On the final day of the MAFSI Conference, FCSI hosted sessions discussing the challenges and opportunities in foodservice consulting, as Tina Nielsen reports
There was standing room only when foodservice consultants Eric Norman FCSI, vice president of Clevenger Associates, and James Camacho FCSI, president of Camacho Associates, led several roundtable sessions at the 2018 Manufacturers Agents Association for the Foodservice Industry (MAFSI) Conference, discussing how to work with consultants.
The sessions, entitled ‘Consultants in HD’ in line with the overall theme of the MAFSI conference ‘Compete in HD’, were intended to throw some light on the challenges and opportunities faced by consultants as well as their clients and business collaborators. Or as Norman called it, “Foodservice consulting 101”. He talked about the biggest current trends for his firm, including more local fresh produce being used, smaller footprints of kitchen and sustainability.
“The increase in fresh produce means we have to rethink how we are doing kitchen design; it impacts on aspects such as storage space,” he said.
“The smaller footprint means we approach a project differently and sustainability is an issue for every project we do, regardless of size.”
The one thing that hasn’t changed, said Camacho, is the need to stay competitive. “You have to keep working to stay ahead. How many manufacturers have chefs and test kitchens? If you are not at the table you have to be on the menu,” he said. “You have to keep improving to compete”.
Changing of the guard
The issue of an ageing workforce is pertinent across the wider industry and foodservice consulting is no exception. Passing on to a younger workforce was raised at all sessions. Camacho, the past chair of FCSI The Americas Division, who has been a foodservice consultant for 39 years talked about how his own role is changing.
“My job now is to makes sure I can teach at least one thing a day – it is just about helping younger people now,” he said. “I am becoming the B team now – I walked into a meeting this week and the architect looked up and said ‘the B team is here’.”
Norman, president elect of FCSI The Americas Division – due to take over in 2020 – is among a group of younger consultants. He acknowledged the lack of a pipeline of younger consultants ready to step in and predicted more consolidation.
“In my area we have some consultants that are ageing and there doesn’t seem to be a succession plan. What you’ll see is mergers and acquisitions becoming bigger in the next five or 10 years,” he said.
“On the flipside you are seeing some ageing consultants now, but when you go the conferences you’ll see a lot of young people.”
The highly interactive sessions saw many questions being asked from the audience, ranging from how reps can work smarter with consultants and the increasingly blurred area of responsibilities on a project to absorbing the high price of introducing Revit software to the business.
“Revit is extremely important to us; on almost every project we do. But moving to a new software platform is very costly,” said Norman.
Camacho described it as, “big investment but it is starting to pay for itself.”
The relationship between consultants and reps is a vital one and the two were keen to stress how much they value this. “The reps are invaluable to us. Call in every six weeks or so and check in with us. We need to find out what the new product lines are; we are always working on some great projects,” said Norman. “We want to see what sets you apart from the competition; the quality of the products.”
In fact, Camacho said, actively maintaining the consultant relationship is the best way to get on to the projects. “Lunch and learn sessions is something we do a lot but you can also just stop by to show a few new products. We’re always open to that because we always looking to learn.”