Disrupting Food Service
Thursday, May 16, 2019
Live events are one of the biggest producers of waste and mass consumption. They also serve as an opportunity for education and change when planners take sustainability into account. With sustainable events planning in mind, the International Live Events Association (ILEA) invited Mark Freeman to speak at their annual conference, ILEA Live, 8–10 August 2019. Freeman, with experience as a global strategic manager for food service at Microsoft and now Ford, has a lot to say about how events industry professionals can be more proactive when it comes to events sustainability and food planning. Keep reading to learn more about this ILEA Live speaker.
As the global strategic manager for food service at Ford Motor Company, what does your day-to-day look like?
I deal with strategy and creating high-level products. As a manager in food service, people often think I’m deeply involved in daily operations, like scheduling when cooks show up for work, but I’m more connected to the development of strategies. For instance, I have meetings with contractors to make sure they are delivering food service in a proper manner. There is no day that’s the same as the last. I’m remote — working in cafes and watching what customers and workers do, as well as flows of food service. I often get involved in the design of cafes, conference centers and buildings, examining how they interact with people and how people gain clear access to the dining program.
Ford is going through a culture change focused on customer and employee experience, and food really helps people resonate with culture. Food has a huge role in changing cultures; it gives people like me the chance to actually talk to developers and scientists and work together to create the greatest mobility solution that exists. We can’t do that in siloes. Food and food experiences change people’s ways of thinking. I’m all about casual collisions — maybe you’re going to the dining space and you run into someone who is working on something similar and all the sudden the world changes.
Can you give us some highlights of your upcoming ILEA Live session?
One of the things I want to emphasize is the concept of disruption. I’ve seen many disruptors along the way, so I have my ear tuned to those that have really changed the world. Henry Ford, for example, changed the way that manufacturing is done and the way people moved around the country. He really had this disruptive force around him. Talking about people like that is something I really want to get into a bit deeper and help event professionals understand that they too can be disruptors. I want them to take the learnings that they’re gaining at ILEA Live and bring it into their world. Since I’ve been involved in ILEA, I’ve seen that there are a lot of creative people here. They have to be because one event is never the same as the next; they have to create something totally new every time.
I’ll also touch on digital transformation — how the digital world plays a role in food, food waste and some different aspects around farming.
You’re passionate about food transparency and “slow food” initiatives. Can you explain that concept a little more? What inspired this interest?
I had an opportunity to speak in Milan at the World Expo in 2015 because Microsoft was sponsoring a USA pavilion there. The whole expo was related to feeding the world. By the year 2050, there will be a projected 10 billion people on the planet … How do we feed that many people? One of the exhibits there was a “slow food” exhibit. At the time, I didn’t understand what it was, and I got intrigued by it. By happenstance, I was also able to take a trip to the College of Science and Gastronomy in Italy, where slow food was actually born. Carlo Petrini started the movement when he saw a McDonald’s in Milan. He didn’t like that because Italians are passionate about food and where it comes from. So he started the college strictly for this idea of what he calls “good, clean and fair food.” It was cool to be at the point of where this all began. When I came back to my world at Microsoft, I told the chefs about slow food and got a “deer in headlights” look. I realized then that we need to educate chefs and consumers on this concept of good, clean and fair.
Why is it important for events professionals to be conscious of where their food comes from?
Event companies need to zero in on what the customer is demanding. I learned this at Microsoft loud and clear. The young people of today are driving pretty much everything. They are definitely concerned about sustainability, the earth and doing things right. They’re also quite interested in transparency of the food, such as how it’s grown, if it’s plant-based, is it compostable, how farmers have taken care of the air, the bees, etc. It’s going to be important for industry professionals to be aware that customers demand this knowledge. If there’s wasted food, events teams should be able to answer where it’s going and why it’s being wasted. If they don’t, they will go somewhere else or use companies that do pay attention to those things.
It’s a daunting task to have to do volumes of food at highly attended events and then deal with waste. Digital transformations and data can help events teams prep the kind of food that can allow for less waste, as well as the ability to the explain to the customer why they do what they do. When they tell these stories to consumers, they become more engaged in the event.
