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The healthcare segment has been one of the unique stories of 2020. While the Covid-19 pandemic grinded industry traffic to a halt, the healthcare segment was the recipient of overcrowded facilities, staff shortages, and a scarcity of food supply. 

While Covid-19 was negatively correlated to the general foodservice industry, healthcare was just the opposite. This forced industry leaders to quicken plans for contingencies that include business-process maximization, product innovation, and best-practice collaboration with other foodservice segments. 

“In all likelihood, Covid will be a footnote,” said Kevin Vos of Spectrum Health. “When our great grandchildren think about 2020 they will remember the pandemic just as little as we remembered the Spanish Flu in the 1920s. But it’s a crisis for us today.” 

Vos said that pandemics and natural disasters are “accelerants” or intensifiers of business evolution and was the impetus of what the Council has termed maximizing the segment “Ecosystem.” 


The Ecosystem: Streamlining the Healthcare Value Chain


In short, the Ecosystem encompasses all trading partners in the healthcare value chain - including brokers, distributors, GPOs, and manufacturers. The goals of the initiative are to improve communication and foster transparency in order to streamline the supply chain. “We actually learned something from Covid-19 as it forced us to develop new tactics and ideas for overcoming some of the unexpected hurdles we face,” Vos said. 


Ecosystem Initiatives and Responses

Processes Comments
Segment Stakeholder Education Classroom-style training programs designed to inform and educate healthcare c-suite executives, industry stakeholders, and rising healthcare professionals on the nuances of healthcare foodservice.
Go-To Source for Dietetics and Nutrition Expertise

Termed “Bringing Science Forward,” the Council is sharing its knowledge of dietetics and nutrition that other segments may not possess to create a go-to inventory of health and wellness 

Examples of best-practice programs are hydration initiatives, farmers’ markets, medically-tailored meals, etc. 

Supply Chain Efficiencies Improving business process communication, transparency and trust among segment trading partners, including GPOs, brokers, manufacturers, and distributors. 


“Treat Us Like a National Chain Customer”


“One of the things we found in terms of products in our segment is there is a large discrepancy with what we sample and what actually ends up on our menu,” said Michael Vetro of St. Jude’s Hospital. 

Vetro said that the Council is asking its manufacturers to prioritize the healthcare segment in the same way they handle national chains. 

“We have asked manufacturers to help us improve development and menu execution by coming to the table with ideas relevant only to us,” Vetro said of the healthcare segment. The idea is that manufacturers will collaborate earlier in the development process by utilizing culinary teams, internal insights, and “vast resources” to improve the viability of a product’s success.  

This, in turn, reduces opportunity costs and increases the chances a new product will be “pulled through” the supply chain and carried on distributors’ trucks instead of “dying on the vine.” 


The “Ultimate Bowl” Program


Sara Ashbeck of Gundersen Health said one of the successful outcomes of product-development collaboration with manufacturers has been the “Ultimate Bowl '' program. 

“It’s a complete program offering menu rotation, training materials, the recipes - along with ingredients we can cross-utilize.” Gunderson explained. “With this program we’re hoping to create efficiencies through a standardized process that can be applied across all the segment Councils.” 

Gunderson said that healthcare professionals’ time is extremely scarce, and turn-key solutions that are on-target and relevant are critical - particularly during the pandemic. 


Labor Remains Troublesome, But Staff Meals Ticking Upward


In the short-term, healthcare operators do not foresee any marked improvement in product and staff shortages. “We have one job seeker for every 28 openings,” said Vos. “So retaining and recruiting has been a number one priority for us.” 

One of the added hurdles to an already-tight market has been the mandatory vaccines for healthcare workers, which operators are taking as a “wait-and-see” approach.  

On the brighter side, healthcare operators said they are slowly returning to pre-pandemic patient-meal volumes, though the increases have been largely attributed to staff and faculty meals. 

“Even with the lack of visitor volume, I’d say [the increases] are pretty darn good compared to the other segments,” Vos said.



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.