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MAFSI 2018 draws record numbers in Naples, Florida

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Last week foodservice equipment manufacturers and reps gathered at the Naples Grande Beach Resort in Naples, Florida, for four days of learning and networking at MAFSI 2018, reports Tina Nielsen

More than 600 delegates turned out for MAFSI 2018, among them 200 manufacturers and 340 reps. As MAFSI president Chris Jeens pointed out, this was the largest conference ever for the association.

The theme of the conference, ‘Compete in HD’, was explained by Jeens, a partner of WD College in Ontario, as “Cutting through the noise to achieve a clearer picture”. This central point was approached from every possible angle to show how foodservice equipment professionals can gain advantage and grow in an ever changing industry.

Executive director Alison Cody and associate executive director Tom Jedlowski prepared a varied and busy schedule with high quality speakers and much to be learnt.

Challenges, but opportunities

The overall message from keynote speakers was a positive one. Marketing coach and speaker Terry Brock kicked off the conference with a session looking at the biggest trends in technology currently happening and about to happen. His message to delegates? “Yes, there are challenges but with challenges come opportunities.” He urged them to embrace the changes that are already happening, but to remember to bring people with them on the journey.

Futurist and best-selling author Daniel Burrus, had a similar message: look ahead for opportunities, find out what is coming next and take advantage of it. “Are you the disruptor or the disrupted?” he asked.

Amazon Business spoke to a packed room about the opportunities to partner with the internet giant and explained how the business side of Amazon works while consultant Curt Steinhorst gave an entertaining speech on how to reach customers in an age of constant distractions and unlimited access to technology.

Focus on education

Across the three full days attendees could choose from a wealth of sessions: keynote speakers discussing disruptive trends to big picture economic outlook. Additionally there were more than 50 break-out sessions taking place in between the main sessions. The concourse was packed with manufacturers showing off their equipment and many looking for reps. This year’s conference saw a record number of hot line tables; several European manufacturers attended for the first time, looking to expand into the US market.

Throughout the programme tech terms were discussed, some more familiar than others – the use of drones, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, virtual reality, 3D printing – but they all have in common that they are likely to have an impact on the foodservice world in the near future.

The conference programme theme reflected feedback from members. “When we asked members in each of the territories about their concerns, technology was the main one,” said conference co-chair Sandra Hamilton. “The educational aspect is the main driver of the MAFSI conference and we had phenomenal feedback this year. Delegates came out of every session having learnt something new.”

Strengthening relationships

Consolidation and collaboration were just two topics that were discussed around the conference. Factors including an ageing workforce across the industry is likely to lead to more consolidation in foodservice. This at least was the view of Eric Norman FCSI, vice president of Clevenger Associates, who held three discussion sessions with James Camacho FCSI of Camacho Associates. “You will see companies starting to get much bigger,” he said.

Collaboration was another buzz word with many companies and professionals starting to see that working together is good for business. This spirit is reflected in the strengthening relationships between the five families of foodservice (MAFSI, FCSI, NAFEM, FEDA, CFESA). Jeens explained increased collaboration in the last three years have led to the latter three organising a joint conference for the end of March this year.

While the record visitor numbers is likely to reflect an increase in the MAFSI general membership numbers, but there is no doubt that delegates at MAFSI 2018 understood there is a need to collaborate and learn from each other to grow and develop.

It’s a notion that the people planning the programme understand well too. “The main thing is that whatever we have showed delegates has inspired them to improve in their business,” said co-chair Hamilton.

Tina Nielsen