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The CEO Perspective on the Future of Foodservice Distribution


For three days every October, foodservice distribution professionals come together to learn from industry experts on how to build, manage, promote, and profit from their business. The IFDA 2017 Distribution Solutions Conference (DSC) was a great opportunity to gain insight into operations, management, leadership, and general business tips from those who know best.

Even with so many experts and industry leaders speaking, one general session stood out. (Left to Right) Moderated by John Tracy, Executive Chairman, Dot Foods, Inc., industry leaders Andy Mercier, President & CEO, Merchants Foodservice, Nicole Mouskondis, Co-Chief Executive Officer, Nicholas & Company, Inc., and Tom Zatina, President, McLane Foodservice Distribution, Inc. provided the C-Suite perspective on foodservice distribution. They shared their perspectives on what it takes to win in today’s marketplace.

Let’s take a look at the top five insights from the panel about the biggest issues facing foodservice distribution.

Recruiting Workers is a Major Concern
 “Through the years I’ve seen a lot of ups and downs in talent acquisition. It’s not good enough just to have a good culture and have good benefits. We aren’t just competing against our competitors, we are competing against other industries.” - Nicole Mouskondis, Co-Chief Executive Officer, Nicholas & Company, Inc.
“The big difference from 10 years ago is that our industry is just not sexy enough; its manual-labor intensive and today’s kids want less-intensive work. Delivering food to restaurants is not easy; neither is warehouse storage work.” - Andy Mercier, President & CEO, Merchants Foodservice

“Let’s face it, years ago if you built a good company, and you had great values, great programs, great benefits, people would come to your company. You would put a sign out or an ad in the paper and people would line up. It’s so different today, we all have great companies and yet we can’t seem to attract the folks to come to our businesses. I would say the single biggest item that impacts our ability to grow and be successful is the talent problem.” - Tom Zatina, President, McLane Foodservice Distribution

Attracting Millennials Requires a Different Strategy
“By 2025, 75% of the workforce will be comprised of Millennials and they have a very different view of work. For example, we’ve always had a group of workers willing to step in and work overtime. Now we have more workers wanting just part-time; they don’t want a full 40-hour week. This is why Uber and Lyft are successful; it’s due to the rise of the ‘independent worker.’ That means we have to set work schedules for how they best fits their needs, not ours.” - Nicole Mouskondis
“I built headquarters that would be attractive to millennials. Sometimes you walk into a distribution center that looks like a prison. You need to look at your environment and say ‘is this an attractive place for a millennial?’ Millennials are interviewing you as much as you’re are interviewing them.” - Andy Mercier

Embrace Technology
“Despite the rise of technology and need of traditional companies such as those in the food distribution business to use it and become more efficient, the basic format of supply-chain transport – be it for food or other goods – will not change that much in the future. I don’t believe we’ll be delivering cases of sour cream by drone anytime soon. So we are still going to need people to move food in a safe, efficient, and dependable manner. That being said, if we keep doing things the old way, we’re going to miss out on opportunities.” Tom Zatina
“I think we have to think drones are going to deliver things, so we can prepare for it. I think it comes back to the relationships we have, the service level. The general nature of an effective disrupter is that they take away pain points so we have to keep an eye on elevating the pain points of our industry. We need to focus on the service and the relationship, you can’t talk to someone at Amazon.” - Nicole Mouskondis

Culture is Key to Success
 “Make sure that culture is about each and every team member in your organization. Your employees are ambassadors for your organization. It comes down to listening to your people. Sometimes it’s the littlest things that make all the difference.”
- Nicole Mouskondis

 “We have a great resource in the leaders in our company, if they create the right work environment and the right culture and make it a great place to work, it will attract people to our company. Our own teammates, and we call them teammates not employees, will go out bring people into our business. If we make it a great place to work and get people excited about who we are, we’ll elevate the status of the industry.” - Tom Zatina
“Our company underwent a branding philosophy six years ago, and we memorialized that into a branding strategy. I met with every employee and discussed our branding philosophy with them, and as a result our warehouse and our drivers felt better about their employer. Your best employees come from referrals, it’s how you treat your people on the inside. They’ll bring people from the outside. - Andy Mercier

Diversity Is a Priority
“It’s a mistake if we feel that the only place we can go for talent is men; that limits the labor pool. We need a rich mix of folks who want to work in our industry. We are selling ourselves short if we aren’t reaching out to folks who may not have normally thought of our industry as an option. It automatically expands the pool of available talent.” – Tom Zatina
“We need to understand our customer demographics; we need to be able to represent the ‘face’ of the customer so we can relate to them and align better with their needs. This is not just about gender; it’s about ethnicity, too. I think it’s critical that we embrace diversity, you look at the rise of entrepreneur restaurateurs, how many women and diverse ethnic groups are opening restaurants now, we need to be mindful that we are representative of our customer base. ” – Nicole Mouskondis