SFM Critical Issues Conference gathers market segments for in-depth discussion

April 18—The Society for Foodservice Management brought together operators in colleges, hospitals and B&I to discuss the latest trends and challenges at its annual Critical Issues Conference, which was held April 14 in New York.

The conference kicked off with a presentation by Warren Solochek, vice president of client development for The NPD Group, which took a look at how the non-commercial market is faring against commercial restaurants in regards to the economy and where the opportunities for growth lie in both. Though it was reported that B&I usage has declined across the board, Solochek said that growth opportunities still exist in the morning meal, snacking and value promotions.

The second session of the conference brought insights from college and university dining, hospital dining and B&I. Regenia Phillips, director of residential dining for Yale University in New Haven, Conn., spoke about some of the trends she is seeing at Yale. The trends included The Final Cut, the department’s student culinary competition; Uncommon Market, a farmers’ market that sells local and fresh produce as well as a healthy and sustainable grab-and-go unit; farm tours, where students get a chance to visit local farms that supply the university; and rethinking the salad bar, which involved scaling back on the items offered in favor of creating composed salads [for more on this initiative, read our Five Questions with Joyce Goldstein].

Tony Almeida, director of food and nutrition at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, N.J., surprised many attendees when he said that patient care accounted for only about 30% of his job, making his job similar to many B&I operators. Almeida spoke about how his focus, like many operators, has been on “greening” his operation, including energy reduction, sourcing locally and the implementation of The Road to Healthy eating, which is a program that assigns a stoplight color to each item to denote its healthfulness—Go, Slow and Whoa! A green line denotes that the item is healthy, a “go.” Yellow means an item isn’t particularly healthy but still has some nutritional value, so it’s a “slow,” and red means the item is not healthy and should only be eaten in moderation, so a “whoa.” He also spoke about how implementing room service dining increased his customer satisfaction scores dramatically.

The final speaker Julie Stewart, foodservice manager at SAS in Cary, N.C., talked about keeping up with trends in B&I, including healthy items, sustainability and food safety. She said her department at SAS has had great success with offering evening meals to take home and by increasing its breakfast offerings. The conference concluded with a panel made up of all the speakers, who then took questions from the audience.