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Preview: 2022 FCSI The Americas Division Biennial Conference

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After an enforced break FCSI The Americas Division’s Biennial Conference is happening in Montreal, Canada, next week between April 21-23. Amelia Levin looks ahead to all the events and previews the highlights

Together again. Those are two timely words describing the theme for the 2022 FCSI The Americas Division Biennial Conference, scheduled for April 21-23, in food-centric Montreal, Canada.

The agenda promises a line-up of expert speakers and educational programming – but also plenty of fun and networking that we’ve missed as a result of the pandemic and cancelation of the 2021 NAFEM Show/TAD Symposium last summer.“The event presents an ideal opportunity to pause and reflect on how valuable great networking and peer-to-peer learning can be and how it benefits the consultant community,” says Wade Koehler, FCSI TAD executive director. “There’s an adage that ‘content is king,’ but right now, ‘contact is king.’ I feel that’s what we’re all craving and will be looking forward to in Montreal. It will be great to finally be together again.”Kicking off the two-day event, the opening party will be onsite at the hotel on the evening of Thursday, April 21, to allow plenty of time for reconnecting with friends and peers in a relaxed setting without interruption.

Keynote and sessions

Programming for Day 1 includes a presentation by keynote speaker Mike Lee, who will address The Future of Foodservice. In this session, Lee will examine the consumer behaviors and innovations that are shaping the future of food as well as their implications for foodservice businesses today and tomorrow. Lee will also explore a selection of the most salient trends that are shaping how foodservice producers and consumers will need to operate into the next decade.

Two other professional speakers will present during the general session. April Simpkins, chief human resources officer for Totalhr who was named one of Charlotte’s 50 Most Influential Women by a North Carolina news outlet, will present on HR challenges impacting us all during the ongoing pandemic.

To liven up the atmosphere, comedian and author Jessica Holmes will address an important issue affecting many of us during the ongoing pandemic – mental health challenges – but with a relatable spin and a few laughs meant to encourage and inspire us all to take care of ourselves and each other.

Also, during the general session, a panel featuring members of allied associations (NAFEM, MAFSI, CFESA and FCSI) will talk about how they envision the future of each group and how we can all work together.

Breakout sessions this year will touch on everything from automation and robots, the “new” sustainability, KPIs, ventless technology 101, new distribution channels, project management mastery, POS/mobile ordering, joint ventures for the future and designing for post- pandemic times.

There will also be two strategic planning workshops for attendees looking to develop their long-range business planning as well as a how-to session on video marketing solutions. To view the full agenda, visit fcsita.org/ home/conference-program.

Keynote speaker Peter Shankman will close out the educational programming with a session covering the Economy of the Next 50 Years. During this presentation, Shankman will discuss the five rules of the customer economy, why speed matters, how to stay “top-of-mind” in every type of customer’s mind, and how to connect with younger consumers from Generations Z and Alpha.

Debuting this year, a Revit Room will be staffed with volunteers during the entire conference to address questions or challenges working with the technology. Attendees are encouraged to bring their laptops into the room to meet with these Revit masters for their tips and tricks.

Don’t miss the annual Innovation Showcase, a collection of booths showcasing the top 10 products nominated by a panel of consultants and vying for the Product of the Year award. Their innovations will remain on display throughout the entire conference.

The team behind the scenes

The Conference Planning Committee (CPC) – which is comprised of FCSI Consultant and Allied members and consists of Stephanie Gilbert (Chair), Sojo Alex, Brett Daniel FCSI, Peg Galie FCSI, Eric Goodrich, Brent Hall FCSI, Kevin Kochman, Kathleen Held, Danielle Mason, Kyle Schwartz, Tara Schroeder FCSI, and Bernadette Ventura – worked closely with Wade Koehler’s team, to recruit and develop educational session speakers for the event.

The CPC’s aim is to stay ahead of trends in order for members to learn from each other, but also to have fun and enjoy creative sparks.

“Never has there been a more critical time for the specifying, design and manufacturing communities to learn, connect and share with one another,” says Stephanie Gilbert, executive vice president of corporate growth strategy at Food Service Holdings, the first-ever allied member to chair the committee. “Collaboration, strategy and alignment are going to be key in navigating our current climate, which presents us with equal parts unique challenges, coupled with unparalleled opportunity. At the 2022 FCSI Conference, we are going to address all this and more, in addition to having a phenomenal time. I couldn’t be more excited to engage with fellow Allied and Consultant attendees this April in Montreal.”

