K-12 school nutrition operators and foodservice industry representatives came together at SNA’s 2013 Child Nutrition Industry Conference to explore the potential for positive change. School nutrition professionals may be asked continually to do more with less, but their spirit remains undiminished, as evidenced by the passion and energy exhibited in mid-January during SNA’s annual Child Nutrition Industry Conference (CNIC). Tighter budgets, new nutrition standards, aging equipment and a white-hot media spotlight— plus the usual array of daily frustrations—make school nutrition the single-most complex segment in foodservice. But for several days in San Antonio, Texas, 600+ operators and industry representatives demonstrated how they rise to meet every challenge: by working together. Truly, CNIC was a place “Where Partners Create Possibilities.” Every aspect of CNIC 2013 was designed to motivate attendees to share their ideas, transformations and results, thanks to the collaborative efforts of CNIC Co-Chairs Lora Gilbert, SNS, senior director of food & nutrition services, Orange County (Fla.) Public Schools, and Kevin Woods, SNS, vice president of sales & marketing, Globe Food Equipment, working alongside SNA President Sandra Ford, SNS, and the Association’s meetings and education teams. And with record-breaking attendance, participants showed up to make the most of the potential offered at this dynamic learning and networking event. Think About It? Author and comedian Ross Shafer kicked things off by encouraging a spirit of reinvention and relevance. Shafer urged the audience to take a fresh approach to change, transition and growth. “How do you innovate in a change environment?” he asked, suggesting a largely unexpected answer: “You change by UNDER-thinking.” After all, he noted, most of us are very familiar with over-thinking a problem or challenge, getting so tied up in an attempt to find the perfect solution that we are almost paralyzed to inaction. Instead, we need to focus on agility, asserted Shafer. Sometimes the most obvious answers are right in front of us. As an example, he cited the Westin Hotel chain’s strategy to create, and brand, its “Heavenly Bed.” It was a simple idea, addressing arguably the most important customer desire: a good night’s sleep on the road. It went on to revolutionize the entire hotel industry. Under-thinking a problem, he said, allows us to “look at change in a different way.” But change agents need to be open and authentic about their intents in order to diffuse the anxiety and pain others may feel in contemplating change, Shafer added. The bottom line, he said in closing, is to remember that “rapport is your greatest ally, and that we can move nations if we can show an interest in people.” Information & Innovation Over the course of the four-day event, several lively panels took on a variety of hot topics in school nutrition. From exploring the opportunities found in today’s social media marketing approaches to examining the preliminary findings of new research from SNA and the Pew Charitable Trust, these sessions offered both provocative data and practical solutions. Less than a year had passed since the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released the first update to school meal nutrition standards in more than a decade. The first few months of implementation has meant both trial and triumph for operators and their industry partners. There were several formal and informal opportunities for attendees to discuss these and identify potential strategies and solutions. These included designated Industry Information Sessions, special networking breaks, a USDA-focused Networking luncheon and the annual FAME Awards reception, dinner and ceremony (page 56). Indeed, opportunities for networking between operators and industry are a hallmark of CNIC. The popular Innovation Stations offered operators special advance previews of recently introduced or in-development products, services and solutions. These ranged from new menu items (such as low-sodium mashed potatoes, individually wrapped pancakes and whole-grain pasta) to technology tools (like smartphone apps and cloud-based data dashboards) and from equipment (including salad bars, braisers and no-slip shoes) to eye-catching extras (such as squeezable produce “tubes” and milk flavoring straws). Dr. Janey Thornton, SNS, deputy under secretary for Food and Nutrition Service, and an SNA past president, provided assurance and updates during Monday’s luncheon. She encouraged participants to continue to work together as other aspects of the Healthy, HungerFree Kids Act of 2010 are implemented in the coming months. And the dynamic “MyPlate Breakfast” carried on the theme of creating possibilities in response to change. The unique meal presentation was based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the MyPlate nutrition guidance. Important Steps Personal wellness also was a focus for this year’s CNIC agenda! Attendees were encouraged to join Ford on her own transformative mission to health and happiness and “Step out for Better Health” on Sunday afternoon and Tuesday morning. Groups participated in brisk two-mile walking tours of historic San Antonio. These wellness activities supported SNA’s new personal wellness initiative, the STEPS Challenge program, sponsored by Jennie-O Turkey Store. Inspiration at Hand Closing Keynote Speaker Dr. Jackie Freiberg, an author and leadership expert, urged participants to take the energy generated throughout CNIC to find exciting and engaging ways to innovate and create possibilities. Continued assessment and creative brainstorming is key, she noted, asserting that inspiration for new ideas can come out of a planned and purposeful format. One of the deepest human desires is the need to connect, said Freiberg, encouraging attendees to engage their employees. “They are your most valuable assets,” she explained. We all have to push through the white noise and creative positive disruptions, Freiberg insisted. Be “uncomfortable” and see the opportunities for change!” Bright Stars! Congratulations to the latest “class” of FAME (Foodservice Achievement Management Excellence) Award winners. Led by Golden School Foodservice Director of the Year Melanie Konarik, SNS, director of child nutrition for Spring Independent School District, Houston, Texas, and Gertrude Applebaum Lifetime Achievement Award Winner Frank Harris, retired child nutrition director, Norwalk (Conn.) Public Schools, all these stars of school nutrition provide inspiration in their innovative practices and service-minded spirit. Other winners this year: • Silver Leadership: Lori Drenth, RD, SNS, Hernando County, Fla. • Silver Spirit: Amy Harkey, RD, SNS, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C. • Silver Special Achievement: Robert Lewis, PhD, El Monte, Calif. • Silver Rising Star: Jim Hemmen, Phoenix, Ariz. • Silver Friend of Child Nutrition: Gary Vonck, KeyImpact Sales & Systems The FAME Awards are sponsored by Basic American Foods, Schwan’s Food Service and Tyson Foods. Photos by EZ Event Photography.
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