Why we all need to care about the food industry
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Before Covid-19, few would have entertained the idea of a country like America running out of basic items like corn and infant formula. Since the pandemic, restaurants have closed, deliveries have exploded and consumer preferences have changed. At the same time, supply chain issues have become a worrying new normal that goes beyond empty supermarket shelves.
We will see the effects on menus when we dine in restaurants and cafes, as protein, fryer oil, packaging materials and spare parts for appliances become harder to find. Add to that a massive resignation and lack of chefs, food servers, farmers, field workers and anyone working with food industry-wide, and prices will continue to rise. sharply. Birthday parties, weddings, even when corporate executives want to impress investors or celebrate team experiences with corporate functions, they will feel that tighter pressure on their budget. Food companies support families and boost economies, but since the pandemic we have learned the hard way just how important a functioning food industry really is.
I may have retired from my day job, but I didn’t quit this industry. In my new approach to business – as a consumer and expert advisor, not a CEO – I see so much more. It turns out that the people’s diet industry is huge. As I began to realize how many moving parts really go into supplying people with food, the whole set of considerations for improving quality and safety, and how all of the moving parts in a food business actually work, here’s a few that surprised me.
Related: 3 Ways Small Businesses Can Survive the Supply Chain Crisis
Bigger than a bread box
Restaurants may not seem like an integral part of a functioning economy, but they generate jobs, not only for staff and management, but also in agriculture and transportation. In the United States alone, the food industry generates approximately 5% of total GDP, supports 11% of employment and accounts for 10% of consumer discretionary income. Globally, food consumption accounts for $4 trillion in expenditure. When restaurants thrive, the food industry behind them thrives, and when restaurants crash, the economy can follow.
From the waitress serving our meal, to the chefs who cook it, the management who run the restaurant, and the truckers, farmers, brewers and distillers who supply it; even technological innovators play a vital role in putting food on our table, and each moving element has its own complexity. Attention to detail in ethics and sustainability at every point of production, especially during an economic downturn, can give companies in a struggling industry a competitive edge.
Three guys who opened a beer garden in Pasadena, Calif., celebrate their food like no one else in the industry, considering every angle of every moving part to bring the most value to their consumers. They make sure their products are ethically sourced, use readily available locally available ingredients whenever possible, and buy everything from the right people. When consumers sit down to dinner in their restaurant, they feel confident that they know and approve of every aspect of the financial support they provide.
Related: The Future of Food: How Biotechnology Will Save Us All
A leader is more than a leader
All my years running a business in the food industry have never prepared me for what I’ve learned serving on corporate boards. When I accepted the position on the James Beard Foundation Board of Directors, I thought the company was just celebrating great leaders and focusing on what I could contribute to the rewards aspect of their business. Of course, being a James Beard Award-winning chef is the pinnacle of their brand, but being on their board taught me the real work they do to support a chef’s journey.
The foundation helps train young chefs to understand what it takes beyond good cooking. They offer workshops and programs on the business side of being a chef. Vocational training can keep them competitive, and better tools give them more ways to make great food, and everyone’s contribution helps them continue to keep their craft. Suddenly, the conversation around the food industry has widened to include knife makers, appliance makers, and cutting-edge culinary technologies.
Like many industries, chefs need greater representation and the foundation is working to make the restaurant industry more inclusive. Women make up less than a quarter of the country’s chefs and, on average, they earn more than $10,000 less than men. The foundation therefore offers programs to support more female chefs in the industry. My experience on the foundation’s board of directors drew my attention to the link between food and major social issues, such as diversity and gender equality. Learning all the intricacies of being a chef opened my eyes to the true size of the food industry.
Related: The 3 best food stocks to buy now
We can manage the industry better
Working for a big franchise, it might seem like I learned everything there was to know about the food industry, but now I’m learning how to do it better. Since my retirement, I started consulting, I started to see the industry on a much larger scale and I can now advise on aspects that I never had time for as CEO: the vertical integration of raw materials, competitive purchasing and global markets. Consulting gives me even more ways to see and participate in an industry that I have always loved and allows me to offer my years of expertise to the next generation who will lead the innovation of this industry.
It may be huge and essential for our economy, but there will always be new considerations to make the food industry and everything it touches bigger and better. Consumer demand continues to drive sustainability, and I love watching the transition as people pay more attention to the trend, making it less expensive and easier to participate in and evolve. I visited a new paper mill producing sustainable packaging items – a move away from plastic and an exciting new direction for the industry. The beauty of business is seeing new generations take what we’ve done well and do it better. This is how an industry not only grows to enormity, but thrives.
Related: Market forces alone are unlikely to solve the food security problem
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