Top Takeaways From The International Foodservice Distributors Association's Distribution Solutions Conference

We’ve packaged up the top takeaways from this annual conference into a report for you and your team. We can’t promise it will be all-inclusive, but it will be filled with actionable tips and insights we’ve gathered!

September 16, 2022

The International Foodservice Distributors Association pulled out all the stops for this year's Distribution Solution Conference. More than 150 top industry vendors showed up in the 40,000-sq-ft exhibit hall, companies and industry leaders helped host more than 24 education sessions, and we had conversations with many attendees on the industry’s most important issues.

The show opened with a thought-provoking keynote from futurist Mike Walsh, CEO of the consultancy Tomorrow. Noting that all in attendance were “already disruptors” after having to overhaul their organizational practices to make it through the pandemic, Walsh asked attendees to reimagine the concept of business innovation.

“As you think about the next five years, innovation will look very different. Not just doing things more efficiently or with fewer people but asking a bigger question: What is now possible in your business that simply was not possible before?” according to IFDA’s day one recap.  

Below you’ll find some of the most interesting industry takeaways from IFDA DSC 2022.

Top Takeaways From IFDA DSC

1. Old business strategies prevent future business growth.

"Although nearly 70% of distribution companies experienced growth in 2020, organizations that continue to rely on traditional distribution strategies are struggling to keep pace, let alone innovate and grow," according to Forbes Councils Member, Kevin Beasley.

2. Long-range planning is not “one and done.”

A plan built for a day from now or five years from now must remain dynamic. Assume variability and preserve your options while you continually learn what the customer wants and reduce uncertainty. Consider the analogy of Google Maps: if you make an unexpected turn, it redirects the path, but the foundation of the plan is built on the enduring vision: where you want to get.

3. Accurate and up-to-date inventory is still a competitive advantage.

Some have reported that it’s even a greater struggle than before due to supply chain shortages and fluctuating demand. Some foodservice distributors have also realized the benefits of technology that connects producers, distributors, and distribution customers in making it much less of a headache. 

4.  Big things are still out there - and come at us fast.

Susan Adzick, President of McLane Foodservice, Inc said “There is always something else” after noting how the rail strike was resolved the morning of the second day of IFDA. It’s important to lead with the mindset of ‘known unknowns’ so distributors can effectively do their jobs without getting overwhelmed.  

5. Warehouse operations need to outsmart their inefficiencies.

Congested aisles can hold up foot traffic and nearly every warehouse has had to deal with a broken-down forklift blocking a picking route. Foodservice distributors need automated alerts that notify employees of disruptions with workaround options. 

6. The DRIVE-Safe Act has a lot of momentum behind it as part of the solution to the truck driver shortage.

The Act focuses on reducing the existing requirement for drivers from 21 years old to 18, with additional training programs and performance benchmarks. Non-profits like NextGen Trucking have formed to drive the next generation of young people to careers in trucking with Career TechEd, while tools like AI robots to unload trucks and motorized pallet-jacks make the career accessible to a wider range of people.

7. Tech = a quality of life difference.

New technology is an investment that makes a marked difference in the quality of life for employees… and employees are in the driver’s seat right now (except when you can’t hire them because your truck seats haven’t been upgraded to be more comfortable!). Innovations in tools, processes, and technology allow you to meet your employees’ unique needs so you can offer work-life balance that improves employee hiring and retention.

8. Take a page out of the cybersecurity playbook.

It’s one thing to build preventative measures into place, but the inevitable will happen. As the former NSA ‘Queen of the Hackers’ shared, cybercriminal syndicates make up 75% of offensive activity these days. These are business-like operations working as a very professional criminal enterprise - and their state-trained hackers are very good at what they do. They are running very lucrative ($20B per year) “triple-extortion” ransom attacks and protection rackets. In response, foodservice distributors need to harden their data and software systems and not only prepare but practice - just like we have fire drills, we need data-disaster drills. It’s about proving that you both possess current, uncorrupted backups and know how to restore them quickly if your data is destroyed, encrypted, or corrupted. 

One savvy tip: Begin by looking into cybersecurity insurance and use the performance terms of the policy that you would be required to comply with to guide your security planning and implementation - whether or not you ultimately buy the policy. It turns out that cyber insurance only applies 40% of the time because when the insurer comes to “help” you recover they are also looking for evidence of  ‘gross negligence’ that negates their coverage.

9. Benefits of food donations are left on the table.

Many distributors already donate excess or expiring food but don’t track how much. Your system should track the quantity and value so the business can receive tax benefits for the donations. You’re entitled to a tax deduction of not only your cost to acquire that food (COGS) but also half of the lost profit margin (half the markup). And if the food can’t become someone’s meal, try to get it to a farmer as animal feed - anything to keep it out of the waste stream and cut your waste-disposal costs!

10. PDCA: Plan, Do, Check, Adjust.

Leaders need to have the willingness (and blessing) to pivot or persevere at key points within a project. Jon Krueger, Business Change Manager, Supply Chain with Gordon Food Service said the business must enable leaders to pivot without mercy or guilt. “It preserves morale by failing fast, not later,” he added.


Watch our Innovation Lab presentation: Building A Future-Proof Foodservice Distribution Operation below.


We look forward to attending and sharing insights from next year’s IFDA. Until then, we’ll continue sharing ways that technology can build your foodservice distribution business.

Visit our Distribution page or WMS page to learn more.  

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