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Navigating a Changing Landscape

IFMA hosted over 900 foodservice manufacturers, operators, distributors, and supporters for three info-packed days at its annual Marketing and Sales Conference. At the virtual event, dozens of speakers in nearly 30 sessions shared expertise, outlined challenges, brought new solutions to light, and educated marketing and sales foodservice professionals on the current state of the industry and its projected future.


Throughout the conference, the voice of the operator was highlighted. That included several panel discussions with leaders from across IFMA’s Foodservice Leadership Councils. These experts provided great insights into different segments of the foodservice business, representing over 150 operators from those segments.



As Jack Li of Datassential said on Day One of the event, “We’re facing a three-headed monster: Labor, Supply, and Inflation.” The shadow of that monster passed through many of the sessions at the conference. But the focus wasn’t doom and gloom. Many speakers expressed cautious optimism about the future and the power of strengthening connections across the industry.


IFMA’s just-released Foodservice 2023 Forecast – outlined for the first time at the conference and hosted on the IFMA ScopeTM platform – reports that although economic recession will somewhat stunt consumer demand in 2023, unemployment will remain low and pent-up demand from the COVID pandemic will keep foodservice relatively solid.


The Forecast projects that operator spend in the foodservice industry will decline by 0.1 percent, considered flat on a real basis, in 2023 compared to 2022. Some segments will see real growth next year: lodging and the education segments (K-12 and Colleges & Universities) in particular. Read more about the Forecast >>



World Bank Senior Economist, Jongrim Ha, opened Day Two with an overview of global forces driving our economic downturn. He explained that today’s inflation is comparable to that of the 1970s and early 1980s. Looking ahead, global inflation is expected to peak this year and then decline slightly through mid-2023 as global growth slows, monetary policy tightens, commodity prices level off, and supply bottlenecks ease. Overall, collaborative global policies and supporting a green, resilient, and inclusive recovery can make a difference.



Day Three opened with industry leaders active from two critical areas: sustainability and foodservice sales agencies. In a session titled Investing in Sustainability, Kendra Levine, Head of U.S. Sustainability at McDonald's, outlined the chain’s commitment to identify “what we can leverage to maximize our ability to do good for the planet and for communities.”


Sophie Egan, Senior Advisor for Sustainable Food Systems at Stanford University, described their efforts and added, “With every meal our students eat, we have a chance to improve the planet.” Both McDonald’s and Stanford have identified performance goals for building more responsible food sourcing, reducing deforestation, ensuring thriving oceans, and including diversity, equity, and inclusion in their partnerships.


During Market Insights from a Sales Agency Perspective, five active members from the Foodservice Sales & Marketing Association (FMSA) discussed what they’re seeing from their customers and gave advice on working successfully with a sales agency. As Eric Martin of Food Sales East explained, “We want to be up to speed with what’s going on internally with our manufacturer customers...to maximize the relationship, stay in touch. The move to open communications can solve complex issues.”


Throughout all three days of the Marketing & Sales Conference, targeted break-out sessions were offered on topics like: Lessons from the Great Recession, Adaptive Marketing & Sales Strategies, Negotiating in Times of Inflation, and The Role of Influencers. Attendees heard directly from distributor leaders and received brand new insights on distribution optimization unveiled from IFMA’s Go-to-Market Planning Program. All these, as well as the General Sessions, were recorded for registered attendees to access and review.


The conference came to a close with a conversation between IFMA President & CEO, Phil Kafarakis and Sysco’s Chief Diversity & Culture Officer, Adrienne Trimble on attracting and retaining labor. “Remember,” she said, “we can’t service our customers well if we don’t care for our employees.”


Overall, the conference gave attendees the tools to make that proverbial three-headed monster of challenges (Labor, Inflation, Supply) easier to manage. Many of the topics covered at the conference will be further examined at IFMA’s Presidents Conference in November.

For more on that and other IFMA events, including webinars, visit the Events section >>