Big Data vs. The Foodservice Lifer

Dave DeWalt PhotoBlueberry is pleased to feature the following guest commentary from Dave DeWalt. Dave is a “Foodservice Lifer” and has been President of Franklin Foodservice Solutions since 1996. Franklin Foodservice Solutions assists manufacturers with marketing and distribution-related projects, and also works closely with foodservice broker agencies. Dave is author of several books about the foodservice industry, as well as the monthly Foodservice Marketing Insights newsletter. You can subscribe at no cost from his website:

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to conduct a broker agency panel discussion at the IFMA Sales and Marketing Leaders Forum. The overall theme of the Forum was clearly about the availability and potential uses of consumer data in the foodservice channel.

There were presentations about Operator-level Purchase Data, “Food Communities” and “Local Food Environments,” and understanding the Foodservice Consumer’s “Eater Types” and “Food Away From Home Occasion” motivations.

There were bright, articulate presenters from software companies and research firms who not so long ago were strangers to the foodservice channel. And I couldn’t help but notice that a lot of the attendees were strangers to me, and looked younger and different from the pudgy middle aged balding guys (including me) that I’m used to seeing at foodservice events. Could it be that I was seeing what people look like when they’re not burdened with 30 years of foodservice baggage?

And suddenly, I found myself deeply conflicted about the whole scene!

The “Foodservice Lifer” in me perched on my left shoulder and hoarsely whispered “What a crock! Distributors and Operators aren’t going to listen to all of this theoretical nonsense; it’s still going to come down to price and trade deals!”

The “Introspective Consultant” in me perched on my right shoulder and chided “For 30 years you and your colleagues have been whining about the lack of data, sophistication, and intelligence in the foodservice channel and now it’s staring you in the face. This could be our chance to finally break out of the rut of commoditization, trade spending, and competing on price alone!”

I came home and continued to think it over, and I’ve come to a few conclusions:

1. Our foodservice business IS changing, and our environment has quickly shifted from a data desert to a data monsoon. All of the big customers (distributors and chains) and the big, retail-driven manufacturers are embracing the use of data to better understand operators and foodservice consumers. This means everyone else (manufacturers, brokers, independent distributors and operators) will need to get on board OR develop more effective strategies which are not data-driven.

2. The challenge with Big Data (as always) is figuring out how to turn it into useful information that can increase revenue or reduce costs.

3. The initial efforts are intriguing and the potential is enticing, but it will probably take a few years for foodservice to coalesce around some effective approaches, consistent practices and standard terminology

So it’s incumbent on we Foodservice Lifers to make sure we don’t become Foodservice Dinosaurs. Let’s figure out whether we want to stay in our comfort zone and carp about the way things are, or embrace the new world and invent new and better ways to work together.

Conscious Acts of Leadership

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs events in our industry continue evolving, the link between strong leadership and business performance is crystal clear. There has never been a time when abilities must be fresh, relevant and cascade across every function, starting at the top.

The weekend is a good time to think about acts of leadership that worry you, make you uncomfortable, require real courage. Acts you’ve been avoiding. Acts you fear might make you look weak. Or too demanding.

What acts of leadership are you avoiding?

Get real, enlist help from a friend, make a list. Then pick two to carry out next week. Or one to practice in two different situations. Think of each act as a feature of a broader leadership quality to master. (Examples are in italics below from the book, The Intangibles of Leadership: The 10 Qualities of Superior Executive Performance by Richard A. Davis.)

Some ideas to get you started; your actual list is your own:

  • I will confront (x) with critical, essential feedback that may trigger a hostile reaction. (Fortitude, Wisdom)
  • I will instill urgency and assign priority to this project by shaving two weeks off the due date. (Will, Fortitude)
  • I will step out of character and pound my fist on the table to demand a solution to a long unresolved problem. (Will, Presence, Executive Maturity)
  • I will apologize for what I did to (x) and promise not to repeat it. (Integrity, Fallibility, Self-Efficacy)
  • I will be alert to the positive impacts of my strengths so that I can practice them more often. (Self-Insight, Wisdom)
  • I will say Yes when others are saying No. (Fortitude, Wisdom)
  • I will demand More, Bigger, Now from myself and my executive team on this initiative. (Fortitude, Will, Self-Insight)
  • I will admit my mistake and immediately correct it. (Executive Maturity, Integrity)
  • I will love/respect/get to know (x) though I find him/her hard to love/respect/get to know. (Executive Maturity, Social Judgment)
  • I will call a strong supporter and make the conversation about him/her this time instead of about me. I will listen deeply and offer help. (Social Judgment, Integrity, Executive Maturity)
  • I will partner with someone of lower rank to tackle a problem that’s beneath me. (Self-Efficacy, Social Judgment)
  • I will take (the receptionist, a production worker, a clerk) to lunch and ask what can I can do to make their jobs more rewarding. I will commit to doing it. (Social Judgment, Fallibility)

Boldly exercise two acts of leadership from your list next week, and circle back to review on Friday. How did they go? What was accomplished? How did you feel? Most of all, what did you learn? Begin each week with the same exercise. Repeat what needs repeating in different forms and situations until a leadership intangible is mastered.

Make planning and carrying out two new conscious acts of leadership a weekly habit. Because higher standards of performance for your organization begins with you.