Enterprise Displays helps propel Accent Food Services

LWi Custom Cabinets and Enterprise Displays has built the hybrid micro market for Accent food services that got them written about in the recent issue of Austin Business Journal.

See the full article here:

Industry News Food & Lifestyle

Healthy pivot propels Central Texas vending-machine business to $145 million in revenue

One of Accent Food Service's "micro markets" — up to 300 possible items, including fresh salads and sandwiches.

A fast-sprouting company that feeds office workers — both from traditional vending machines and, increasingly, automated markets that resemble scaled-down bodegas — has a big, new headquarters under construction in Pflugerville.

But a recent buyout spree means Accent Food Services Inc. is also expanding nationally, even as massive shifts in office and healthy eating trends upend the vending business.

Accent Food has closed 13 buyouts since the start of the year, more than a deal per month, and added about 400 employees — growing from a regional business to one with operations in 10 states and Washington, D.C.

Its latest and largest acquisition closed earlier this month: Ace Vending Inc., based in the Phoenix area, has been absorbed into Accent Food's west division. Financial terms were not disclosed. It's all part of an aggressive growth plan mapped out by Accent Food President and CEO Josh Rosenberg.

"We were only in Texas as of January 1," he said. "We're now in three time zones and in some of the hottest geographies in the country."

With the backing of Audax Private Equity, which bought it in 2016, Accent Food has scoured the nation looking for acquisitions. Other buyouts have included Merrifield Vending in Virginia and Black Tie Services in Maryland.

Rosenberg is a former vice president of national sales at Coca-Cola Refreshments USA Inc., a distribution subsidiary of Coca-Cola Co. He joined Accent Food as vice president of sales in September 2013 and was promoted to CEO in December 2014. Earlier this year he was named one of the QuantumShift Top Entrepreneurs in America, a list of 40 of inspiring private-company leaders put together by KPMG LLP and the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. Alan Knitowski, co-founder and CEO of Austin's Phunware Inc., was also honored.

Under Rosenberg's leadership, Accent Food has grown annual revenue from $40 million to $145 million. He expects that to surpass $300 million by 2021. The company has more than 700 total employees.

"The biggest challenge is trying not to take our eyes off our home turf — whether it's supporting our employees, our customers or protecting or brand — while trying to expand and establish an identity in these other parts of country," he said.

Shifting fortunes

Accent Food Services was founded in 1994 as a vending-machine company. It still stocks, cleans and maintains more than 25,000 vending machines nationwide.

But as workers have clamored for healthier snacks and lunches, companies such as Accent Food ran into declining sales.

"The old stigma is that you would get a high-calorie soft drink and high-calorie candy bar or honey bun [at a vending machine]," Rosenberg. "We had alienated much of the consumer base."

Accent Food responded by diversifying into other food segments, including with what it calls "micro markets" — self-checkout areas stocked with more than 300 unique items, including fresh sandwiches and salads.

About 35 percent of Accent Food's revenue now comes from the fresh food in its micro markets, Rosenberg said. That segment is growing fastest, with six to eight new markets opening per week, while vending machine revenue is relatively flat.

By designing an app where customers can pay for food without cash, coins or a credit card, and where they can donate 1.5 percent of the sale to a charity, Accent Food Services has also tapped into consumer technology trends. That "allows us to be there at right time and the right place, to meet consumers' need in the way they want them to be met," Rosenberg said.

Accent Food has about 12,000 customers, including downtown Austin towers such as the one at Fifth and Lavaca streets that houses Austin Business Journal. Even bigger plans are in the offing, including corporate catering services.

Accent Food has invested a significant sum on its expansion. That includes opening four regional commissaries where fresh food is prepped daily for the micro markets.

"It's really been a complete transformation and investment in people and resources," Rosenberg said. "We had to recreate the entire way we think, act and do."

Real estate moves

In Central Texas, Accent Foods hopes to move in March into its new $8 million headquarters. It broke ground in August on the 55,000-square-foot building at 2919 A.W. Grimes Blvd., in a mixed residential and industrial area just south of the State Highway 45 toll road. It is currently based three miles to the south at 16209 Central Commerce Drive, just outside Pflugerville city limits.

Accent Food has about 80 employees at its corporate offices. The new HQ will eventually grow to up to 150 workers, Rosenberg said.

The city of Pflugerville will pay Accent Food up to $150,000 in incentives for the move, split into five annual grants of $30,000 apiece. Go here for more details on in the agreement, including the hiring levels the company needs to meet for the incentives.

"Business recruitment is a difficult enterprise, but when a community is able to land a company with a smart, fast-growth business providing jobs and capital investment that has an equally strong focus on community, it is a win for Pflugerville, our regional neighbors and the state of Texas," Amy Madison, executive director of the Pflugerville Community Development Corp., said in an email.

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