Guest Post from SCRC Research Fellow Graham Givens: Update from the National Restaurant Association Meeting

Today’s guest post is from Graham Givens.  Graham is a Research Fellow at the Supply Chain Resource Cooperative, where he works closely on local food systems through the Center for Environmental Farming Systems.  He reports on his recent visit to the National Restaurant Association  Supply Chain Management Executive Study Group meeting in Chicago.

“The NRA’s Supply Chain Management Executive Study Group’s main mission is to share information and skills between supply chain professionals in the restaurant industry by holding meetings like the one I attended. In attendance are some of the largest restaurants, distributors, and service providers.

At this meeting, I had the chance to meet with supply chain professionals from Sheets, The Shake Shack, Church’s Chicken, P&G, and Restaurant Services, Inc. The meetings provide an array of useful information for industry professionals through panels and presentations from industry experts. The most interesting presentation was one by David Donnan, Partner at A.T. Kearney. David’s presentation detailed the current trends in industry and offered predictions on where the industry is headed. From increased supply market volatility to increased technology usage across the chain, the industry appears to be going through some major changes.

Most pertinent to my own research at the SCRC is the increasing demand for localized and fresh options. David labeled this as one of the top 5 market trends in the industry today with serious implication for sourcing and marketing. He suggested that this is mostly coming about with the changing taste profile of the millennial generation. Though a few restaurants in attendance were already working to capitalize on this trend, most appeared to be stuck in their old ways.

This was most apparent when someone asked a senior executive from a major fast casual chain, who was on a panel the day before David’s presentation, whether the company would be changing their product portfolio to fit the increased demand for fresh, healthy options. The executive made it very clear that there wouldn’t be a change. Though he did bring up the fact that millennial’s top restaurant was McDonalds (upon further research I couldn’t find whether this was correct), it surprised me that there was such strong resistance to change in response to an up and coming trend. With McDonalds quickly changing their product offerings (breakfast all day) to bring back sales after fierce competition from Chipotle and Shake Shack, you would think other large restaurants chains would be considering the increasing threat from restaurants that differentiate their products on freshness. I guess many of these large restaurant chains are taking the wait and see approach to this up and coming trend. Only time will tell if this was the best option.”

Graham and CES are funded by a grant from the USDA to support local food systems.