Big business

An inside look at military foodservice.

I recently spent three illuminating days in San Diego. Aside from escaping from one of the several snowstorms to hit the New York City area since Christmas, I learned a lot about military foodservice. At the invitation of Steve Hammel, director of food and beverage services for the Western region of the U.S. Navy, I attended Foodservice Ashore Solutions 2011, presented by IFMA.

It was a chance for a number of IFMA members to learn more about doing business with Navy foodservice programs. More than 100 operators networked with about 20 sponsoring companies, as well as being brought up to speed about some of the innovations and ideas being developed in the Navy.

There were also some representatives from the other branches of the armed services, who were given a chance to explain what’s happening with foodservice in those departments.

Here are just a few of the things I learned during my time at the San Diego Naval Base:

The Navy generates $137 million in non-appropriated funds each year, and contributes between $15 million and $20 million to the overall Morale, Welfare and Recreation program;

The Air Force reported a total of $445 million in foodservice revenue from 634 operations around the world. and is testing a contracted foodservice program with Aramark;

The Marine Corps’ foodservice budget, from all sources, is more than $160 million. There arfe food courts on three bases where self-service ordering kiosks are being tested;

Brands, both commercial and manufacturer, are playing an increasing role in military foodservice. Among the brands featured by NEXCOM, the Navy’s Exchange Command, are Five Guys and IHOP Express. The Navy also is examining the use of sous vide.

There was a time when FoodService Director covered military foodservice as part of its regular markets. As page counts and staff declined, this coverage was pretty much abandoned as we focused on more “interesting” segments. In hindsight, based on what I learned in San Diego, that might have been a mistake. It’s one I plan to rectify, because there is a lot happening in the military that other markets might learn from.