Foodservice Associations Making Their Mark

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Ten powerful groups offer the industry help where they need it most. Find out about NRA, IFMA, ICCA, WFF, MFHA, WCR, IFA, CHART, ACF, and RCA
By Ellen Koteff, Jody Shee September 2011 Philanthropy

The foodservice industry is served by a plethora of associations, which cover virtually every aspect of the business. In recent years, many of these groups have been challenged by the sputtering economy, but so far have weathered the storm. At a time when operators and suppliers need innovative ideas more than ever, these powerhouse organizations are making a difference.

American Culinary Federation (ACF)

Since its 1929 inception, the American Culinary Federation, a professional organization for chefs and cooks, has been promoting the image of American chefs worldwide by educating culinarians at all levels.

ACF is the largest professional chefs organization in North America and boasts upward of 20,000 members in more than 225 chapters in four regions across the United States. In addition to chefs and cooks, members include culinary educators, culinary students, foodservice representatives and food enthusiasts.

The organization, which offers culinary competitions, U.S. government-approved

certification, a national apprenticeship program, regional and national events as well as publications, helps to foster the growth of professional chefs in the foodservice industry.

Bert Cutino, co-owner and COO of the Sardine Factory in Monterey, Calif., has been a member since 1972 and also was the chairman of the organization’s honor society, the American Academy of Chefs, for four years.

“What has been great about the organization is that I didn’t go to a culinary school, but I felt it was important to learn the back of the house as well as the front of the house. Because of the ACF, I was able to go through an apprentice program that lasted three years,” Cutino says.

“Everything I learned over the years at the conferences I have been able to bring back to the restaurants, whether it’s nutrition, sanitation, gluten-free, or so many other topics. We have educational classes from the apprentice level to the master chef level. It is really rewarding, and it has helped my career tremendously.”

Christopher Tanner, who is a culinary instructor at Schenectady County Community College and also president of the American Culinary Federation Capital District-Central New York, agrees.

“Certification has opened many doors to jobs I have achieved, including my current position,” Tanner says.

 “Mentors are always incredibly important in one's career, and many of my mentors came directly from my years of interaction with the ACF with a multitude of some of the best chefs in the country. How can one not take advantage of that situation?”
Membership costs range from $80 for a student to $270 a year for an associate member. Other categories of membership include allied member ($200), enthusiast ($125), junior culinarian ($65), professional ($230), and culinarian ($100).

ACF is also home to ACF Culinary Team USA, the official representative in major international culinary competitions, and to the Chef & Child Foundation, which was started in 1989 to promote proper nutrition in children and combat childhood obesity.

Council of Restaurant and Hotel Trainers (CHART)

The Council of Restaurant and Hotel Trainers develops hospitality-training professionals to advance training practices and improve operational results.

The organization helps members largely by providing access to education, tools and resources.

Currently there are 450 members from more than 300 multi-unit restaurant and hotel companies.

The membership is made up of 40 percent representing full-service restaurants, 25 percent quick service or fast casual, 10 percent fine dining and 23 percent from hotels and resorts.

Members usually have between one and six years of tenure in the training profession. However, more than 26 percent of the membership has over 10. Titles include vice presidents of training and development or human resources, chief people officers, directors of training or human resources, and field trainers.

CHART member Jennifer Johnston, who is learning facilitator at Darden Restaurants, says it is the passion of the organization that sets it apart.

“CHART has four guiding principles about learning, sharing, growing and caring, and the members live those core principles. It is one organization that is 100 percent concentrated on the hospitality industry, and the members are as well,” she says.

“I think the networking component of CHART is probably one of its amazing strengths. I don’t think you will ever find a more personal membership.”

Member companies have, on average, 6,700 employees in 200-plus units and the membership helps more than 3 million foodservice workers, according to CHART.

The initial fee for membership is $295, with yearly renewals of $195. The group is best known for three-day semiannual conferences, which have a price tag of $745 for members.

International Corporate Chefs Association (ICCA)

The International Corporate Chefs Association is the first association designed exclusively for corporate chefs from the nation’s largest chains and multi-unit operations.

Currently the organization has about 145 members, but can accommodate up to 200.

The group, which costs $395 to join, provides chefs the tools to advance their careers while creating a network of corporate chefs from the nation's largest multi-unit foodservice operations.

The group, which was founded by Kevin Ryan, who now serves as executive director, was started because as Ryan met corporate chefs, he learned they didn’t know one another.

“That prompted the idea and it was the best decision I have ever made,” he says.

To join, the corporate chef must be the highest-ranking culinarian from one of the top 200 multi-unit operators. Also, ICCA requires that both the company and the individual chef must apply for membership.

Eric Justice, who is the group’s current president and the vice president of culinary operations for PF Chang’s China Bistro, says there are many benefits to members.

“The ICCA has created an atmosphere of networking for the nation's top menu development experts from the top 200 chains. Education and best-practice sharing are the top of my list for benefits,” says Justice.

“We have some of the most talented chefs, entrepreneurs and subject-matter experts present to our members. The annual event showcases these folks in a different city each year, and it is always a culinary-rich city.”

The members assemble once a year at an annual conference. Networking opportunities also take place at some of the nation's largest events, including the NRA Show, COEX and CIA Worlds of Flavor Conference.

Benefits include access to up-to-date information on trends, training techniques, current issues, menu development and other topics that affect daily operations. This is done through a variety of education programs and hands-on training at the conference, plus ongoing web-based news and information.

Justice says there is no end to what corporate chefs can learn from their peers.

