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In the fall of 2018, leading operators across five operator 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.


Recently, foodservice operator leaders Mary Cooley from Pennswood Village, Kevin Vos from Spectrum Health, and Dan Henroid from UCSF discussed critical issues facing foodservice providers in the healthcare segment.


Some of the key topics covered in the webinar included a return to self-service stations, supply chain constraints, labor shortages and an update on the critical issues the healthcare operator committee is managing.


Self-Service Makes a Return

Panelists are seeing a marked business improvement in healthcare foodservice compared to last year, largely by reopening foodservice areas and welcoming back visitors. “Three weeks ago we returned to self-service – those are typically thought of as coffee, beverage stations or salad bars,” said Kevin Vos of Spectrum Health. “It was a very welcome return.”


The total number of meals offered are still not to pre-Covid levels, panelists said, which is a reflection of a decline in staff and employee meals. The declines are attributed to employees that are still working remotely periodically, but the panelists expect staff to begin returning through early fall.


Product Availability is a Challenge

With the effects of the pandemic still at play in certain U.S. regions, the movement and availability of products continue to hamper the healthcare segment. “We had a blueberry festival going on and we couldn’t get blueberries,” said Cooley. “We’re in New Jersey – the blueberry capital - and yet we were having very unusual supply issues,” she added. (Cooley did add she received the blueberry shipment on the day of the festival.)


Supply chain issues will be part of the future, panelists acknowledged, but there are other complexities in healthcare that exist even when products are scarce.  For example, there are strict diet guidelines healthcare facilities must follow and substitutes are sometimes unavailable. “This becomes most critical on the patient-feeding side,” according to Dan Henroid of UCSF.


Staff Recruitment and Retention Hampers Healthcare

Similar to nearly all foodservice industry segments, a labor shortage has forced healthcare operators to slim down menus based on bare-bones kitchen staff. “We’ve figured out we need to have a leaner kitchen operation,” Henroid estimated. “On the patient dining side we are doing 1,500 meals across three hospitals daily,” and that means Henroid and his staff need to be creative with what supplies and labor they do have.


Prepared Foods Versus Made-In-House Questions

Many operators have reduced made-to-order items on the menu or even reduced the number of ingredients needed for particular meals. Prepared and ready-to-eat foods have also been explored.


“It’s an ongoing discussion we have – should we make this item or should we buy this item?” Henroid added. Others are looking to channel partners to help produce items that labor shortages have impacted.


Committee Update

The Healthcare strategic plan has three objectives with a committee dedicated to each. On select committees, operators work collaboratively with leading foodservice manufacturers to achieve their business goals.


At the close of the session, panelists delivered an update on the three committee initiatives.


Product Concept Committee Update: One of the initiatives discussed by Cooley was the “Ultimate Bowl Program.” This idea would provide guidance from menu to marketing to food prep. The committee provided parameters to manufacturers who would deliver a turn-key solution on ingredients, pricing and training..


Ecosystem Committee Update: This committee has been pursuing three bodies of work: Bringing hard science forward to for the betterment of all segments and the industry at large., ecosystem training for their current and new employees and senior management and driving foodservice channel efficiency and effectiveness. The committee looks at the intermediaries in the value chain – GPOs, distributors, manufacturers – and locates efficiencies and seeks improvements.


Share Group Committee Update: With the labor shortages, the Healthcare Share Group has been discussing ways to keep wages “up-market” with other foodservice segments to attract and retain staff. The committee is also exploring how healthcare foodservice can be the segment of choice by candidates, through sign-on bonuses, retention bonuses and benefits.


The next round of committee webinars will be held in October 2021 with updates on opportunities, challenges and committee initiatives.

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.