Operating under the auspices of the International Foodservice Manufacturer’s Association (IFMA), a small group of foodservice professionals has been happily collaborating across competitive lines for the past three years. They came to call themselves the Bowl Program.  

The group was formed by IFMA’s Healthcare Foodservice Leadership Council. They came together, brought in food manufacturers to share products from their proprietary lines, and brainstormed on how to create a set of menu items that would serve more than the members of the team. The cross-functional, innovative approach they took involved chefs, product sales reps, marketers, distributors, and more. 
The Bowl Program aims to provide products for healthcare facilities. And, yes, they started from the place of knowing that “hospital food” is often a synonym for awful food. In the initial conversations they held, they realized that what they needed was a set of menu items that did not require a lot of labor, could fit in with current offerings, and would not need corporate investment or extra pantry space.  

The purpose of the project was for healthcare foodservice operators to partner with IFMA manufacturer members and develop bowl-based menu items that could be served at healthcare facilities. Participants came from a range of companies, including: Nestlé Professional, Wayne Sanderson, Hormel, Supherbfarms, Be Compostable, St. Jude’s, MMH Health, and Gundersen Health.  

Getting buy-in from across companies was a challenge for the Project Team. The IFMA connection became essential. Without a neutral third party acting as host and arbiter for the entire project, it would have been much more difficult to get the various organizations willing to commit and stay the course.  
The foodservice manufacturers set aside competitiveness and determined what each could bring to the project. Specific products from each contributed to the bowls. All pledged their efforts to the same goal: To create delicious and nutritious bowls that provide a solution to the labor challenges in healthcare.  
The healthcare professionals and foodservice manufacturers agreed on the “must-haves” for the project. The concepts had to easily translate into physical products. Nutritional guidelines were developed and shared. Ingredients needed to be “flexible,” to be able to be utilized in more than one foodservice offering. 
“We started with about 20 menu bowl ideas, everything from ‘American Comfort’ to ‘Plant-Based’” said team member Matt Obergfell from Hormel. “After consulting with the healthcare teams, we worked to simplify recipes, removing terms like ‘salt to taste’ in favor of actual measurements - things like that. We want to offer the best products possible that are super-easy to execute.” 
Seven bowls were eventually created through collaboration and trust between the foodservice manufacturers and healthcare professionals. Each bowl includes standard operating procedures for prep work and station setup, recipes, assembly and nutritional information. None of the bowls exceed 600 calories. Rollout has begun. 
Speaking for IFMA, Charlie McConnell, Senior Director of Insights & Best Practices, said, “We believe bringing the industry together to meet challenges and build solutions like these healthy bowls is part of our mandate.  
“This project has demonstrated the power of IFMA as a convener and coordinator for the larger industry. We hope to build on the Bowl Program model, engage other decision-makers from across the food industry in addressing other challenges. IFMA truly serves our industry and helps our industry serve the larger community.”