With a large portion of the world navigating a heat wave this summer, the cool breeze from the Pacific was just what the doctor ordered for two DMAers seeking to beat the summer heat. That's why last week, we did not walk, we ran to catch our flight to Monterey, California in search of cool weather, delicious food, and camaraderie. Here's what we found while in hot pursuit:
What Blew Us Away at IFPA's 2022 Foodservice Conference
We have work to do with school foodservice leadership
Cathy Burns reported at the top of the opening session that current school-age children will be the first generation to not live as long as generations before them due to the obesity crisis.
Immediately following this, world-class chef, entrepreneur, and philanthropist Robert Irvine got a surprise from the audience when school foodservice leaders clamored for his attention and the microphones were passed around the room to educate the speaker about the realities and challenges of serving better and healthier food to children in schools across our country.
Statistics were shared and the speaker was intrigued to find that on average, the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) provided low-cost or free lunches to 29.6 million children each school day in fiscal year (FY) 2019, at a total cost of $14.2 billion. In FY 2020, NSLP participation averaged 22.6 million children each school day and total expenditures on the program amounted to $10.4 billion as reported by the USDA in January 2022.
School foodservice professionals in attendance became a bit heated. You could cut the tension in the room with a knife, and we didn't hate it! It is time for us to do something to ensure that kids get better food in schools and we're all looking forward to seeing what happens next between the school foodservice directors and Mr. Irvine.
Understanding "enlightened eaters" - they're younger than you think
We found the Friday morning session featuring chef Michel Nischan to be both educational and helpful when understanding how young adults attending colleges are making dining decisions. While making a meatless quesadilla and chatting with the audience, Chef Nischan described college-aged young adults as "enlightened eaters", or people who try to have a sensible, well-balanced, healthy diet. He described Gen Z-aged young adults as people who want the trifecta when they dine as they seek a food rich in health, nutritional value, and flavor! This can be tricky when foodservice chefs must prep, cook, and serve tens of thousands of college-age students per day, three times per day. He offered the audience a sample of his version of a chili quesadilla jam-packed with veggies and various protein alternatives that tasted just like chicken. We loved it!
Bruce Taylor a failure? No way...
Way. Bruce Taylor joined the stage on Friday to talk about his journey as a leader and entrepreneur in the fresh produce industry. What we didn't expect was to see this industry mogul speak so vulnerably and transparently to the audience. The business giant said he most definitely learned and grew from his failures over the years. He underscored how many of these lessons were learned while building relationships with key customers. He spoke about Taylor Farms needing to differentiate in the industry and how he approached sales. His first recommendation for the audience? Ask your customers what they need most to be more effective and be the solutions provider. This got us thinking... if we could apply Bruce's recommendations to consumer marketing and identified their problems more effectively, could we sell more produce?
So Many Reasons to Celebrate
Along with the cooler weather, we had many reasons to raise a glass with both old and new friends during the Foodservice Conference this year. We were honored to attend the Brighter Bites cocktail reception celebrating the organization's 10-year anniversary and silent wine auction to raise funds for the organization. The event was well attended by industry leaders and we were happy to hear the majority of the wine had been bid on - we'll toast to that!
Deserving chefs were recognized by IFPA and sponsored by FreshEdge for their excellence in the various categories they serve. We felt so honored to witness these fine foodservice professionals celebrated for feeding our children, our students, and families across the country.
We also found ourselves celebrating the reported high number of attendees at this year's show! With over 2,000 people in attendance, we felt excited about the future of the foodservice industry as this most important sector continues to work toward bouncing back from the effects of the pandemic.
New Faces at the Tradeshow
You know you've been around a while when everyone starts to look like they're new to the industry. We walked the floor looking for our old friends and were so happy to make new friends, too! We discovered Spiceology on the show floor, which gave us major flashbacks from our time spent in NYC recently at the Fancy Food Show. This new exhibitor didn't sell fresh produce - they were selling spices and rubs that were HOT HOT HOT with the foodservice directors walking the floor. Their salt-free combinations like their Really Ranch and El Taco Salt-Free Seasonings were flying off of the shelves.
Good Time with Old Friends
Of course, we made time to mix and mingle among a few hundred of our closest friends in the industry. With Monterey being such a close-knit community and city, it wasn't hard to run into someone in the industry either walking down the street or grabbing a cup of coffee - and that's how we like it! Whether it was late-night dinners in Carmel or checking out the local dive bars in Monterey, there was plenty to be found after hours with both old and new friends.
Show Floor Stand Outs
We're suckers for great marketing on the show floor which is why we'd be remiss not to share the booths that stood out to us during the expo. First up, this year's best of show winners are very deserving.
Congratulations, Natalie's Orchid Island Juice Co., for taking home the Best of Show Award! Best of Show Runner Up was awarded to Duda Farm Fresh Foods.
Best Product Promo winner was given to Rijk Zwaan for their new Red Vein Arugula, and we must admit, their booth design gave us a reason to pause and learn more from this happy team.
If we had a nickel for every GOOD example of marketing we noticed during Foodservice 2022, you'd be here for a bit longer. But what we noticed is that the industry is taking trade marketing more seriously and is working to make the most of spending time together again, face to face.
Speaking of opportunities on the horizon for being face to face, are you ready for the Global Produce & Floral Show? With the exciting attendance we experienced at the Foodservice Conference, we're planning for the show in Orlando to really blow us away! Stay tuned. We'll have more soon highlighting our industry's biggest show of the year and we'll want to share ways you can maximize your presence as well. Until then, consider dining out once or twice this week to support local and national foodservice businesses - and don't forget to tip your waiter or waitress! They can all use our help right now.