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.


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