The majority of cafeterias, food bars, and cafes at schools, colleges, hospitals, or military campuses aren’t privately run by the institution they’re at. It isn’t the local organization that supplies the food or hires the personnel who prepare the food for employees, staff, and students. Instead, this is done by large, multinational firms that contract with each site to provide them with the food they need. These contract foodservice management companies (or CFMs) oversee the entire process from sourcing food from suppliers to preparing and serving it at locations all over the world.
Big Companies, Big Picture
Large CFMs such as Sodexo from France, Aramark from Philadelphia in the US, and Compass from England each own big chunks of the $200-billion-dollar non-commercial foodservice sector in the US. At K-12, high school, and college campuses, hospitals, healthcare centers, and corporate offices, food is usually provided to students, staff, and employees through the operations of these big contract foodservice companies.
One of the biggest results of this is centralized supply buying power. Each individual cafeteria across the country isn’t supplying its own needs. Instead, purchasing is done at the corporate level through each of these big CFMs.
This means these large CFMs become gatekeepers for the foodservice industry. In order for anyone to become a supplier in that industry, they need to market themselves to these few large companies. This also means that purchases are done in bulk. Large needs require these companies to buy in extremely large quantities. This creates savings they can pass on to the college, office, or hospital they contract with.
The Consumer Is Still the Focus
Despite these large companies being the ones in charge of sourcing the food and getting it to local consumers in cafeterias across the country, the end user is still the primary focus. No matter how many steps occur between the supply stage and the final product, smart companies still put the end consumers’ wants and needs first.
This is important for an aspiring supplier to the non-commercial foodservice industry. The best way to attract the attention of a CFM buyer is to create a product that appeals to the end user. A food product that arguably appeals to a market that the CFM serves has a better chance of being selected over one that doesn’t possess any special appeal.
A good example of this is at colleges across the country, where students are becoming increasingly aware of the processes behind producing the food they eat. Because of this, sustainably sourced food is preferred by college students more and more every year. A greater interest in the health benefits of food has also changed the kind of foods that consumers prefer. A food supplier who understands these needs and creates a product that meets them, and then communicates the value they’ve created to the CFM they hope to supply, has found a way to distinguish themselves and the value they offer.
The ability to create products that stand out for their end user value is becoming ever more important as consumers become more and more discriminating and informed about their purchasing decisions. Understanding and catering to the needs and wants of the consumer is the best way to gain traction with intermediaries such as a CFM.
Tips and First Steps
Creating a product that appeals to end consumers needs to be central to the process of becoming a supplier of a CFM in the non-commercial foodservice industry. But there are some other things to consider and prioritize on the road to becoming a successful foodservice supplier.
- Decide which segment of the foodservice sector you will focus on. Is it a hospital, private or public college, or corporate office you will be supplying? Focus on creating products that especially appeal to the demographic you’re serving. And be sure to communicate and market that appeal to the CFM.
- Do your research on competitors. Find out what other suppliers are providing to their CFMs and what categories they are focusing on. This will help you differentiate your product and offer something that’s unique and marketable.
- Attend and exhibit at conferences and trade shows. Be sure to target the events that fit most closely with your chosen product segment.
- And finally, it’s important to keep reaching out. Make yourself known at corporate headquarters by connecting with buyers and CFM decision makers.
Getting established in the foodservice industry won’t be an easy or fast process, but if you have a plan for connecting with catering firms through appeal you’ve created with end consumers, that really helps the process, and you will find success sooner rather than later.