With the calendar finally displaying 2010 dates, I look forward to shaking off the doldrums from the previous year and am excited about what 2010 holds for the foodservice industry. Still, the trials and tribulations of 2009 were not without their benefits. Indeed, the challenging business and social environment taught us all some valuable lessons and reminded us of a few fundamental foodservice truths that will never change. With that in mind, here are my key observations from last year.

It's All About the Menu and It Always Will Be

The menu is the heart and soul of any foodservice operation and 2009 only confirmed that. Though consumers spent more time at home, they still ate out, meaning that despite the economy, there still was significant demand for food prepared away from home. What did change was how consumers defined value, illustrated by how they traded down or patronized restaurants with creative menu packaging and pricing. At the end of the day, the promise of something special at the center of the plate is what continues to prompt consumers to get off the couch and part with what little discretionary income they have. And the operators that are able to leverage their equipment and supplies investment to help create that something special in the most effective and efficient manner possible are the ones that will continue to prosper.

The Polarization of the Dealer Community

Until now, seismic changes in the dealer community have been relegated to quiet, backroom conversations. Make no mistake, though, the way dealers align themselves and go about procuring equipment and supplies is undergoing a major shift. The formation of a new dealer buying group featuring six of the bigger names in equipment and supplies distribution set off a domino effect in the industry. The fallout from the formation of the first group led to the creation of a second buying organization. As a result, one dealer buying group is but a mere shell of its former self. And another group will almost certainly dissolve, which is why its remaining dealers reportedly are searching for a new organizational umbrella.

While many speculate as to what's driving these changes, one thing is for certain: The dealer community is polarizing. The emerging dealer landscape seems to align the really big dealers in two buying groups, leaving the smaller ones to form their own alliances. It's sort of like the television show "Survivor," with factions forming among competitors--except in this case the players are pooling their purchasing power to get the best deals on stainless steel and china. I expect there will be considerable movement within dealer groups in the months ahead, distracting them from the slow pace of the economic recovery.

H1N1 and Food-Safety Fundamentals

While it's hard to imagine something good coming from something as nasty as the H1N1 pandemic, that's actually the case for the foodservice industry. Foodservice professionals were reminded that there's no substitute for fundamentals of food-safety, notably proper hand washing and cleaning and sanitizing of all surfaces. As Handwashing for Life's Jim Mann points out on page seven, lessons learned from this pandemic have set a precedent for future foodservice professionals. "In fact, the spread of the virus has motivated industry professionals to develop better food safety policies, facility designs, and training programs," Mann says.
The past year was far from dull, but something tells me its events only set the table for an even more exciting 2010. Here's wishing you and your business a prosperous New Year!