Leaders weigh menu pressures from regulators, diners

Leaders weigh menu pressures from regulators, diners

Special Report

Hot Concepts! panelists discuss ways to tackle challenges [3]

ORLANDO, FLA. —Challenges to business, including regulators’ efforts to affect nutritional disclosures, and concerned consumers’ influence on menu trends were among the focal points of the 2007 Chain Operators Exchange conference of senior executives and corporate chefs here March 4-7.

“The impact on menus is going to be huge going forward,” said Michael J Licata, president and chief executive of COEX’s annual organizer, the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association. “The operator has to be very responsive to the consumer, and the operator is expecting the manufacturer to be able to deliver that quickly. Those are the issues that they need to work together on.” —Challenges to business, including regulators’ efforts to affect nutritional disclosures, and concerned consumers’ influence on menu trends were among the focal points of the 2007 Chain Operators Exchange conference of senior executives and corporate chefs here March 4-7.

COEX participants also analyzed the impact of the 2006 elections on the restaurant industry. —Challenges to business, including regulators’ efforts to affect nutritional disclosures, and concerned consumers’ influence on menu trends were among the focal points of the 2007 Chain Operators Exchange conference of senior executives and corporate chefs here March 4-7.

“Our issues are on the front burner,” said Ned Monroe, vice president of political affairs for the National Restaurant Association [4]. “We have to address this in a new marketing kind of concept when we talk to folks. We have to talk about this in a way that the new elected officials are looking at. We have to pay attention to the way we are involved not only at an individual level but at a corporate level in both government and public-policy issues.” —Challenges to business, including regulators’ efforts to affect nutritional disclosures, and concerned consumers’ influence on menu trends were among the focal points of the 2007 Chain Operators Exchange conference of senior executives and corporate chefs here March 4-7.

Industry leaders were drawn to the J.W. Marriott resort in Orlando by COEX’s theme of “Food, Flavor, Trends.” Licata said the conference attracted “well over 200 corporate chefs and foodservice executives. From the operators’ perspective, we dealt with the changes in the menu, especially as it relates to flavors and tastes.” —Challenges to business, including regulators’ efforts to affect nutritional disclosures, and concerned consumers’ influence on menu trends were among the focal points of the 2007 Chain Operators Exchange conference of senior executives and corporate chefs here March 4-7.

Monroe cited issues impacting the foodservice industry at all levels of government. He noted that the 2006 elections saw six states pass minimum-wage increases that included automatic annual increases, and that Congress had taken up the issue of raising the federal minimum wage by nearly 40 percent. Such municipalities as New York and Philadelphia have taken steps to ban trans fats, and cities are discussing measures for employer-paid sick leave, such as one sick-pay mandate recently passed in San Francisco. —Challenges to business, including regulators’ efforts to affect nutritional disclosures, and concerned consumers’ influence on menu trends were among the focal points of the 2007 Chain Operators Exchange conference of senior executives and corporate chefs here March 4-7.

“I would encourage folks to talk to folks at Darden [5],” Monroe said, referring to the government relations officials at the parent company of Olive Garden and Red Lobster [6]. “Darden has an amazing program, where senior regional individuals have a very active program to get to know the elected officials in their territories so they have a personal relationship.” Monroe also cited a similar program at OSI Restaurant Partners [7], parent of the Outback Steakhouse [8] chain. —Challenges to business, including regulators’ efforts to affect nutritional disclosures, and concerned consumers’ influence on menu trends were among the focal points of the 2007 Chain Operators Exchange conference of senior executives and corporate chefs here March 4-7.

“Richard Snead, president and chief executive of Carlson Restaurants Worldwide [9], has a slogan that we use…as it relates to government affairs: ‘You either have a seat at the table, or you are on the menu,’” Monroe said. “Right now we are on the menu. We are the focus of an awful lot of attention right now, and it’s not necessarily what we want.” —Challenges to business, including regulators’ efforts to affect nutritional disclosures, and concerned consumers’ influence on menu trends were among the focal points of the 2007 Chain Operators Exchange conference of senior executives and corporate chefs here March 4-7.

