The International Foodservice Manufacturers Association (IFMA) has a long history of building value for the foodservice industry through industry conferences, supply chain best practices and research/insights programs. One of the latest innovations to come out of the nearly 70-year-old association is the development of an ecosystem that drives collaboration and best practices within the operator community: the Foodservice Leadership Council.
In the fall of 2018, several leading operators across different industry segments approached IFMA looking for help. They felt their communities were underserved in the areas of insights, business best practices and more effective connectivity with manufacturers. They also recognized the opportunity to learn from each other and the broader industry to better serve their customers.
“I remember back in 2018, a group of 10 of us met with Larry Oberkfell and discussed our many challenges and unmet needs,” said Jill Horst, Executive Director of Campus Dining at UC Santa Barbara and 2021 College & University Chair. “When we were asked if we wanted help in addressing them, we were thrilled.”
As a result of these meetings, five operator councils were established representing unique foodservice segments: Elementary & Secondary Schools, College & University, Business & Industry, Healthcare and Small & Mid-sized Chains. Each council is comprised of 30 segment leaders and is fully self-directed. They select their own leadership, formulate ongoing monthly group work processes and create their own strategic plans focused on critical initiatives related to their foodservice operations.
Each of the five councils’ strategic plans has three objectives with a committee dedicated to each (15 total committees across the councils). On select committees, operators work collaboratively with leading foodservice manufacturers to achieve their business goals.
Each Council Has Three Objective and Three Committees
Though each council’s objectives are unique, there is a great deal of valuable overlap. Operators are able to learn from each other across councils. For example, the C&U Council can collaborate with foodservice directors on the Elementary & Secondary Council to understand best-practices and to prepare for incoming high-school graduates. Similarly, B&I Council leaders can learn from the C&U Council regarding the predispositions of those graduating, now their customers.
“Though our world of corporate dining is certainly different from other segments, there are clear synergies,” said Sharon Eliatamby, Senior Project Manager, Food and Conference Services at World Bank Group and 2021 Business & Industry Chair. “Areas such as diversity & inclusion, sustainability, technology and the current labor challenges are challenges we all face, no matter what segment we serve. We are, at the end of the day, one foodservice industry serving one consumer.”
In 2019 and beginning of 2020, each full council was meeting on a quarterly basis, with several executive leadership and committee meetings occurring in between. However, once the COVID-19 pandemic started affecting the industry, all focus shifted to addressing its impact on operations. Operators banded together to learn from each other on how to respond.
“Starting last March, we and the other councils had weekly full council meetings and daily email exchanges to navigate the unchartered waters we all were facing,” said Jessica Shelly, Director of Student Dining Services at Cincinnati Public Schools and 2021 Elementary & Secondary Chair. “It was invaluable in helping us navigate the toughest of times, and we like to think our group had an impact at the national level, with our calls with the USDA and the resulting legislation relative to waiver extensions."
Beyond “Embracing Today,” council discussions and ongoing work focus on “Creating Tomorrow,” envisioning the future of foodservice and best practices, insights and channel relationships needed to create it.
“One of our three committees, the ‘2025 Committee’ is building out a body of knowledge regarding the future and has also recently finished work on business planning best practices suited for small and midsize chains,” said Bill Hancox, Chief Operating Officer of Pieology, a Division of Akash Management, and 2021 Small & Mid Sized Chain Chair. “Our ‘Innovation Committee’ has completed work on a collaborative innovation model with manufacturers, suited to address our needs and resources. We will be bringing this forward to the industry in the next few months.”
Several councils are also developing best practices related to product development in conjunction with IFMA manufacturer members. For example, the Healthcare council is developing a “Bowl Program” where culinarians from the Healthcare organizations are working with manufacturers to develop a complete A-Z front-of-house/back-of-house program, applying resources much as they would with a large commercial chain. When completed, these learnings will be shared with the broader Healthcare community.
“We (the councils) have come so far in such a short time,” said Martha Rardin Director of Nutrition and Dietetics at Hendricks Regional Health and 2021 Healthcare Chair. “The connections we’re making not just with other operators, but with the manufacturers and the ecosystem at large, are invaluable.”
“During my tenure at IFMA and my career in our industry, I have had the privilege to be a part of many impactful initiatives,” said Larry Oberkfell, IFMA President & CEO. “Serving our industry with the focus of helping all to win the consumer dollar in their respective businesses, provides us a clearer vison and unity of purpose. If one wins, we all win.”
The independent councils provide input and are involved with much of what IFMA does today,” said Mike Schwartz, Senior Vice President of Member Value at IFMA. “From participating in and supporting our conferences, webinars and whitepapers, to providing input on our bi-annual industry forecasts, their insights are unmatched. We are thankful for their contributions and are here to support whatever they need.”
“Each and every one of the council members humble me,” said Jim Green, a 40 year veteran of foodservice and President of Jim Green & Associates, who has worked tirelessly with the independent councils since 2018. “Their passion and commitment, individually and collectively, to those they serve, their respective communities at large and to the overall foodservice industry is humbling.”
For operators interested in learning more about the ongoing council work and access to upcoming resources, visit IFMAworld.com/council, or contact Jim Green at [email protected] You will receive updates on council activities and have complimentary access to whitepapers, webinars and conferences.