In January, at SNA’s 2017 School Nutrition Industry Conference (SNIC), more than 500 school nutrition operators and industry partners opened their minds and stepped out of their comfort zones to discover and explore innovative solutions to common challenges. Held at the Hyatt Regency in Orlando, Fla., SNIC 2017 featured the ideal mix of engaging presenters, energetic attendees, thoughtful discussions and balmy weather. From a bonus session held at nearby Orange County Public Schools to the mesmerizing strains of Kai Kight’s violin to the always-inspiring and tear-inducing FAME Awards, innovation was continually in the spotlight. A photo essay can’t truly capture the essence of this popular meeting, which came close to breaking registration records this year, but it’s the best we can do in print. If you missed SNIC 2017, stay on the lookout for selected sessions to be reprised in the Best of SNIC webinar series, visit SNA’s new Virtual Expo (which features many of the same cutting-edge vendors) and check out the available presentations at the link referenced below. Mark your calendars now for SNIC 2018 in New Orleans, January 21-23. The Innovators A violin-playing performer in jeans and combat boots wants to inspire others to “bring your music to the world.” An energetic dietitian seeks to bust myths about “fat in vogue, wheat woes and uh-oh GMOs.” A panel explores the potential paths the trend to “clean” food labels may lead the K-12 market. A USDA administrator shows that exciting innovations are possible within governmental bureaucracy. A professional “chef turned proud lunch lady” hopes her personal evolution will inspire others to change their thinking and their assumptions. Each SNIC General Session offered much food for thought—and, in one session, food for the stomach, too (along with a collection of K-12-specific recipes to bring home). Text-based polling technology was a new innovation that engaged the audience. Who’s Who SNIC 2017 General Session Speakers » Kai Kight, Innovator and Violinist, Los Angeles » Dr. Jim Painter, RD, Adjunct Professor, School of Public Health, University of Texas-Houston » Tarrah Declemente, MPH, RDN, Manager of Health Promotion, Chicago Public Schools (Clean Labels) » Wesley Delbridge, RD, Food & Nutrition Director, Chandler (Ariz.) Unified School District (Clean Labels) » Siri Perlman, RD, Director, Child Nutrition Services, Solana Beach (Calif.) School District (Clean Labels) » Kathy Lawrence, Co-Founder & Senior Director, School Food Focus (Clean Labels) » Sean Leer, CEO, Gold Star Foods (Clean Labels) » Becky Domokos-Bays, PhD, RD, SNS, SNA President » Cindy Long, Deputy Administrator for Child Nutrition, USDA Food and Nutrition Service » Sharon Schaefer, SNS, Owner, Evolution of the Lunch Lady Light Bulb Leaders It wasn’t until the end of the four-day learning and networking event that participants were introduced to the concept of “light bulb innovators,” so without making personality presumptions about this year’s SNIC co-chairs, SN will take some poetic license to apply the label to the outstanding efforts of Joan Shorter and Tom Ferris in designing a thought-provoking, forward-looking SNIC program. Ably assisted by SNA President Becky Domokos-Bays, PhD, RD, SNS, as well as SNA Professional Development staff, Shorter and Ferris gathered together thought leaders who understand the principles of the 2017 conference theme: “Imagination + Knowledge = Innovation.” Great ideas and the will to apply them are essential to growing both school nutrition operations and foodservice businesses. But an understanding of the pragmatic realities of the day is also vital. When these are added together, organizations move forward in creative and effective ways. This concept was explored in presentations, demonstrations and dialogue throughout SNIC. Shorter is director of Food and Nutrition Services, Prince George’s County (Md.) Public Schools and Ferris is vice president, School Foodservice, AdvancePierre Foods. Knowledge Central Provocative general sessions may be the calling card that keeps attendees coming back to SNIC each year. But smaller meeting rooms were packed for several concurrent Learning Labs, as well as Bonus Sessions. There was something for everyone, whether you were an operator seeking to expand school meal program reach or a vendor curious about how that expanded reach might generate more business. Topics included: » Breakfast in the Classroom » Product Formulation Statements » Ethical Decision-Making » USDA Foods » Cultural Diversity » Effective and Efficient Bids » Participation Builders » Food Waste » Innovative Design Concepts » Supper Programs Creativity Makes Its Mark When so much attention is focused on the potentials and possibilities, it’s nice to see innovation in action, through the presentation of a wide variety of product solutions. The Innovative Solution Sessions provide an annual opportunity for vendors to meet with small groups of school nutrition directors for meaningful dialogue about new products or those still in development. Fifteen companies participated. During Monday’s luncheon, more than 40 companies displayed new products and services as part of the Tabletop Showcase. This more-casual environment also allows for lasting business relationships to bloom and grow. Prioritize Play One hallmark of SNIC is its easy-going vibe. While much time and energy is devoted to thought-provoking idea generation, the conference also features a variety of opportunities to catch-up with old friends, network with new acquaintances, honor award winners and focus on wellness as a critical element for work-life balance.
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