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Towards a Universal Theory of Foodservice Trend Contradiction, Paradox and Convergence

For almost any foodservice trend there is another in almost direct conflict with it.

Pretty important sounding column, isn't it? If you're wondering what it means, I'll get to that in a minute.

As I said in my last column, I often receive speaker invitations in which the caller is somewhat vague about the topic he or she wants addressed. If one presses for specifics, the answer you get most of the time is, “We'd like you to talk about Trends (capital T is usually their emphasis).

Other editors tell me it is the same with them, and usually we are happy to don our all-knowing Editor-in-Chief “mantles” and oblige as best we can. (In fact, editorial insights are not always that awe-inspiring, but you didn't read it here!)

My experience, though, has been that the most significant trends seldom burst suddenly onto the scene. Rather, they are long term drivers that have staying power over time. They're caused by business forces that are basic to foodservice operations, finance, food and labor management, and forces like this are bedrock trends.

For example, it's clear that over the last decade noncommercial operators have aggressively sought and made huge advances in terms of developing more sophisticated culinary capabilities, tighter financial management, better “mass customization” and more sophisticated procurement strategies.

These trends remain at the top of the list today and will remain dominant forces for the next decade and beyond. Any vendors or others who can develop products or services that help operators improve in these areas should find a ready market for them.

Parsing such trends more closely, though, involves an examination of how such concerns affect day-to-day operations, menus and practices. That's often what audiences want to hear about and that's where the Universal Theory, and especially what I'll call it's “Third Law,” comes in.

The Theory can be stated in much the same way as Newton's classic Laws of Motion:

First Law: Every operation tends to run much as it always has (inertia) unless acted upon by an outside force (typically, a dynamic manager or institutional demand that compels it to change.)

Second Law: Acceleration occurs when a force acts on a mass; the greater the mass, the greater the amount of force needed to accelerate it. (e.g., The longer operations have gone without change, the more effort needed to make change happen).

Third Law: For every trend there tends to be an almost equal and opposite trend that contradicts its use or universality in some way.

It's in this Third Law that the Contradiction and Paradox come to play. Just a few examples:

Foodservice Trend Contradictions

Demand for Value Meals < — > Demand for Quality

Drive for Higher Efficiency < — > Drive for Greater Customer Satisfaction

Adoption of Central Production < — > Offering MTO and Customization

Demand for Natural/Fresh < — > Demand for Packaged/Convenience

Energy Efficiency < — > Reduced Capital First Costs

Wellness, Weight Loss < — > Snacking, Desserts, Add-on Items

Demand for New Flavors < — > Demand for Comfort Foods

The challenge for onsite directors (once they get past organizational inertia and culture change issues, a topic for an entirely different editorial) is to walk the thin line between such conflicting trends.

This can indeed be like walking on a razor's edge, with the very best operators finding multiple ways to capitalize on competing trends while minimizing inherent conflicts. They don't simply run after one hot fad after another, but work at taking advantage of trends in ways that balance out the contradictions.

That's what I mean by Trend Convergence and it is something that you always find in the most successful and best run onsite foodservice operations. And it is in examining how the very best operators achieve this balance that the most fruitful trend analysis occurs.

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