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Conference Attendees Collaborated on Barriers and Solutions During the 2021 Presidents Conference


The Elementary and Secondary Foodservice Leadership Council collaboration sessions with operators, manufacturers, and various trading partners (FMCs and distributors, in some cases) revealed a number of challenges and opportunities within the segment. The following is a summary of the lively discussions that helped foster communication among conference attendees looking to build an efficient segment value chain.


Setting Up the Roundtable Discussions


The sessions began with a discussion of the framework - or pyramid - that was developed by the Foodservice Leadership Councils (FLC). The strategic plan for each Foodservice Leadership Council is to provide thought leadership through insights with supply-chain members, which in turn helps to optimize the value chain (or ecosystem) and bring value to all trading partners.


The Challenges Faced by Elementary and Secondary School Trading Partners


The challenges discussed by the group were broad, as shown in the table. What was inherent in the discussion was the impact of supply chain disruptions and labor shortages. All attendees agreed these were major, ongoing issues that will likely continue indefinitely in the current post-pandemic economy. 

In addition to these two primary challenges facing all segments, complexities with the USDA, fragmented regional/local regulations, and spotty communication issues were raised as barriers to a more seamless value chain.


Challenge Details / Comments

Supply Chain Volatility

  • The segment has experienced everything from out-of-stocks, to broadline driver shortages to menu reductions just to deal with the supply chain volatility.

Labor Engagement

  • The shortage of labor impacts schools differently than other onsite foodservice segments in that vaccinations are mandatory in certain districts for staff and the timeframe from interview to offer can stretch to six months.
USDA Regulations
  • USDA regulations vary by each state and within state regulations, district rules also exist. This is a barrier for manufacturers operating on a regional or national level.
  • Policies tend to change regularly on a district and state level in the public school system and manufacturers would like to see a better way to communicate changes in real time.
Free Meal Programs
  • There is general uncertainty from both operators and manufacturers regarding which programs qualify as “free” depending on locales and dayparts.
USDA Commodity Programs
  • Schools are short on commodity suppliers and manufacturers which limits procurement choices. Schools would like more commodity suppliers to enter the fray.


The Opportunities and Solutions with Foodservice


Unlike most segments, Elementary and Secondary Schools face a number of hurdles and bureaucracy due to the public nature of many schools that require government subsidies. The session’s solutions were limited and the group agreed more time should be spent discussing broader solutions in the upcoming collaborative sessions. Still, there were a few notable solutions the group devised to enable smoother relationships.


Solutions Details / Comments
Provide Clear Nutrition Guidelines
  • The example of sodium was brought up on a number of occasions as an issue for manufacturers to determine. Both parties (operators and suppliers) want to find a way to provide transparency for foods that meet strict guidelines.
Segment Playbook
  • From a manufacturer perspective, the segment is challenging to navigate. The group suggested creating a “how-to” playbook for suppliers to use when looking to penetrate or expand into a highly complex venue.
The Two “Ps” 
  • Product formulations and packaging are sometimes not clear from a sustainability and nutritional standpoint.
  • Playing off the segment guide, manufacturers proposed creating specific details on these attributes for operators to make informed decisions.
Simplify the Bid Process
  • As it stands now, bidding on business can be a drawn-out and time-consuming affair.
  • With the help of IFMA as a facilitator, the group would like to develop a program in future conferences to streamline the bid process.
  • The USDA investigated programs related to how money is distributed, and operators were not sure if CLOC’s interests were in line with schools.
  • There was a general mystery around this and CIL - Cash in Lieu of Commodities that few in the roundtables could address.


The Next Steps for the Councils


In January 2022, the five Foodservice Leadership Councils will reconvene in a live conversation, open to all members, and report on the status of the solutions shared in each session. IFMA will release the dates and times of each session at the end of December, 2021.



About the Foodservice Leadership Councils: In the fall of 2018, several leading operators across different industry segments approached IFMA looking for help. They felt their communities were underserved in the areas of insights, business best practices and more effective connectivity with manufacturers.  They also recognized the opportunity to learn from each other and the broader industry to better serve their customers.

For operators interested in learning more about the ongoing council work and access to upcoming resources, visit IFMAworld.com/council, or contact Jim Green at jgspartan@aol.com. You will receive updates on council activities and have complimentary access to whitepapers, webinars, and conferences.

The elementary & secondary collaborative discussion at Presidents Conference 2021 was sponsored by: