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Foodservice leader shares advice for today’s professionals

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Restaurant and Foodservice

This blog series is brought to you by the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association (IFMA), the leading trade association for the foodservice industry. This series will focus on ways to optimize across the entire supply channel and bring consumers back to foodservice.

The foodservice industry has gone through a lot of changes in the past few decades, from fluctuations in the economy to advances in technology. I spoke with Wally Doolin, chairman, founder and CEO of Black Box Intelligence, about how far the industry has come and what future foodservice leaders can do to be prepared.

What are some of the biggest changes that you have seen in the foodservice industry, in terms of both operations and food trends?

The macro economy will remain sluggish for restaurant industry recovery based on U.S. housing, unemployment and election-year dynamics. Additionally, the global economic instability will impact us domestically as well. In spite of December’s CER US Monthly Consumer Tracker showing a nice improvement in the past three months, we believe it will be a year of modest growth overall … for our industry.

The industry competition will continue to be like our economy overall in a bifurcation of results of the haves and the have-nots. In our case, the haves are companies that have capital to fund innovative ideas requiring investment in technology, talent and trust (employees, guests and shareholders). The difference in the top quartile and bottom quartile of sales and traffic has continued to widen this year from approximately 5.5% to 7% to 7.5% in the last quarter. This represents very different margin potential. Additionally, companies that have made or will make investments to capture a share of the opportunity for international growth will be rewarded in the continued demand for our U.S. foodservice concepts and products outside the U.S.

On the human capital side of the business, we predict increasing turnover as we began to see in 2011 in management and employees. The demographics of our business will continue to shift [toward] older [workers] as we discovered the average QSR employee’s age is now just under 30. The People Report Workforce Index for the fourth quarter is showing increased difficulty in staffing levels and degree of difficulty to hire certain positions. The pressure of changing ownership and market place demands will lead to continued turnover in senior executives as well.

Overall, many companies are well-positioned to have a good year. In terms of segments, the established market leaders and new fresh growth concepts will do well in each segment at the cost of companies and brands that fail to recognize or lack the capacity to take share in a low-growth market-share environment. Brands will be defined by savvy, connected and ever-changing customers and employees. Leadership teams and brands that have the ability to focus and execute marketing, human resources and operations on one brand that each employee and customer believes is relevant to them individually will reward the winners. The industry will do OK, but these companies and brands will have a great year!

What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced throughout your career in foodservice?

The challenge was always, as it is today, how to surround yourself with the best people and have them do their best work. When I got that right, great things happened. No matter how the marketplace changes, this simple model is the winning formula in any venture. It’s not about me the leader, it’s about a talented team of people engaged and proud of the people they work with in a shared vision and values.

What recommendations do you have for future foodservice leaders, and what are the biggest challenges they face?

Most leaders today are involved in leading commodity brands competing with other commodity companies.

This requires a whole new skill set most of us have never experienced in our careers as leaders in growth companies and a growth industry.

It will require much more dependence on analytical skills, collaboration, the use of technology and adaptability. In other words, it will require leaders that can utilize both sides of their brain to leverage high IQ and EQ with more flexibility. What won’t change is the ability to attract, retain and engage the best people in your company!