I’m on the road this month, attending events for institutional foodservice operators, local food suppliers, and a conversation about reducing food waste hosted by Panasonic’s Innovation Lab.

Universities, schools, healthcare facilities and other non-commercial foodservice operations spend $48B on food each year.  This kind of purchasing power creates significant leverage for changing the food system.

Economic leverage is important. But the story we don’t often hear is about another kind of impact, from the chefs, dietitians, procurement specialists and other foodservice workers that affect people’s lives.  Most of us have eaten food prepared by foodservice professionals at different stages in our lives, at school and college, in a hospital, at work, in the military or at an assisted living facility.

I attended two conferences earlier this month that helped me think about the impact of foodservice operators – Menu Directions and the NACUFS Midwest Regional Conference.  These are trade shows, with workshops, keynotes, exhibitors, awards and lots of sponsorship plugs.  Make no mistake – it’s big business, with a wide swathe of influence.

Institutional food often gets a bad rap, sometimes deservedly so.  But most people choose careers in foodservice because they care about taste, nutrition, health and the quality of the experience they provide for their customers. Here’s some of what they do, every day:

  • Provide the fuel that enables people to learn and their bodies to grow and heal.
  • Teach young people about nutrition and wellness, and build eating habits that can last throughout their lives.
  • Create workplace environments that encourage employee wellness and social interaction that enhances collaboration and productivity.
  • Employ tens of thousands of students in part-time jobs that develop skills and help pay for their education.
  • Provide meals to children who might not have access to any food at home, and work on innovative programs to expand access to free meals.
  • Educate students and employees about farming and cooking through school and community gardens, farm visits, cooking classes and food-related curricula.

The foodservice programs of the 21st Century are simultaneously being pushed to evolve by a new generation of eaters who want better food, and educating eaters who will continue to drive change in the future.

There has been increasing awareness of the crazy reality that we waste one third of the food produced on our planet.  There is a growing number of new initiatives focused on addressing food waste.  Panasonic’s Innovation Lab hosted a discussion about food waste in San Francisco last week, bringing together people who work with hardware, software, hospitality, foodservice and production who are looking at ways to reduce waste through their businesses.  Rather than structuring formal panels or presentations, Panasonic hosted a small dinner and seeded the conversation with questions at each table.  It led to a deeper dive into the topic than the typical side conversations at a conference or formal meeting, putting people together with expertise in different areas to learn from one another and kick around options and ideas for a couple of focused hours.  (I’ll share more about the follow up discussion and Local Orbit’s work to address food waste in a future post.)

This week, I move to discussions with the supply and logistics side of the industry.  I’m moderating a panel about scaling up local food supply chains at the Good Food Festival & Conference in Chicago, with panelists from Amazing Grace Farm, Cherry Capital Foods, Testa, and Mutch Better Foods.

The Local Orbit team heads to Atlanta next week, for the National Food Hub Conference.  I’m thrilled to be moderating a discussion with three food chain powerhouses from across the country: Laura Edwards-Orr of Red Tomato, Diana Endicott of Good Nature Family Farms, and Nicole Mason of Veritable Vegetable.  Our topic: As Local Goes Mainstream, What Is Your Food Hub’s Real Value Proposition?

With Local Orbit’s Product Manager, Kate Barker, Program Manager, Conor Butkus, I will be leading a half-day workshop, Customer Journey Mapping:  Drill Down on Customer Experience to Increase Sales, Improve Service, and Extend Impact.

The complex relationship between food consumption, food production, and physical, environmental and community economic health, is one of the central issues of the 21st Century.

Across the supply chain, I’m encouraged by recent conversations with people who are reinventing the way they operate to address these challenges – from foodservice professionals who influence people every day, to large corporations focused on both employee engagement and new business opportunities, to food producers and logistics providers creating new ways to bring healthy, local and sustainable food to market.

Share This

Subscribe to our Newsletter


We share useful data, resources and occasional updates about the Local Orbit Network.

Thank you for subscribing to Local Orbit's Field Notes! Please check your email to confirm.