The Evolution of Partnerships in Foodservice (IFMA Takeaways)

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Foodservice has historically been an industry driven by relationships. Given the level of partnership required to generate successful outcomes, relationships will remain a focal point for the foreseeable future. Collaboration among manufacturers, distributors and operators will continue to be core to driving growth in sales. However the pressure to perform at even higher levels will cause a change to the foundational design of these partnerships. Future success of these collaborations will be ‘shared risk’ programs with all parties having relatively equal skin in the game.

“Some of the biggest challenges in relationships come from the fact that most people enter a relationship in order to get something. In reality, the only way a relationship will last is if you see your relationship as a place that you go to give, and not a place that you go to take.”
— Anthony Robbins

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Design of a Collaborative Partnership

To create a successful partnership, both sides must be willing to listen to each other with a motivation beyond their own business agenda:

  • Don’t be afraid to ask the unasked question. Transparency, trust and integrity are the foundational requirements of this new relationship design.
  • Shift the primary focus from sales to the relationship itself. Like any good relationship, the focus can’t solely be about a particular outcome but must be about listening to and responding to the needs of each partner. Manufacturers, distributors, and operators jointly (and realistically only) benefit from the ultimate sale of the product to the end consumer. By creating a synergistic pathway of communication, one of the primary outcomes of the improved process will be increased sales to the end consumer.
  • Use this new level of transparency to drive process innovation with your partners. Collaborate in shared ideation sessions which may result in new ideas and opportunities such as co-marketing. Look for opportunities that fit partnering brands.
  • Understand your partners forecast gaps as well as you understand your own and help identify and support resolution.

How to Structure for a Successful Partnership

Change management is a critical component of this new collaborative partnership. All sides have to be willing to structure their organizations with the following considerations in mind to support a successful outcome:

  • Collaborate at the enterprise level. You need all levels of organizations aligned to do business this way to build a successful partnership. Line up sales with sales, marketing with marketing, and procurement with procurement to create holistic alignment from end to end.
  • Foster an environment that is willing to change. You may have done things one way in the past however a collaborative partnership embodies an open-mindedness to see and do things a little differently.
  • Put the right people in the right roles to support this type of relationship. Wherever there is collaboration, there needs to be a representative who is willing and able to support dynamic change.
  • Be ready and able to have tough conversations with each other. This goes back to the foundational commitment to transparency, trust and integrity. If something in the relationship isn’t working, all sides have to be ready to communicate and respond. The old “customer is always right” mentality won’t apply in this new way business maxim because you have to all come to the table equally vested, as partners not as customers.
  • Be willing to invest in these partnerships. It may require new people, new technology and additional data to support it. With growth as a driver, this investment will have to come with full agreement and commitment.

In the end, like with all relationships, each party will get out what they are willing to put in. When all parties are committed to being transparent and coming to the table with integrity, trust will develop. Over time this new strategy of collaborative partnerships will drive those additional sales everyone has historically and tirelessly focused on.

For more Foodservice insights, Visit this page on AFSi.com

Written by Sheryle Blasko
TPM Foodservice Enterprise Account Director
AFS Technologies, Inc