What do you see as the top three challenges for foodservice directors this year and why?
In the coming year, the biggest challenges will be the overall economic impact to operations, external competition and, simply, stressed out customers. As companies try to stay afloat amid the economic hardships, we’re seeing more and more reductions in workforce and an increase in employees being asked to work from home. This places stress on many levels of our operations’ participation. The drop in participation can drastically impact the bottom line unless operations managers’ are able to offset the decline with alternative and original sales.
Also, while external competition has always been a challenge in foodservice, because customers are conserving money the customer base has decreased, meaning that we’re all vying for more of the same consumers. The good old days of customers coming right to our door are gone. We need to continuously seek out new and innovative ways to obtain and keep their loyalty to our brand.
Lastly, many of our customers have so much to accomplish in a day. Time is limited and we have to constantly be looking for programs that offset those stressors. Food and meals should be one time during the day where we strive to impact customers positively. Whether we market a small quick meal, a desktop delivered meal or a normal café meal, serving them with the highest level of friendly service can significantly make their day better. It is paramount for our industry to truly embrace this thinking.
There was a lot of talk about Generation Y at the conference. How do you think catering to this generation will change operators approach to how they do business?
Ironically, I am raising a Generation Y-er. I have a 19 year old named Sean. Sean has certainly demonstrated how much his generation utilizes technology such as Facebook, Twitter, text messaging and e-mails. I worried that he would forget how to talk with people but it does not seem to pose a problem for him and his friends. Their minds can contain an awful lot of information and the technology speeds their thoughts and decisions along quite well. Our industry needs to prepare now for the Gen Ys that will be our customers soon. How do we do that? Personally, I think we need to hire Gen Ys to help us understand what it is they most resonate with. We need to ensure our menus, services and how they prefer to place orders are all adapted to please them, with new technologies in place every step of the way.
What do you see as the top trend in foodservice for the next year?
The concept of three square meals is over. Small meals offered throughout the entire day, which are presented and marketed innovatively, is what we will be seeing more of. Many customers are looking for healthier small meals that help them stay energized and productive so they can complete their work and try to get home at a reasonable hour. I think we are missing an opportunity to serve these customers. I also feel that wellness concepts will be important. The onsite industry has worked on marketing wellness options for years. However, I do think this year it will be more important to customers than in the past since healthcare is such a hot topic in the press.
What are the biggest challenges SFM faces as an association in the coming year and what are your plans to overcome them?
A decrease in membership from the fallout of mergers and headcount reductions is our biggest challenge. My plans to overcome this impact are to number one, make sure our current members feel the value of what SFM offers them. We have a strategy in place to address our short-term needs but we are constantly looking at SFM’s needs long term. One of my goals is to ensure the association members understand that this is their association. When that is truly understood I believe the members will help increase our membership through the relationships they have in the industry. At our conference in San Francisco I asked our entire membership to find just one new member. In addition, we have a strong membership committee that is working on new membership categories. We recently implemented the military membership category. We are looking at a group membership as a category and looking at a young professional category, which we will market to young professionals in the industry not yet familiar with SFM. Challenging times can turn into opportunities. When most are faced with challenges, you have a choice to cave or think differently and innovatively. The entire board and all of the members of the association at SFM have chosen the latter.
What are your goals for your presidency
Being given the opportunity to lead such a strong board of directors is very exciting for me.
I have four keys goals I will work on this year: We need to drive membership and sponsorship. We are looking for new membership categories and new sponsors that may not be aware of the association. We want to implement a Body of Knowledge (BOK) in a Wiki format for our members. SFM’s mission statement reads: “SFM provides professional development through research and information continuing education and member interaction in a collaborative environment.” A Body of Knowledge ties directly to our mission statement. I am confident that it will be highly valued by our members. The BOK will evolve over time and help us drive programming content for our webinars, local network events, and national conferences. I will continue to market our SFM brand to ensure we are constantly challenging ourselves on who we are and what we do and make sure we tell the right story and strike the right balance for new audiences that we target. We want to be sure to survey and analyze our membership. SFM is all about the members. I am committed to hear what they have to say, listen to their concerns, and seek feedback on what they need from the association. The way to do that is through appropriate surveys and to follow up with a deep analysis of the surveys. Of course and most importantly to implement actions based on the results. Feedback is critical to our board and we will adapt the association to meet the member needs.