Addressing the food and flavor issues, Tim Ryan, president of The Culinary Institute of America [10], cited two of three trends that are becoming more entrenched, as identified by a panel of restaurant operators: “Flavor immigration, which is the CIA’s term for the influence of global cuisines on American menus, and healthfulness, the influence of nutritional concerns on American menus,” he said. —Challenges to business, including regulators’ efforts to affect nutritional disclosures, and concerned consumers’ influence on menu trends were among the focal points of the 2007 Chain Operators Exchange conference of senior executives and corporate chefs here March 4-7.

“While our industry has certainly been talking about these two trends for quite some time, we were surprised by the strength of the panelists’ response regarding their importance in the future,” Ryan said. “The third menu trend, food ethics, is not coming at us as a complete surprise, but again we were impressed by how quickly and strongly it seems to be emerging.” —Challenges to business, including regulators’ efforts to affect nutritional disclosures, and concerned consumers’ influence on menu trends were among the focal points of the 2007 Chain Operators Exchange conference of senior executives and corporate chefs here March 4-7.

“Of 164 operators surveyed in the CIA study, 89 percent said flavor immigration is a long-term change for the majority of foodservice companies,” Ryan said. The top five countries or regions that are influencing flavors are the Middle East, India, Spain, Southeast Asia and Mexico, he said. —Challenges to business, including regulators’ efforts to affect nutritional disclosures, and concerned consumers’ influence on menu trends were among the focal points of the 2007 Chain Operators Exchange conference of senior executives and corporate chefs here March 4-7.

Healthfulness and legislative pressures on nutrition were also surveyed, Ryan said. “By far the majority of respondents, 75 percent, said that it doesn’t matter what the government does—consumer demand is going to drive the shift toward more healthful menus,” he said. —Challenges to business, including regulators’ efforts to affect nutritional disclosures, and concerned consumers’ influence on menu trends were among the focal points of the 2007 Chain Operators Exchange conference of senior executives and corporate chefs here March 4-7.

Food ethics were considered important in the future by 75 percent of the respondents as well. Those issues, Ryan said, include sustainability, environmental friendliness, locally produced products, hormone- and chemical-free and organic ingredients. —Challenges to business, including regulators’ efforts to affect nutritional disclosures, and concerned consumers’ influence on menu trends were among the focal points of the 2007 Chain Operators Exchange conference of senior executives and corporate chefs here March 4-7.

“We can certainly, as an industry, decide to fight,” Ryan said. “I believe that a strong lobbying effort against ill-conceived, wrong-minded and harmful legislation must be a part of our overall strategy, but I am also convinced it cannot be our entire strategy. In order to continue to grow and keep pace with our customers’ demands, we are going to need to be more adaptable, more flexible and more innovative. It will serve your company and our industry well if we are seen to be proactive and innovators rather than entrenched resistors of change.” —Challenges to business, including regulators’ efforts to affect nutritional disclosures, and concerned consumers’ influence on menu trends were among the focal points of the 2007 Chain Operators Exchange conference of senior executives and corporate chefs here March 4-7.

Dan Coudreaut, who is director of culinary innovation for McDonald’s [11] domestic arm, said: “People are becoming more savvy about nutrition. They are needing real information. I think there has been some backlash from the fad diets. I think we, as professionals in the industry, have a great opportunity to really influence the way America eats.” —Challenges to business, including regulators’ efforts to affect nutritional disclosures, and concerned consumers’ influence on menu trends were among the focal points of the 2007 Chain Operators Exchange conference of senior executives and corporate chefs here March 4-7.

Customers, he added, are moving toward naturally and minimally processed foods. “I think there is going to be a big backlash against processed foods that we really can’t ignore,” Coudreaut said. “We’ve got to figure out a way to really address it.” —Challenges to business, including regulators’ efforts to affect nutritional disclosures, and concerned consumers’ influence on menu trends were among the focal points of the 2007 Chain Operators Exchange conference of senior executives and corporate chefs here March 4-7.