SNA’s 2014 School Nutrition Industry Conference offered innovative strategies for managing the ever-changing school meal landscape–and provided a welcome break from winter! Where do school nutrition operators go to chase away the winter doldrums and recharge for a sure-to-be-eventful 2014? Why, they head to the sunny skies and balmy breezes of Miami, Fla., and gather for a provocative and playful period at SNA’s annual School Nutrition Industry Conference (SNIC)! Together with representatives from industry serving the K-12 foodservice segment, directors of America’s top school districts welcomed the opportunity to network, brainstorm and nurture their innovative spirits to prepare for ongoing success in the ever-changing school landscape. The event was held at the Hyatt Regency Miami, January 12-14, 2014. This year’s program, attended by nearly 600 school nutrition professionals and industry partners, focused on three components deemed essential to the success of a K-12 school meals operation: the customer, the product and marketing. Dr. Douglas McCabe, a professor at the distinguished Georgetown University McDonough School of Business, facilitated an ongoing three-day discussion to ensure a truly interactive experience, outline critical take-aways and remind participants that success would be dependent upon putting into practice all that is gleaned and gained during the unique learning experience. Jim Knight, former senior director of training and development at Hard Rock International, kicked off the program with an energetic presentation of top ways to create “Service That Rocks!” Knight used examples of successful brands to draw attention to a critical element of success or failure: the people factor. Strategies to make the most of this element include getting everyone focused on “the same sheet of music,” while encouraging a “customer-obsessed purpose to their work” that delivers a personalized experience to each and every patron of the business. “You need to hire rock stars, not lip-synchers, to amp up the band,” Knight cried in a call to action. Remember, he noted, “All the best training in the world won’t fix a bad hire.” On Day 2, the conference program put the spotlight on the product. John Moore, a branding expert and reputed marketing mastermind, with successful career opportunities at top companies such as Starbucks and Whole Foods, offered a thought provoking presentation. Moore stressed the importance of first understanding the value of, and then sparking and sustaining, word-of-mouth marketing approaches. It’s all about “sparking a passionate conversation,” he explained. Moore took attendees on a brief journey of “brand exploration,” explaining the value in understanding why a brand is created and being able to identify the turning point when it blazes into consumer awareness. This doesn’t happen by good fortune—it takes people, and it takes them having conversations. Moore then invited attendees to start applying what he terms “Three Conversation Motivations”: functional, social and emotional. Applying these, as appropriate, with different audiences can be an extremely successful means of getting “current customers to tell their friends and friends of friends” about a product, sparking and spreading that invaluable word-of-mouth marketing. Distinctiveness and expressed individuality can bring forth brand-related stories that evoke strong emotional reactions— “shock and awe”—about a product or brand among both existing customers and prospective ones. Indeed, the product—or products— were front and center throughout SNIC, as 30 companies took advantage of SNIC’s vaunted “Innovation Station” small-group presentations of products new (or coming soon) to the K-12 market. And throughout the three-day event, there were numerous other opportunities for networking and the sharing of trials and triumphs— between and among directors and industry. The closing keynote presentation on marketing was made by Ira Blumenthal, a well-regarded brand and marketing expert and author. Building on the key points identified by Knight and Moore, Blumenthal noted that the smartest and most successful business executives always think about how they can better communicate to customers and prospects. Marketing, he said, is the process of getting potential customers interested in your products and services, plus keeping loyal customers, while motivating them to buy more frequently, in larger amounts and a greater number of offerings. Well-positioned brands can carve out their own niche in the market, he noted. Blumenthal closed with a simple but effective sports analogy: You can’t score unless you shoot! In addition to the three marketing focused general sessions, Dr. Janey Thornton, SNS, deputy under secretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, and Cindy Long, deputy administrator for CN Programs, led a panel discussion about ongoing regulatory changes to school meal programs. Also, exclusive Industry Information sessions provided targeted presentations on such topics as USDA Foods, research findings on equipment and infrastructure needs and technology. Personal wellness also remained a priority for this year’s SNIC agenda! Attendees were encouraged to join a brisk, guided walk along the Miami waterfront on Sunday afternoon and had the opportunity to be energized by Tai Chi before sessions began Tuesday morning. These wellness activities were offered as part of the STEPS Challenge program, made available by SNA and Jennie-O Turkey Store. This year’s SNIC also offered attendees an opportunity to salute the latest “stars” in the school nutrition firmament, as the winners of the 25th annual FAME awards were recognized. [Editors’ Note: See the “Enter to Win” section of “News-Bites” in the January 2014 issue for a list of this year’s honorees.]
Published by School Nutrition Association. View All Articles.