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It Was Thirty Years Ago Today...

Food Management published its first issue in September of 1972. Its cover line: "The Dramatic Age of Nutrition."

It Was 30 Years Ago Today...

... that FM published its first issue. Looking back, it’s clear that while change in onsite foodservice has been gradual, it has been insistent nonetheless.

It was in September of 1972 that an idealistic young chief editor named William Patterson put the finishing touches on the first issue of Food Management magazine.

His cover story, "The Dramatic Age of Nutrition," was illustrated by an abstract painting inspired by the work of Jackson Pollock. Patterson thought it suggested the more management-oriented nature of the institutional side of foodservice, one not well represented by the trade magazines of the day.

Most of them focused on fine dining or the emerging fast food industry. Patterson wanted to focus on issues.

"I felt that too many food magazines were boring and predictable," he said in an interview for FM’s 25th anniversary issue in 1997.

"We wanted to emphasize the importance of food in people’s daily lives and to give foodservice directors a sense of stature they had not had before."

Those two goals have remained an essential part of the magazine’s mission over the intervening 30 years, even though many other things have changed. I found myself considering some of those changes as I sat down to write this column.

The 1997 anniversary issue offered a comprehensive overview of how the major onsite segments evolved historically, and there is no point to rehashing that information here. But each segment’s section ended with a brief forecast of what the future would bring. A quick reality check shows that we were right on target with most of our forecasts.

College & Universities. In higher education, we looked for a continuing shift toward retail and cash operations and to the influence growing ethnic, age and racial diversity would have on campus dining. We were sure directors would continue to oversee a wider mix of student services and to exercise more sophisticated P&L responsibility for their operations. We also looked for Internet-driven services like online meal ordering and direct-to-student promotions to proliferate.

All of those predictions have come to pass, and college FSDs today probably have more potential to take on additional responsibilities in their schools than ever before.

B&I / Contract Services. In 1997, Marriott Management Services had just introduced its Crossroads Cuisine program to B&I, and it was clear a much wider variety of such packaged, proprietary branding concepts were on the horizon from management companies.

By 1997 the contractors had already come to dominate B&I, and the many regional contract service operators that once existed had consolidated steadily over the previous quarter century. That consolidation has continued at a rapid pace since then.

The same "Big Three" management companies still head the list, in the same order they had in 1997 (if you recognize today’s Sodexho as a successor to Marriott Management Services). But 17 other companies on that year’s Top 50 list have either been acquired or have left the managed foodservice business.

Most notably, Compass Group has more than doubled its North American presence since then, and it is very conceivable that this London-based company may claim the top spot within a year or two.

We noted several other strong trends in the contract market: service bundling, increased financing of facility upgrade investments to land contracts, the growing emphasis of culinary programs and, again, more use of technology to develop customized programs for clients. All are common features of management company programs today.

K-12 Schools. A move to adopt national and self-branded quickservice concepts was the driving trend in many K-12 systems in 1997, and we correctly pointed to increasing pressures for school foodservice programs to be self-supporting or profit-making if they were to succeed in the future.

A la carte programs have grown in popularity, but so has interest in universal feeding, underscoring the contrasting dynamics at work in K-12 programs. Schools by their nature continue to reflect the economic stratification–and politics–of our society at large.

While we noted the growing demands for sounder nutritional underpinnings for K-12 programs, we did not predict the social backlash that has since occurred against what activists see as the "fast food" model.

Also, in 1997 management companies were voicing ambitious intentions to penetrate the K-12 market, which was only about 8 percent contracted then. In retrospect, those penetration goals were clearly overly optimistic. Although some inroads have been made, schools today remain 90 percent self-operated. We also looked ahead to a coming "age wave" of retiring school directors, a segment-wide transition that is occurring even as we speak.

We’ll finish this retrospective next month with a look at some of the changes that have taken place in healthcare and other segments. Stay tuned ....

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