E&S Extra

Editorial Director Joe Carbonara provides insights and commentary on the state of the foodservice equipment and supplies marketplace.

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Innovation Lives Here

In mid-July #CovidIsNotOver was regularly trending across social media platforms. It referred to an uptick in cases across various parts of the country as mostly nonvaccinated folks danced with this disease. But this could have just as easily applied to the foodservice industry, which continues to grapple with the fallout from the pandemic.

joe carbonara hsHealthcare foodservice operators continue to work within various forms of altered reality as COVID-19 continues to play a key role in their day-to-day operations. For example, while many restaurants throughout the country dropped face-covering requirements in accordance with guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, masks are mandated in healthcare environments. In addition, prior to the pandemic, catering and retail were financial cornerstones for many healthcare operations. Both, however, have been very slow to come back, which means operators must get even more resourceful in applying the lessons learned from the previous year (page 48).

Just last month the CDC recommended five-day, in-person learning for school-aged children, adding that vaccinated students and teachers may ditch their masks. While welcome news to many, this triggered a series of questions that school foodservice operators will have to work quickly and thoughtfully with their administrators to answer. For example, many grade schools and high schools serve breakfast to students. When schools resumed at least partial in-person learning during the last academic year, many chose to feed students their morning meals in the classrooms instead of in the cafeterias. Will that practice continue for the coming academic year?

One struggle that applies to all operators pertains to the various ills plaguing the foodservice supply chain. From being able to source ingredients to the equipment necessary to cook the food to the packaging that operators use to hand over the food to customers, the challenges run deep and are often unpredictable. Further, I’ve heard several operators say that even if they can get a food order confirmed, there’s no guarantee they will take delivery of it due to a shortage of drivers on the distribution side of the industry.

Despite these challenges, some industry segments remain on growth’s fast track. Ghost kitchens and virtual brands (page 20) come immediately to mind. In the near term, ghost kitchens and virtual brands represent some of the industry’s best and brightest thinking. That’s because ghost kitchens often represent an effective way to meet customers where they are. And virtual brands represent a way operators can creatively serve customers without making significant investments in labor, infrastructure and even ingredients. In fact, these ideas are so on point at the moment that noncommercial operators spanning a variety of segments are looking for ways to play in this space.

While the industry as a whole remains bullish on ghost kitchens and virtual brands, there are those among us who do not share the same perspective (page 16). What does the future have in store for the foodservice industry? As the hit ’80s band Asia once sang, “only time will tell.”

What I do know for certain is this: When North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers’ president Rob Connelly says he’d take the problems of today over what the industry faced one year ago, nobody will argue.