Last week two key segments of the foodservice industry came together during the 2010 edition of MAFSI's Annual Conference in San Antonio. It was encouraging to see such strong levels of participation among the reps and the factories they work with in the field. Was attendance so strong because of a better business environment within the foodservice industry? Or was it due to the fact that MAFSI attempted to address some of the more pressing issues of the day? I think the answer is yes.
Most of the reps and factories I spoke with during the course of the conference felt their business is slowly improving. Certainly, the upcoming NAFEM Show, Feb. 10-12, 2011, in Orlando, has something to do with the industry's more upbeat outlook. But it seems to me that business activity is generally increasing in all corners of the industry. Unfortunately, these increased activity levels are not generating much in the way of new projects. Only 34 percent of dealers report they have more business booked for next year compared to the same time frame in 2009. In addition, 32 percent of dealers say their business booked for next year is comparable to last year's levels at this time and 34 percent report a decline. (This data is part of FE&S' 2010 Industry Forecast Study, which we will release later this week.)
In addition, this year's conference agenda sought to address some very weighty subjects, including the impact of internet selling on the distribution channel, the affect buying groups are having on the role of the rep (and the industry), and an overview of healthcare reform and what it means to small business owners.
From my perspective, Saturday morning's operator roundtable was probably the gem of the agenda, which is unfortunate because this session was probably the most sparsely attended one of the conference. I was impressed with the very candid give and take between the operators in attendance and the reps who were probing them about the state of their businesses and ways to work more collaboratively. There was tons of useful information provided that would benefit the entire foodservice industry.
During the course of the next few days, I plan to provide a few more snippets of information and observations from the conference, sharing the points that seem relevant to all segments of the industry.