In early August, the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association (IFMA) hosted more than 1,200 food-away-from-home industry manufacturers, operators, supply chain professionals, and supporters for three info-packed days at its virtual marketing and sales conference.  


IFMA leveraged the conference this year to take a more holistic approach to marketing and sales. As IFMA’s SVP of Member Value Mike Schwartz said in his opening remarks, “We saw the need to breakthrough some old ways of doing things to take a fresh look at our industry and meet you where you are today. Although we as IFMA have been around for 70+ years, we’re learning new things, setting new strategies, and committing to bringing together the entire food-away-from-home industry.”  


The conference agenda was developed by a committee of about 60 peers from across industry segments. An opening session on the power of storytelling set the tone and sessions followed on such topical interests as AI, operators’ sustainability needs, FSMA 204, and data from the very latest forecasts for 2024. The planning committee mandate was to build an actionable agenda full of fresh data, strategic insights, case studies, and key learnings.   


As Planning Committee Chair, Erin Buntin of Schreiber Foods said on Day One of the event, “All of us are navigating some level of business uncertainty, with changing consumer behaviors, economic pressures, labor and supply chain challenges, and many other factors – it's time to examine new ways to breakthrough the clutter.”   


IFMA’s just-released foodservice 2024 forecast – outlined for the first time at the conference and hosted on the IFMA Scope℠ platform – predicts that although the projection is for relatively flat growth in 2024 in real terms, the industry will see inflation of five percent. This means most foodservice segments will spend more in 2024 than they did in 2023 due to the higher cost of goods. Read more about the forecast here.


In Day Two’s general session, Circana’s Senior VP of Foodservice David Portalatin presented on The Future of Business Lunch , noting hope for the industry’s future. As Portalatin reported, “We do see a gradual shift back to foodservice. Visits to foodservice are up almost one percent year-to-date. That is solid momentum and reason for optimism.”  


Leaders from the operator segments represented in IFMA’s Foodservice Leadership Councils (FLCs) presented on Tackling Key Drivers from Five Foodservice Segments.  They reviewed short guides and toolkits that are being developed to help manufacturers collaborate more productively with them on today's challenges . These actionable guides will be unveiled at the association’s Presidents Conference in Scottsdale this November. 


In a session on operators’ sustainability needs, of prime interest to manufacturers looking to better support their customers, Rebecca Hurst of the Cheesecake Factory said, “We're hearing more from consumers. They're more aware of what restaurants have committed to and want to know what actions we’re taking.” Corey Blumenthal from Shake Shack added, “Basically, we know that sustainability is just good business. And small changes can add up to a big change that benefits everyone.”    


Throughout all three days of the conference, targeted breakout sessions were offered on topics like: Harnessing the Power of AI, FSMA’s 204 Rule, The Changing C-Store Foodservice Channel , Perfecting the Sales Presentation, Bringing a Brand to Life, Business Development and Prospecting , and Proposed K-12 Regulations: What You Need to Know .  All the breakouts and general sessions were recorded for registered attendees to access and review at their leisure. Through November 1, 2023.  


The conference came to a close with a conversation between IFMA President & CEO, Phil Kafarakis and two industry executives who serve on IFMA’s board: Kristin Bird of T. Marzetti and Tim Wayne of J.M. Smuckers. Speaking on Lessons from Leaders , both shared their career journeys a nd gave some advice for aspiring industry leaders.  


Wayne spoke about the highs and the lows of being in a leadership role, and when it comes to those lows, he advised: “As for getting through failure: don't assign blame. Recognize the situation and rally for solutions. Don't be afraid of risks. Fail fast and cheap and then don't waste it – learn from it.”    


Bird shared, “I always wanted to run a business so I took opportunities to take on the widest range of roles that would add up to a fuller experience. I did receive some external prompts & guidance. In hindsight I should have gone further. When you think about your career, I think it’s productive to try to push your thinking to go even further.”  


Overall, the conference pushed attendees to go further and examine new ways to get it done. Many of the topics covered at the conference will be in more depth at IFMA’s Presidents Conference in November.  


IFMA has been working on some big plans for the future that will be revealed at the 2023 Presidents Conference. Starting next year, IFMA will offer more companies ways to be connected with their member benefits. IFMA is committed to being a gathering place for ideas and innovations that benefit all segments of food-away-from-home.  


For more on that and other IFMA events, including webinars, click here.