CHICAGO, May 5, 2021 — During the week of April 26, 2021, IFMA held daily sessions for its members and foodservice professionals to participate in online, live conversations featuring leaders from various foodservice segments.
Five operator councils - representing five foodservice segments - meet monthly to discuss industry challenges and solutions and are actively working through initiatives to benefit their individual segments and the industry at large. Each quarter, three representatives serve as panelists to share the results with IFMA members.
In April’s sessions, the councils shared current conditions, operational challenges, key initiatives, and segment outlook. What follows are the highlights from each of these sessions.
Dan Ellnor of Jefferson County schools in Kentucky captured the essence of K-12 foodservice when he described the channel over the past year as a “banana-shaped curve.” “We came to a screeching halt in March, April, and May last year and had more inventory than we could store,” Ellnor said. “We now expect to return to 2019 levels with students returning in the summer.”
The panelists also described shortages of product and labor ultimately tied to the pandemic, which will likely drive up costs. For the remainder of 2021, the council said it will be working closely with the USDA to help lobby for additional funding, and will also focus on product innovation and best-practice collaboration.
K-12 Council April Panelists: Dan Ellnor from Jefferson County (KY) Schools, Dan Gorman from Montague / Whitehall Public Schools (MI), and Doug Davis from Burlington School Food Project (VT)
College and University Council
Panelists from Yale, Notre Dame, and Virginia Tech shared in detail the uncertainty surrounding the planned return of students in the fall of 2021. “We need to all practice agile management,” said Rafi Taherian of Yale, adding that the uncertainty of communal dining, multiple service systems, all-you-care-to-eat, and staffing will all require flexibility.
The group added that its initiatives for the year include a strong collaboration with manufacturers, a dedicated focus on product development, and continued use of share groups to communicate best practices among college and university operators.
College and University Council April Panelists: Ted Faulker from Virginia Tech, Chris Avayasinghe from Notre Dame, and Rafi Taherian from Yale University.
Segment Councils Shared Top Challenges and Opportunities
Challenges and Opportunities Presented
● Drop-in cafeteria feeding
● Automation and “micromarket” solutions
● Intimacy by way of chef and nutritionist visiting guests for recipes to address needs
College and University
● Waste and sustainability of packaging post-Covid
● Mobile ordering, delivery, and hybrid systems
● Consolidation of service systems
● Agile management in the short-term
● Impact of Covid on all-you-care-to-eat future
● USDA extensions on funding through June 22, 2021
● Expansion of classroom dining, but uncertainty of communal dining.
● Closing the “learning gap” from Covid-19 by summer sessions, which will spike usage and labor needs
Business & Industry
● Working from home unpredictability
● Reviewing and consolidating layouts of current service systems
● Promoting “people contact” for those in the office to help build excitement for dining and camaraderie
● Major shortages of product
● Increased labor and food costs
● Timeliness of order has rivaled accuracy of order in terms of top patron importance
● Increased importance of sustainable packaging driven by accelerated delivery demand
● Exploration and expansion of offsite and cloud kitchens
Business and Industry Council
Representatives from Wells Fargo and Credit Suisse described some of the major disruptions working from home has had on the B&I segment. The council said they envision hybrid working becoming more common in the American workplace, and the solution, they contend, is to create an environment that promotes socialization. “People are social - they’re tired of eating lunch at their desks,” said Dan Morgan of Wells Fargo. “We need to find a way to make dining communal and exciting.”
To best face the challenges and opportunities within the next 12-18 months, the B&I sub-committees are looking to build consumer value and explore the ecosystem (from farm to table) to elucidate efficiencies across trading partners and to institute share groups that will illuminate ideas for best practices.
Business and Industry April Panelists: Dan Cramer from CBRE at Credit Suisse, and Dan Moran and Justin Williams from Wells Fargo.
The healthcare segment has been one of the brighter spots in foodservice but it has not been unscathed by the pandemic. “While patient feeding remained intact, we saw a tremendous drop in transactions in our cafeteria,” said panelist Michael Vetro of St. Jude’s Hospital in Memphis.
Veronica McLymont of Sloan Kettering and Cheryl Shimmin of the Kettering (Ohio) Health Network cited similar challenges, including the increased usage of technology - by way of micromarkets (touchless transactions) for employee feeding and robotic “tugs” that deliver food to offset staff shortages and to protect staff.
Over the next year, the healthcare council’s initiatives are to share best-practice information among segment peers, enhance innovation and product development to meet the changing demands of patients and staff, and to achieve operational efficiencies through staff training, food safety, and supply-chain optimization.
Healthcare Council April Panelists: Veronica McLymont from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Michael Vetro from St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and Cheryl Shimmin from Kettering Health Network.
Small and Medium-Sized Chain Restaurants Council
The restaurant council is composed of both small and medium-sized chains. During the April discussion, the panelists lamented supply chain shortages, a dearth of truck drivers, and the differences between free-standing units and those located within malls.
“We saw an increase in delivery during the pandemic, but we struggled with our mall locations for a number of reasons,” said Paul Damico of GFG Management, which includes QSR concepts such as Round Table Pizza, Great American Cookies, and Marble Slab Creamery. “Servicing curbside customers when we’re located on the second floor was a serious challenge,” Damico added. This, Damico said, was the primary reason his patrons considered the timeliness of delivery/pick-up as a more important satisfaction factor than the accuracy of the order “which is really amazing if you think about it.”
All panelists agreed that the pandemic allowed them the time necessary to assess optimal layouts and back-of-house efficiency, and to reduce waste. “I guess this would be the silver lining, if you want to call it that,” quipped Richard Pineda of Pielogy.
The restaurant council’s 2021 initiatives are centered around best practices in the segment, which include a focused effort on consumer needs, innovative service models, BOH preparation efficiency, supply chain optimization, and employee training and retention.
Similar to the other committees, the restaurant council will also look to enhance service and production innovation through peer share groups.
Restaurants Council April Panelists: Richard Pineda from Pieology, Paul Damico from GFG Management and William Eudy from McAlister's Deli.