Penny Price, FCSI’s director of member services, says the consultant and Allied members on the CPC did a great job choosing topics that are most relevant to today’s foodservice consultant. “We rely heavily on our CPC team. As association executives, we know how to plan schedules, audio visual (AV) and evening events but the CPC members are instrumental in helping us choose the best educational sessions we can offer to cover current foodservice issues.

“Being immersed in the industry, they know what topics and trends are important to their peers. We ensure there’s something for everyone on the schedule so attendees will always see a good mix of topics that appeal to design consultants, MAS consultants, business owners and manufacturers,” she adds.

Koehler and his team also extend a huge thank you to this year’s sponsors, who were overwhelmingly generous with their support. “We are so fortunate to have the support we do from our Allied membership. It never goes unnoticed and is always much appreciated. We also know none of it would be possible without our amazing sponsors,” he says.

More socializing opportunities

Of course, nothing says an FCSI event like a chance to just have some good fun. “We love to throw a party and we understand how important networking is for all attendees, so we make sure to have a good mix of education during the day and fun evening events where attendees can catch up and reconnect,” says Price.

The second night activity will include a visit to a working maple syrup farm, or sugar shack, called Sucrerie De La Montagne, located amid a 120-acre forest atop Mont Rigaud, west of Montréal. There, conference attendees will get a momentary glimpse of life as it might have been for Québec and Canadian pioneers as father-son owners, Pierre and Stefan Faucher, share stories. The trip will also include a delicious and hearty meal fit for a lumberjack.

The final night’s festivities will be back at the hotel. At press time, details were still being worked out, but Koehler says: “We plan to throw a great ending party to celebrate being together again.”

“By the time the event rolls around, many of us will not have been to an in-person FCSI event in nearly four years,” says Price. “The Conference will be extra special this year because our members are so excited to see old friends, learn together and share ideas – live and in person – not on a video call or webinar. In my opinion networking, collaborating, and learning just aren’t the same when done virtually. We have been able to create and host some great programs during this challenging time – the BizEssentials webinar series, the On Tap video podcasts, and the virtual Happy Hours were all very well received and allowed us to provide members with excellent opportunities to learn and grow during a time when we couldn’t be together as we normally would. But there’s simply no way to replicate online the in-person experiences and energy that our members share when they attend an FCSI Conference, Symposium, or Chapter event,” she says.

“I am really looking forward to finally meeting the FCSI The Americas members who I have corresponded with for two years,” says Amy Stark, director of administration, FCSI The Americas. “Our committee put together a really interesting program and I look forward to learning more about the industry and its members. Plus, the opportunity to visit a city like Montreal makes a good event even better.”

Keeping Covid in mind

Price points out the lifelong friendships that have developed because of FCSI The Americas events. “One thing that continues to impress me is that FCSI members really enjoy spending time with each other and catching up at our events; I see real connections between our members that I don’t see at other industry events that I attend,” she says.

Eric Norman FCSI, vice president, Midwest for Clevenger Associates, and chair of The Americas Division, also highlights the chance to get back together with friends and colleagues. “So much has happened over the last two years with our conferences and events being cancelled regularly and we have not had a chance to gather with our FCSI friends and colleagues in quite a long time,” he says. “That opportunity to network and catch up with the FCSI membership may be the thing that I am most excited about for the Montreal Conference. Of course, there will also be the top-notch educational opportunities and sessions. These are great assets to learn and help us hone our skill set, which is really the most important thing about our conferences.”

Of course, safety will be top-of-mind for the FCSI planning team. “We will be in communication prior to the event with members in regard to Covid protocols and travel into Canada for those coming from the US,” says Koehler. “We will also be offering Covid testing on-site that will be free for attendees so they can test before they travel home per re-entry and air travel requirements. We continue to work closely with the Montreal tourism department to determine all of the necessary details and precautions to take and will share those as they become available.”

Until then, gear up and get ready for some top-quality, highly anticipated learning and good old FCSI fun.

Amelia Levin