What are some common misconceptions surrounding food service and the food production, particularly when it comes to events?
This really goes back to the end consumer. Their perception of events is that there’s a bunch of people back in the kitchen dumping out food from bags and cooking in mass ovens, steamers and soup pots. I don’t think cooking food out of a bag is really happening anymore. It’s a huge misconception about what’s really going on these days with the advent of new cooking methods like sous-vide, as well as the effect of weather, traffic, location, etc. on people’s eating habits. There are serious culinarians in the kitchens doing what needs to be done to buy locally and sustainably.
How can food service companies and caterers offer cleaner and more ethical food options?
What does that transition look like? It’s paying attention and owning the supply chain. Growing their own lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc., and displaying that information as part of the event or dining program so people start to really understand that the company cares and is doing things the right way. This helps people change their thinking. These companies have to look at things differently and be disruptors in food service — looking for new ways to drive customer satisfaction and experience. If they understand their audience, it makes it a lot easier to be a disrupter.
From your perspective, what can live events planners do to make their events more sustainable?
I’m a proponent of data collection. At Microsoft, we were able to predict within a 96% accuracy rate how many people come into our café tomorrow. Then we were at 94% at around 30 days out. When I left, we were beginning to predict, at the product level, of those people that came in tomorrow, what they were going to eat. This is all based on data collection put it into the cloud. From there we could figure out what it is we should prepare. Event planners can step into that world and understand how people move at an event on a rainy day versus a sunny day or when there’s high traffic or a competing event. All these data sources give them the ability to then predict how people will eat, move and react to certain types of events. As this information starts to collect over long periods of time, they can put all this data together into the right algorithm, and it really starts to tell a story. The event industry is going to need to rely on those data sources to be able to manage their businesses better and to better embrace customer expectations. To me, data is going to drive all of that understanding and knowledge to be able to give them what they need.
What kinds of technology do you think will help eliminate food waste and provide sustainable alternatives, particularly at events where mass consumption is common?
Understanding data and being able to predict is going to be huge. We’ve been playing around with measuring food as it’s being put out, onto a chafing rack or some vessel and how then it’s being removed from that vessel so that a caterer will know exactly where they are in the meal and how much more food to prepare. Predictive analytics, for example, can show that more potatoes need to be brought out at a certain time, maybe even down to the second, and how much is going to be consumed based on how many people are in line. Visuals like cameras, facial recognition or tracking devices in food vessels can all help drive our understanding and management of food waste.
Blockchain is huge. I’ve talked to some data scientists about finding ways to take it down even to the cellular level of food. That’s the type of detail customers will want, and it’s a great marketing point. For example, at Microsoft, we used to take our chefs to a salmon fishery in Washington. We would film them harvesting the salmon. Back in the cafeteria, they could access a video on their phone that would not only show them the nutritional information, but also the footage of their chef harvesting the fish they are about to eat. It builds an element of trust and connects the customer to the food in a whole different way.
What advice do you have for events planners trying to offer fair trade food services on a budget?
If you don’t invest, your customers will leave. Get better corporation contracts and find other ways to absorb that cost. Ultimately, it will be hard to compete against someone who’s already found a way to do this.
What is one thing you hope ILEA Live attendees get out of your presentation?
For me, it’s going to hopefully convey this idea that disruption isn’t as scary as it sounds. It’s not just available to a select few like Henry Ford or Steve Jobs. Anyone can be a disruptor if they open their mind up. It might be scary to begin with, but the results outweigh the risks by a long shot. Everything’s moving so fast that disruption is necessary at all levels and industries, especially live events.
Want to hear more from Mark Freeman? Attend his education session at ILEA Live. Register today!
A leader, innovator and disrupter in the corporate food service industry, Mark Freeman’s constant quest for the next best thing drives his passion. Freeman was the innovative force behind the highly acclaimed and award-winning food service program at Microsoft Corporation and is now serving as the global strategic manager for food service for the Ford Motor Company.
Tags: ILEA Live