of purchasing. “As a result, we’ve expanded what’s available. In the past you might have found just shrimp and salmon on the menu. Today we’ll offer four to five different species with various preparation styles, the selection changing seasonally.”

Hyatt North America spent $23.8 million on seafood in 2011. The company has seen its total seafood costs rise up to 10 percent since 2008.

Over the last two years Hyatt has made a concerted effort to educate its 2,500-plus chefs and cooks about seafood sustainability, using tools like educational webinars that teach chefs about aquaculture. The goal, Milkovich says, is for the chefs to go out and question their suppliers to ensure that the product they’re getting is being raised sustainably.

The company uses Avendra, a Rockville, Md., procurement services organization, to assist in finding vendors that meet its specifications. There are 35 different seafood suppliers in this group across North America. Those Hyatt-specific vendors, typically contracted for two to three years, include Santa Monica Seafood in southern California and Gary’s Seafood in southern Florida.

“The reality is that not all seafood suppliers have access to everything we need,” says Milkovich. “Generally we’re 90 percent compliant to our contracts, but there may be times when our vendors don’t have a product we want, and when that happens we’ll need to go someplace else.”

Hyatt chefs are encouraged to use the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, and the company has mandated that each menu features at least one item of sustainable seafood. “This year we’ll mandate that they have at least two, and we’ll keep growing the program. We look at this thing as a journey. Education is the foundation and we’re moving toward 100 percent compliance with sustainable seafood down the road,” Milkovich says. “And we’ve made changes.”

A year ago Milkovich and his team began working with CleanFish, a San Francisco-based broker for sustainable seafood producers. “We’ve told all our seafood vendors about CleanFish, as it gives them another source for access to sustainable seafood,” he says.

Hyatt’s policy is to promote sustainable seafood wherever possible, in menu descriptions, blurbs on the menu or through discussions between servers and guests.

Hyatt has 18 themed seafood restaurants across North America, including Catch at the Calgary Hyatt Regency and the four “Shor” seafood concept restaurants in Waikiki, Hawaii; Key West and Clearwater, Fla.; and Curacao. Oystercatchers in Tampa, Fla., is another of its highly popular seafood restaurants.

“The themed restaurants tend to do better than the more general hotel restaurants,” Milkovich says. “We’ll put them in markets where we’ve done market research and where we know there are opportunities for guests outside the hotel to visit those restaurants.

“If there’s a lot of local competition in the marketplace, and we know there’s a good chance someone will walk out of the hotel to go to easily accessible, well-known restaurants close to the hotel, chances are we’ll lose a lot of in-house guests to those restaurants. In those situations, our hotel restaurant will be more of a general restaurant that provides high-quality food that’s convenient for guests.”

Contributing Editor Lauren Kramer lives in British Columbia
March 2012 - SeaFood Business

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