Key Takeaways from the IFMA Presidents Conference

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I had the wonderful opportunity to once again attend and participate in IFMA’s Presidents Conference recently held in Scottsdale, Arizona. While the weather was great, the presenters and the panelists were even better. They shared some tremendous insights and perspectives that I thought were highly valuable. Chain executives, food manufacturer executives, and key research and consulting groups like Technomic, Datassentials, The Partnering Group and the Boston Consulting Group communicated some very good food for thought (pun intended). There were a number of great takeaways from this conference — much more than can be covered here — but let me share my top three, each followed by a question to help you assess your own situation.

  1. Change is the only constant in the world of foodservice, so maintain your vigilance on emerging trends.

Just look around you, as we were reminded in the conference, and see all the new concepts and menu items that are popping up to cater to the ever increasing demanding consumer. Whether its hyper-local sourcing, environmental sustainability, food on demand developments or new ways to define “healthy,” food manufacturers and equipment manufacturers must stay in touch with their customers’ customers and understand the influences that they will have on the operators. So the question is, “What is your company doing to effectively read the ‘tea leaves’ and stay relevant?”

  1. Collaboration is essential for all parties to win.

Collaboration has been a significant topic and focus over the past few years within IFMA ranks as all parties understand the criticality of it. For operators to be as successful as they would like to be, they need their food manufacturing suppliers and channel members to be very resourceful. In turn, they can only be resourceful if the operators “open up” and share valuable insights about their business and needs. Trust is a huge factor among all parties, especially for the operators who at times can feel exposed and vulnerable if they share too much information. While most manufacturers long for a strategic level of collaboration (versus transactional), they must be intentional and establish a highly effective process to enhance collaboration and create an environment of trust to be a true strategic partner. So the question is, “What is your company doing to establish a process for enhanced collaboration and an environment of trust to become that strategic partner you want to be?”

  1. An innovative culture can be a game changer.

In an excellent presentation, Paul Brown (CEO of Arby’s) shared his journey of evolving Arby’s into what it is today. As a well-established (but tired and broken) brand a few years ago, Paul realized that in such an established company, you can’t rely on “revolutionary big bets” to make the needed changes. What’s needed is to “embed innovation into the business culture so that change can happen organically, systematically and gradually” to make significant headway. There were three important things that the company did to accomplish this, and while not rocket science, these three items have “sparked their culture of innovation:”

  • Build strong connections with key stakeholders (including franchisees and customers)
  • Define and ensure commitment to a clear purpose and vision for the brand
  • Instill a belief that there is always a better way—to keep looking for it by asking great questions

So how is this working for Arby’s? How about 18 consecutive quarters of same store sales growth? So the question is, “How innovative is your culture and what should you do to make your brand more desirable in a tough marketing environment?”

While there were many other great points made at the conference, I was reminded once again about the criticality of the fundamentals; fundamentals like understanding the ever changing foodservice landscape, being highly collaborative with your customers and always innovating to meet their needs. Those companies who execute well on these fundamentals will be the winners in the exciting space of foodservice.

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