The acclaimed tv show “The Bear” follows young two chefs—Carmy and Sydney—as they and their team of co-workers race to make their impact on the Chicago culinary scene. In many ways, “The Bear” captures a lot of culinary life—both good and bad. It also reflects the changing face of foodservice. While still largely white and male-dominated, chefs are getting younger and more racially diverse, and immigrant chefs are earning more attention than they have in the past.
While it is an entertaining watch, it got me thinking about how what we see in “The Bear” plays out in real life. What data do we have about the new generations of chefs? How do Millennial and Gen Z foodservice leaders differ from their elders? And how can manufacturers support them in their efforts to shake up foodservice?
Foodservice IP has conducted extensive research on this topic, and we have 3 suggestions for manufacturers:
- Engage chefs via social media;
- Focus on labor-saving products; and
- Help chefs take smart risks.
1 – Engage Chefs via Social Media
Early in “The Bear,” Carmy uses social media to drum up business with a video game competition at the restaurant. The specifics are unconventional, but the importance of social media is very real. According to our data, Millennial chefs disproportionately find menu inspiration on Instagram. While it is still too early to tell, TikTok likely plays a similar role for Gen Z. Critically, these sites are also important channels for them to market their operation and build their personal brand.
Since younger foodservice leaders are deriving inspiration and making key business moves on social media, manufacturers need to be engaging them there. This could include:
- Building Your Online Presence. Since Instagram and TikTok are visual media, develop content that is visually appealing and that inspires chefs to do something new with their menus.
- Creating Products with Social Media in Mind. In addition to marketing your products visually, you should enable chefs to do the same. If your product can add visual appeal to their brand, that’s additional value beyond taste and ease of use—value which differentiates your product from competitors.
- Equipping Chefs with Social Media Tools. As a manufacturer, you probably have a larger marketing budget than the average chef. Share the knowledge and resources you have with them to build trust and improve engagement. For example, Unilever has compiled a number of foodservice-focused social media guides, including how to craft a consistent online brand, the basics of food photography, and simple social media marketing.
2 – Focus on Labor-Saving Products
Carmy and Sydney would never trust a manufacturer to replicate their famous beef sandwich recipe. Compared to Baby Boomers and Gen Xers, younger chefs overwhelmingly prefer to cook foods from scratch. Depending on your product offerings, you may need to rethink what your value add is to these up-and-coming professionals. Emphasize products that preserve the “from scratch” ethos while saving the prep team’s valuable time. This could include frozen foods, pre-chopped or peeled ingredients, pre- or par-cooked components, and products that can be used in dishes across their menu. In addition to aligning with their preferred approach to foodservice, it improves the kitchen’s efficiency and helps them cope with the tight labor market.
3 – Help Chefs Take Smart Risks
In season 2, we see Carmy and Sydney undergo a total re-creation of their restaurant. It’s risky, especially since his family restaurant had an established reputation, but according to Foodservice IP data, that it makes sense. Younger chefs are more willing to take risks with their dishes.
Given the high failure rate in foodservice, you might assume “risk” is a big four-letter word for these entrepreneurs. But Millennial and Gen Z consumers are seeking variety, plant-based options, and healthy foods—and they’re willing to pay for it. This lets younger chefs take smart risks on dishes that would not have been possible previously.
The Bottom Line
We’ve been talking about “The Bear”, but let’s close with a real-life example: Los Angeles doughnut shops. In the 1970s and 1980s, Los Angeles saw a rise in independent, family-run doughnut shops, the majority of which were run by Cambodian refugees. Strong social networks (and the singular “Doughnut King” Ted Ngoy) allowed them to build connections with manufacturers and start replicable businesses with consistent quality at relatively low costs.
But those original entrepreneurs are retiring. And their children, “the Doughnut Kids”, are taking over. This new generation of doughnut bakers is shaking up the old model through social media, higher quality ingredients, and less traditional flavors—turning conventional family shops into singular brands. Their experience and approach reflect what Foodservice IP’s data has been saying about younger chefs.
These generational shifts will inherently change chefs’ relationships with suppliers. By leveraging social media, focusing on labor-saving ingredients, and helping operators take smart risks, manufacturers can adjust to new demands and build strong collaboration with the future leaders of the industry.
Foodservice IP is now seeking sponsors for its Selling to Gen Z and Millennial Chefs. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
To learn more about FSIP’s Management Consulting Practice, click here.
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