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Consultancy focus: Systhema Global Foodservice Consultants

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The Israeli firm was established in 2013 and today counts some of the most prestigious companies in the world among its clients. Elly Earls finds out why a systematic approach has been essential to its success

When Yaron Talmi FCSI and Ori Lief FCSI decided to team up to create a new foodservice consultancy in Israel in 2013, they had big ambitions. Not only did they want to raise the level of professionalism in the industry, they hoped to offer a more comprehensive range of services than any other firm.

With 55 years of experience between them, they were certainly the team to do it. Industry veteran Talmi, who heads up the consulting division, has spent the last 30 years honing his expertise in management and catering economics, business and organisational consulting, law and engineering. Lief, the director of the functional designing division and an expert in high-tech health and institutional kitchen design, has more than 25 years of experience designing hundreds of projects in Israel and around the world.

Today, Systhema brings together a multi-disciplinary team from all areas of the foodservice field to offer a complete planning, consultancy and design service. After only six years in business, it is already the largest consultancy of its kind in Israel, with clients among the most prestigious companies operating in the country – from IKEA to Microsoft.

A systematic approach

Right from the outset, Talmi and Lief knew that a methodical approach would be key to their success. As Talmi recalls, “An initial decision in the start-up phase was to start a company that would work in a systematic way, according to an orderly theory that enables success over time – hence the name of the company: Systhema = System + Theme. The slogan of the company is our basic foundation, ‘Method Builds Success’, as a way of life.”

This philosophy is ingrained in the mindset of Systhema’s 16 employees, one of whom is Eran Noy, a chef consultant who has been with the company for the past five years. “We like to see ourselves as inside partners of our clients, thoroughly learning their needs and every-day operational practice,” he explains. “We dig down to the details of their business with our versatile team in order to create a database reference that is unmatchable in this field.”

At the same time, there is a warmth to the company’s approach that is reminiscent of Israel’s historic kibbutz or ‘gathering’ system, a collective community that was traditionally based around agriculture. “Historically, we may consider that the kibbutz idea, with its central dining hall, was the cradle of functional foodservice design and consultancy in Israel,” says Talmi. “Both of us [founders] were born in the Kibbutz system and we still feature the warmth and comradeship of kibbutz people.”

Projects of unparalleled complexity

For Talmi, the most interesting projects Systhema is involved in are the larger and more complex ones, where the team can provide a complete response to all the customer’s food and dining needs.

“For example, we are currently working on the establishment of an upgraded food system for the Sheba Medical Center in Tel Aviv, which is Israel’s largest hospital and a world-renowned leader,” he says.

The campus, which also includes two hotels, kindergartens and restaurants, caters for more than 2,500 patients and 5,000 employees, most of them from one central food centre. “It prepares and serves more than 9,000 meals a day, from Mediterranean-based diets to special dietary needs, all in-house, with an unparalleled complexity of different needs,” Noy explains.

Bitya Shalev FCSI, is an independent consultant specialising in sustainability who works with Systhema on a freelance basis. She also relishes the challenge of working on complex projects.

“One of the projects I am most proud of is writing the foodservice specifications for the army camps the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is moving to the south of Israel,” she says. “These are huge build-operate-transfer projects and the tenders contain every possible aspect of such vast facilities.

“In addition, the IDF – like all other institutions – is awakening to the realm of ecological problems and the urgent need to deal with them as soon as possible, both for the health of the people and for the sake of the environment.”

Looking ahead, Lief says Systhema will continue to specialise in complex and challenging projects. “I would also like the firm to contribute more to disadvantaged areas of the population, aiming to raise the level of catering they receive,” he adds. “This may be communities that include the sick, elderly, mentally ill, autistic, disabled and socially disabled, as well as childrens’ institutes.”

Meeting kosher requirements

One of the main challenges of operating in Israel is the added complexity of Jewish kosher requirements. “This means, in particular, the complete separation of milk and meat and a separate department of ‘Parve’ food (neither milk or meat) which can be served at any meal,” Talmi explains.

In other words, every kitchen and serving system has to be divided into three. This is a challenge which, Noy says, demands creative planning in order to facilitate double and triple production levels in each kitchen and service area, without doubling the area or the budgets.

In addition, according to Jewish religious law, work is forbidden on Shabbat, which is observed from a few minutes before sunset on Friday evening until the appearance of three stars in the sky on Saturday night. “Solutions must be provided to efficiently treat food cooked and chilled before Shabbat and reheated during the Shabbat by automatic heating devices,” Talmi says.

Innovation and creativity

Ranked sixth in the world by Startup Genome’s Startup Ecosystem Rankings in 2019, Israel has been recognised internationally as a ‘startup nation’, punching above its weight for a country with a population of only eight million. Talmi says this brings with it both opportunities and challenges.

“Israel is a fascinating and challenging country. A country of immigrants from all over the world, a country of start-ups, innovation and creativity, which also evokes creativity in the culinary field, as well as being very small,” he says.

“On the one hand, this causes Israelis to travel throughout the world and requires Israeli entrepreneurs to be smart and creative in order to remain relevant and profitable.

“On the other hand, cooking technologies do not catch up with the real needs of the sector, foremost in the area of data management, especially in the catering systems of large organisations, which require computerised planning, control throughout the process and compliance with standardisation. On these issues, the world of foodservice is far behind all other markets.”

It’s an area in which Noy believes Systhema has a real opportunity to stand out from the crowd. “My main focus is on the culinary operational side,” he explains, “with a big emphasis on introducing smart and updated technologies and practices in production methods and creating the ideal workflow, while targeting a cut down in labour, production time and better consistency in production,” he says.

In order to achieve this, he and his team are constantly travelling around the world to observe automation and large-scale production solutions and work out how to scale these down to the kitchen. For Talmi, this is Systhema’s biggest challenge, but Noy is confident that the younger generation can overcome it.

“I believe that the future of the company is in our younger generation that is already introducing more automation and smart production and monitoring technologies to kitchens. With the future of 5G and the Internet of Things, it looks like we are about to reach the final frontier,” he predicts.

Elly Earls