Foodservice IP, among a record 450,000 others, attended the International Foodservice Manufacturer’s Association President’s Conference in Scottsdale, Arizona from November 5-7. Our intention was clear – to educate ourselves on the current industry happenings, see some old friends and also try to perform a little field work with operators while many of them were in a single place.

Here are one humble consultant’s observations during the event that are not at all affiliated with IFMA.

1 – Artificial Intelligence is Everywhere

As expected, many sessions discussed how AI will improve operational functions at the operator level, from food orders, to occasion-planning and delivery.

An interesting spin was offered by Michael Wu of PROS, which was focused largely on finding profit optimization using standard micro-economic principles. It was on the level of a masters-level seminar mixed with real-life practices all rolled into implications for food companies. At a break, I told Michael I felt like I was a student and he retorted “well they told me to teach a class.” Bravo. Less art with more matter is rare.

2 – Global Politics, Economics and Astrophysics

The United States is investing heavily in building a community on the moon. This is not the distant future, said Pippa Malmgren, who keenly observed our skepticism as humans face problems on earth (ibid read today’s paper). Her answer was that green energy will become a reality through a complex placement of mirrors on satellites using the sun’s reflecting from the moon (again, I’m no physicist mind you). And because food delivery depends on GPS and satellites “greater internet connectivity from in-orbit networks will make it easier to monitor and move food production from one part of the planet to another.” (You can read more about it on CleanTechnica.)  To summarize it in layman’s terms, this is gonna ultimately make the foodservice industry even more awesome.

3 – Contingency Planning and Risk Analysis

Unless you have been living on the moon the past couple of years, we experienced Covid 19. We also experienced floods and earthquakes on a global scale, and trouble-making teens in your grandma’s basement are holding huge corporations hostage via ransomware. Greg Giesecke delivered a provocative and practical talk on dealing with uncertainty. Many firms do not plan for unlikely scenarios and the few that do, rarely revisit and update contingency plans. This was probably my favorite session.

4 – The Networking Idea

The IFMA conference delivered an excellent opportunity to meet with old friends and stalk, er, “run-into” acquaintances by coincidence in the restroom or outside their guest room. I’ve been told this was the largest group of foodservice executives ever assembled at an IFMA event. As I was on my own, breaking into a posse of individuals you know only by Zoom or emails can be daunting.

To test my theory, I approached a few clients we’ve worked with but it scattered like a pack of bunnies hearing a car horn. The app featured by IFMA, however, was an excellent ice breaker to reach out to individuals and one I’d recommend using at any trade show, where available, for time efficiency and to avoid awkward weather conversations.

5 – A Big Time Management Consulting Firm Instructs

I applaud IFMA for bringing in Valerie Gong of Boston Consulting Group. One of the areas we’ve felt has been missing from many industry conferences are the pure-play management consultants that use a framework for business plan redesign. Too many firms claim to be “consultants” but few – like Accenture, McKinsey and BCG – have the reputation and brilliance to have been embedded with the globe’s major companies and urged major CEOs to rethink a business strategy. Also, we learned that half of our members have been streamlined and furloughed after Valerie took a look at IFMA’s business plan.

All in All

The rest of the conference was informative and relatively applicable – while many of us already had our golf pants and shirts under our suits for the 1pm scramble Tuesday. If you happened to be in my foursome, I’m very sorry.

Tim Powell is a Principal with Foodservice IP, a professional services firm aimed at delivering ideas for managers to guide informed business decisions.

To learn more about FSIP’s Management Consulting Practice, click here.

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