December 1, 2023: The International Foodservice Manufacturers Association’s (IFMA) recent Presidents Conference ran from November 5 to 7 and brought to life its theme of Evolution Empowered. The agenda explored change and evolution from global, regional, local, and household perspectives; speakers came from every segment of the food-away-from-home to provide candid assessments of the industry; and sessions aimed to empower attendees with knowledge and tools to advance their businesses.  



Taking place in Scottsdale, Arizona the 2023 Presidents Conference saw its attendance a full 15 percent above last year’s record numbers. “ IFMA is the organization that brings the whole industry together,” explained IFMA President and CEO, Phil Kafarakis, “ We definitely saw that at this year’s conference. It’s clear that increased collaboration across the industry benefits everyone and IFMA is dedicated to expanding opportunities for cross-industry programs and events.”    



In fact, IFMA announced sweeping changes to its membership during the conference. Beginning in 2024, the association will move from two membership categories to four: manufacturers, service providers, the supply chain, and foodservice operators. More on the new IFMA can be found in its strategic plan, Level Up 2027.




General sessions started on Monday with a global economic perspective from Dr. Pippa Malmgren, an internationally regarded financial authority and former advisor to President George W. Bush, the British Prime Minister, and the National Economic Council.  




She began by explaining, “There is a lot of uncertainty in the headlines: inflation and war, etc., but we need to look at the larger picture.” Dr. Malmgren remains optimistic about the future and she shared a number of positive developments with conference attendees.  




The speakers following Dr. Malmgren gave their observations and predictions a tighter focus, beginning with The Bost on Consulting Group’s Managing Director and Partner, Valerie Gong who provided insights into today’s foodservice industry.  



Online consumption that grew during the pandemic is here to stay,” she said. “Delivery aggregators have matured to a powerful segment. And delivery appeals to all income levels in all regions. We’re also finding that consumers are more channel loyal to the delivery service than brand loyal to operators. ”     


Looking ahead, Gong predicted, “The biggest things coming include offering customers more personalization and adding robotics nearly everywhere – packaging, delivery, food prep, and order processing. We'll see more Al used to connect tech and digital information across the enterprise. Innovation will accelerate, think drones and virtual reality.”    



Additional insights on food-away-from-home came from Chris Ritter of Mastercard Advisors’ Data & Services. Mastercard compiles up-to-date info on holistic consumers behaviors. This pulse data provides an accurate view of retail spending and economic forces. According to Ritter, “Since the pandemic, consumers have shifted from buying goods to buying experiences and that seems to be holding strong. Foodservice sales may be slowing down throughout the year but they’re still up from last year.”  



A cross-industry panel discussion rounded out Monday’s general session. Panelists included: 

  • CEO at Dot Foods, Dick Tracy  
  • SVP & Chief Merchandising Officer at Sysco, Victoria Gutierrez    
  • SVP of Supply Chain & Menu Innovation at Shake Shack, Jeff Amoscato  
  • President & CEO of Kerry North America, Oliver Kelly  


With these leaders from major segments of the industry together to address common concerns, the conversation was fascinating and free-flowing. Some notable remarks:


Gutierrez: “Sysco’s ‘super power’ is our scale, we're leveraging that to everyone’s benefit by bringing our big suppliers and customers into the same room with us to address challenges.” 

Kelly : “We're setting up better customer-facing portals. We all know we’re in the midst of digital transformation across the industry.”

Tracy: Dot is working to better manage automation and our data so our customers get just what they want – a win-win.”   

Amoscato: “Since 2020, we've been through a series of transformations, like adding drive-thru to some of our operations. Keeping up with customers is the key.” 



New technologies were spotlighted at the event’s Tech Showcase on Sunday and Monday. Several companies were on-hand to share their new approaches to business challenges. They spoke with attendees one-on-one, answered specific questions and gave demos.    



Among the conference attendees were 50 + ‘Next Gen Execs’ — individuals identified by their companies as the executive leaders of tomorrow. 2023 marks the second year for this program which provide s emerging leaders multiple opportunities to build relationships with industry executives across segments. Next Gen Execs cohort s also have a hand in program content throughout the year.  



The 2024 IFMA Board of Directors was introduced on Tuesday morning. As in coming 2024 Board Chair, Ben Wexler, shared, “We have a robust cross-section of manufacturers represented, a nd I look forward to working with each of them in the coming year.” More on the 2024 board here.



Two leaders from IFMA peer organizations then shared their perspectives on the evolution of the shared industry. International Foodservice Distributors Association (IFDA) President and CEO, Mark Allen, explained “We have a focus on advocacy, which is extremely important, but a big interest of IFDA members is in new technologies and education. We want to elevate our people and help them build careers in our industry.”   



Women are back stronger than ever in the workforce,” shared W omen ’ s Foodservice Forum ( WFF ) President and CEO,   Therese Gearhart. “ To help all women achieve success in the workplace requires strong support. We are looking for allies across the industry.


Next came two sessions that explored the future of business in food-away-from-home. IFMA’s five Foodservice Leadership Councils (FLCs) teased the tools they created over the past year to enable better collaboration across their segment’s ecosystem. 



The work pro vide s perspective and guidance for how to work within each segment — providing clear direction and advice on how best to partner and pr ovid e support.


Access the guidebooks and read more here .



Then, Executive Vice President of Technology at O lo, Priya T hinagar, shared a view of the Restaurant of the Future, with a focus on advances in technology.



As she explained, “We're in the midst of building data that creates a 360 degree view of our guests. Personalized experiences are being created. Al is top of the mind everywhere and that’s a good thing — with good input, Al can create content and be predictive for order delivery. ”  



Closing out the Tuesday general session was a powerful conversation with former Unilever CEO, Paul Polman. Polman now works to accelerate action by business to achieve UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development, which he helped develop. A discussion between Polman and IFMA’s CEO was recorded a few days prior to the conference.  



A variety of education sessions and break-outs took place throughout the conference. These addressed major issues facing the industry, including new trends in technology, data integrity, trade spend, business continuity, regulations, and profit optimization.  



Several additional opportunities for networking and sharing experiences were on the agenda throughout Presidents Conference. On Sunday, a festive culinary-focused outdoor reception was held on the resort property and Monday evening brought everyone together to recognize six industry leaders with IF MA industry awards. See more on the awards here.



Fun opportunities to experiment with food and beverage prep were also provided at the conference. Three interactive experiences were held on Monday afternoon : a bacon experience — focused on all the things bacon – an interactive smoked mixology session using smoke-flavor in cocktails and mocktails, and an artisan tortilla - making experience using authentic Mexican ingredients.  



The event’s Tuesday afternoon golf scramble raised funds for the IFMA Education Foundation. This money will go toward supporting scholarships and stipends for students coming into the industry.  



Phil Kafarakis, IFMA’s President & CEO, thanked attendees for their engagement with the association and promised them, “Next year at the 2024 Presidents Conference, you can count on IFMA being larger, more inclusive, more diverse, and more deeply engaged across the food-away-from-home ecosystem than ever in our history. We’re standing at a new trailhead and the path ahead isn’t just about IFMA changing, it’s about our shared journey to a range of new opportunities.”  



The next IFMA Presidents Conference will be held November 3- 5, 2024, in Scottsdale, AZ.