"Moving forward the successful foodservice companies will be those organizations that will raise the bar when it comes to operational excellence."

Joseph M. Carbonara, Editor in Chief
Joseph M. Carbonara, Editor in Chief
The outlook for the foodservice industry contains both good and bad news. The good news is that by all indications, the industry seems to be rebounding and entering a period of actual growth. The bad news is that the growth will come at a rate incredibly slow compared to historical measures.

Still, growth is growth and with the U.S. economy entering the fourth year of its slump, the foodservice industry needs to take whatever good news it can get, when it can get it. So as the industry begins to slowly shake away its economic doldrums, it would be prudent for business leaders to remember the lessons learned from the past few years and continue to incorporate them into their operations. This applies on both a philosophical and tactical level.

So what have we learned over the past few years? First and foremost, the economic slump has taught us that there is no substitute for value. More to the point, value has to be defined by the customer and not the supplier. Whether you are a foodservice operator, dealer, manufacturer, rep, consultant or service agent, if value is defined only in your terms, customers won't do business with you. It's that simple.

Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet you can fire to make sure your value proposition remains on target. Instead, you need to invest the time to understand what drives your customers to consume your products. Just as importantly, you need to understand how to help them overcome any barriers that would prevent them from buying from you. Once established, eliminating these potential barriers can become the foundation for a long-term working relationship.

Some efforts will be visible to customers in the form of product development and the like. Equally important will be the efforts that nobody sees, the behind the scenes initiatives that make companies stronger. This ranges from streamlining procedures, to allow staff to spend more time serving customers, to simply getting a better handle on the costs of doing business and all points in between.

Another critical lesson learned during this recession is the companies that will thrive moving forward will be the ones with a culture of excellence. As one observer pointed out to me, the days of corporate excess and emphasizing only topline growth are history in the foodservice industry. For a while, the emphasis shifted to efficiency, but that is quietly becoming a thing of the past. Moving forward the successful foodservice companies will be those organizations that will raise the bar when it comes to operational excellence.

Operators continue to become more sophisticated in and focused on the ways they help meet their customers' needs for food prepared away from home. As a result, they will need their supply chain partners to step up their efforts and become true business consultants. For example, suppliers need to become experts in helping customers reduce their carbon foot print or generate more productivity without increasing the number of full-time employees. More immediately, suppliers need to understand the impact of the new healthcare legislation and help their operator customers prepare accordingly to meet the government mandates.

In doing so, the individual members of the supply chain need to break down traditional garden walls that prevent free and open collaboration between trading partners. The only way to be successful is to provide solutions that are a composite of the entire industry's expertise.

From a foodservice perspective, the depths and lengths of this recession are unprecedented. But there's no point in looking back at what was lost because there's no way to recoup it. Rather, it's time to understand the lessons learned and apply them to create brighter days.