Point of View

Content with a point of view from foodservice operators, dealers, consultants, service agents, manufacturers and reps.

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Pandemic Shines Light on Industry’s High-Touch Side

We always say that the commercial foodservice equipment and supplies industry is low-tech/high-touch in terms of how we like to do business. It feels empty when we can’t get together and network as a community. I hope this is a very temporary situation.

parting Charlie SouhradaCharlie Souhrada, CFSP | Vice President, Regulatory and Technical Affairs North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers (NAFEM) Chicago This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.The mood at the North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers is both cautiously optimistic and proud. Cautiously optimistic because we see the industry coming out of this with greater efficiency and approaches to overcoming challenges that we hadn’t necessarily considered before. And, while NAFEM made the tough decision last May to reschedule the association’s biennial show, it’s now set to take place in August in Orlando. That’s a big mood-setter for us, and we’re excited to bring the industry back together again. We’ve been working hard to develop a COVID-19 plan for the show and are doing everything we can to ensure a safe and productive experience. 

We’re proud in part because of how our members have responded to the pandemic. In particular, last February NAFEM launched a collaboration with Feeding America through which more than $1.3 million has since been contributed in time, money and food donated to local food banks. Our collective efforts have amounted to about 14 million meals at a time when our nation needs it most. That’s a very, very proud achievement.

That’s not to say there haven’t been pain points along the way with the pandemic, for everyone. For manufacturers, a big one has been metal supply shortage. Because of COVID-19, raw materials weren’t being mined, and the steel mills cut capacity. When demand started to rebound, the supply chain was not ready to respond quickly, so there’s a real shortage that will likely last at least through the first or second quarter of 2021.

Another pain point going forward will likely be Biden-administration environmental/regulatory challenges on both the hot and cold equipment sides that will require a significant amount of attention and work on the part of manufacturers and engineers. But there will likely also be incentives to look for and opportunities to provide those to customers, who will benefit. So that’s a positive.

In terms of long-term pandemic-induced shifts, I expect an ongoing focus on sanitation and acceptance of new ways to collaborate through technology. Tools like video conferencing are great supplements to getting together, and the industry will continue to rely on them. And many of us have learned that working from home is actually a positive and productive change. I hope some of those patterns will continue, but at the same time I worry about how the work-from-home shift will impact businesses in city centers and foodservice industry segments such as B&I. Those are real struggle points that we’re going to have to come to grips with.

I think the best thing we can all do right now is to look for ways to keep in contact, keep communicating, read as much as possible to stay up to date and share information. We’ve all learned a lot since last March, and we still have a lot to learn, but it’s become clearer than ever during the pandemic that we’re not working in silos. We never have.