Foodservice: Waiting on the recovery

Foodservice: Waiting on the recovery

Earlier this year, the Independent Restaurant Coalition (which we support) sounded the alarm about the economic losses suffered by the sector. This month, the National Restaurant Association painted a grimmer picture: 10,000 restaurants are expected to close within weeks.

As a lover of the restaurant experience, this kind of loss is incomprehensible. To see the vocabulary around foodservice change from “fun,” “exciting” and “adventurous” to “chaotic,” “dire” and “devastating” hurts my heart because I’ve seen the pride growers, suppliers, distributors and operators take in serving their customers and communities.

To help our members navigate these unprecedented disruptions, PMA released Produce in Foodservice: Operator and Consumer Perspectives; a PMA global thinkTank report with contributions from foodservice executives; and most recently a roundtable discussion with foodservice leaders across the supply chain to explore the current state of the sector and the outlook for 2021.   

Our industry is naturally oriented to tackle challenges head on and create new ways to delight consumers. This pandemic is no exception.

Among the roundtable topics discussed were changing business operations, the critical need for transparency and collaboration across the supply chain, and the all-important consumer sentiments.

The next few months will be very rough and, for some, a crisis of survival. Technomic forecasts it will take years for sales, traffic and volume to recover.

However, our panelists also spoke of a future filled with great promise. The spark of innovation, entrepreneurship, risk-taking and profitable business practices have taken root. The foodservice landscape will look different, not only because of closures but from organizational transformations — but I also believe it will feel different as comfort grows in dining out once widespread vaccinations occur and immunity builds.

Our industry is naturally oriented to tackle challenges head on and create new ways to delight consumers. This pandemic is no exception. Innovation accelerated this, and those already on the innovation journey have fared very well. Foodservice at retail is only beginning to hit its stride, and Bloomberg even reports resourceful restauranters are setting up in empty hotel suites to create private dining rooms.

For the fresh produce industry, changes in consumer behavior have opened a window of opportunity resulting in a renewed focus on fueling bodies with foods that boost immunity and optimize wellbeing as consumers get back to their lives. This is the joy of fresh.

In the new future, restaurants in all segments will continue to be relevant. The creative itch from talented chefs will emerge with menu offerings, food trends, and incredible new restaurants. Foodservice is part of society and culture and will thrive again. Eventually, travel and leisure, schools and workplaces will return to a more stable business environment.

For the fresh produce industry, changes in consumer behavior have opened a window of opportunity resulting in a renewed focus on fueling bodies with foods that boost immunity and optimize wellbeing as consumers get back to their lives. This is the joy of fresh.  

The biggest unknown is the waiting: how the industry will look on the other side, especially as institutions, companies and talent may have moved on. Fifty percent of our roundtable respondents stated the pandemic is lasting longer than they thought, which can feel like an eternity. 

But waiting is what we must do, and as the late Tom Petty sang: “... the waiting is the hardest part.”

Lauren M. Scott is chief strategy and membership officer for the Produce Marketing Association.