SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – The food away-from-home sector has contended with plenty of challenges the past few years and the way operators, suppliers, and distributors are working together has also undergone a seismic shift.
That’s according to Eric Blumenthal, Sr. Vice President, Coca-Cola North America, who noted labor was a major issue for the food-away-from-home sector at large in the post-pandemic period.
“We’ve got to find a way to ensure that foodservice as an industry is looked at as an employment industry of choice,” he told The Food Institute at the IFMA Presidents Conference in Scottsdale, Arizona.
“We have to have an equal focus on the employment brand and what it means to work with our companies. The companies that are able to get and retain the best talent are going to have an edge because the labor pool is not as deep as it was,” added Blumenthal, who also serves as an IFMA board member.
Focusing on Baby Boomers and Younger Generations
The food away-from-home industry will also need to reckon with Gen Z and Gen Alpha, who are digitally native and more brand agnostic than those that came before them.
Blumenthal said these generations grew up with third-party delivery; instead of going to a specific restaurant, they filter their searches by category – making their dining choices more cuisine-oriented than brand-oriented.
While many foodservice operators are focusing on Gen Z and Gen Alpha, however, Blumenthal noted you could not forget about older dining patrons.
“I think you have this very interesting consumer dynamic where you have an aging and very affluent Baby Boomer population that has a ton of disposable income and a lot of purchasing power,” he said. “You can’t just take your eye off that group because you’re going to miss a whole lot of revenue.”
Collaboration and Transparency Light the Way
Blumenthal said one of the major positive shifts he had seen since the pandemic was an increased focus on collaboration across the foodservice continuum.
“In the past things may have been a little bit guarded… and certainly there’s a level of that still,” he shared.
“But I think what we all just went through over the last couple of years was a first for everybody. I’ve seen the level of collaboration over the last couple of years increase dramatically from the pre-pandemic period.”
Finding Solutions by Meeting in Person
Blumenthal noted events like the IFMA Presidents Conference were important opportunities for companies that compete in the marketplace to meet and find common solutions for the industry as a whole.
“You can’t replicate the in-person piece of it – you just can’t,” he stressed. “On a screen is nice, but there’s just something about being in person – I think we are all in the foodservice and hospitality business and we’re used to being with people. You just feel the energy in the room.”
When asked about tips for a first-time attendee to an event like IFMA Presidents Conference, he had some simple advice.
“Just see everything, sit back, and observe.”