“I learn about new products, new techniques, vendors that are doing great work and can bounce ideas off them (other members) if I am struggling with an issue. Though we have different concepts, we deal with some of the same issues, so having the neutral environment with strong culinary professionals is a big win.”

International Foodservice Manufacturers Association (IFMA)

Founded in 1952, the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association is the premier organization for the industry’s suppliers. Boasting the industry’s most coveted operators’ award, the Gold and Silver Plate, the group comprises the leading 300 suppliers.

Its membership represents manufacturers, large and small, across every food category, as well as equipment and disposables. The organization also maintains strong relationships with hundreds of operators and distributors.

Cost of membership is based on the size of the member company.

Jim Green, vice president of IFMA, says “one key role IFMA has assumed is to foster industry collaboration and to champion the success of the entire channel. If operators are not successful, if consumers are not making the ‘foodservice choice,’ we all lose. ”

Member Ray Welch, who is president of the Florida-based Thirs-Tea Corp., says his company signed on about two years ago and continuing the membership is a no-brainer.

“Part of it is the inclusion in the club. Through IFMA we have a voice, and presence, within the industry. I have forged new friendships with people and companies I might never had the chance of meeting had it not been for our participation in IFMA.”

The Chicago-based organization offers services in three areas: Forums for connectivity, such as COEX, Presidents Conference, Monthly Operator Forums and the Gold & Silver Plate Celebration; Market Insights, which features Food Service Fundamental Seminars, Forecast & Outlook Conference, and the Sales & Marketing Conference; and also Best Practices, which is the industry wide GS-1 effort (or global standardizing of product identifiers) and Center of Innovation Excellence (cie).

“The CIE was established to create foodservice innovation process standards and improve collaboration with operator customers,” says Devon Gerchar, director of member value.

To ensure programs are relevant, IFMA is driven by 18 committees made up of its membership. Over 50 percent of its membership companies are involved in one or more committees. As Larry Oberkfell, president and CEO of IFMA, put it, “ By members, for members.”

International Franchise Association (IFA)

Among the 1,150 franchisor members of the International Franchise Association, restaurants and other foodservice businesses make up about 40 percent of the membership. In addition, about 12,000 among franchisees belong to the association.

While education and networking are the standout member benefits, this year the association rolled out its web-based On-Track-Performance Benchmarking for Franchisors tool, which allows IFA members to compare the performance of their franchise systems with their peers in five areas.

It also members gives access to reports to see comparisons on franchise leads and closing costs, training and support costs per franchise unit, same-store sales, net growth, and employee allocations.

The new intelligence may make the annual membership fee a little more palatable for franchisor members, whose dues are based on their number of units and systemwide revenues (it can range from $1,500 to $30,000 annually). Members receive access to research studies on important topics, such as credit and capital access, and a franchise leader survey. Product and service suppliers also can join IFA for $2,900 a year.

Membership also gives credibility to franchisors as they are listed on the IFA website and printed directory.

 “Referrals to members from IFA are pretty important,” says Scott Lehr, vice president for membership. On average, its website receives 200,000 unique visitors a month, and many find franchise opportunities among the franchisors listed.

Within the past year, IFA launched a mentoring program called Franship, segmented by franchisors, franchisees, and suppliers.

“It allows people to reach out to some long-time members and get connected and ask questions to create a mentor-mentee relationship,” Lehr says.

National Restaurant Association (NRA)

The Daddy of all foodservice associations, the National Restaurant Association has its finger on the industry pulse, and membership allows access to research and benchmarking best practices to the 400,000 member locations with about 40,000 organizational members.

The NRA has a dual membership agreement with 53 state restaurant associations, and as a result, the cost to join NRA varies by state.

Industry advocacy is one of NRA’s standout features, benefiting members and nonmembers. Membership, however, provides the opportunity to engage in the advocacy process.

“Members work with us and the state associations, forming policy positions,” says James Balda, NRA’s chief marketing and communications officer.

The association also serves as a trusted adviser on important issues, like health care reform, food safety, credit card processing, and sustainability. In areas like these, it develops programs, materials, webinars, and research reports.

While NRA’s annual Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show is the premier industry trade show, the state associations offer their own bevy of networking and education events.

Executive study groups focusing op topics like human resources, information technology, and tax and finance, meet once or twice a year in a conference format to share best practices.

Training the next generation of foodservice operators is another main focus of NRA through its Education Foundation, providing scholarships, and its ProStart two-year program for high school students, complete with culinary competitions.

NRA members come from all segments of restaurants and foodservice operations as well as allied industries, such as suppliers, distributors, consultants, and educators and students.

Multicultural Foodservice & Hospitality Alliance (MFHA)

Membership in the Multicultural Foodservice & Hospitality Alliance is especially useful for foodservice operations that want to brand themselves as culturally diverse. A total of 67 foodservice operations have done so, as well as 700 manufacturers and individuals who are committed to the association’s cause to help companies attract, develop, and retain diverse and multicultural talent.

Much of MFHA’s strength is in its founder and president Gerald “Gerry” Fernandez Sr., who knows the dedication and competencies of nearly every foodservice leader and company that is committed to workplace diversity. He refers to them in phone calls, presentations, and in print, thus helping to brand them as culturally inclusive. “We are the multicultural ‘Yellow Pages.’ If you want something, you call us,” he says.

Membership is expensive, $10,000−$25,000 for corporate members, $900−$1,500 for small companies, $5,000 for the next level up, and $75 for individuals. Besides touting multicultural corporations on its website and elsewhere, MFHA representatives are out selling the foodservice industry to multicultural schools and groups nationally and communicate with minority publications. The association also has a benchmarking survey on key issues, offers training, and helps companies build diversity programs and disaster plans in the event of a cultural faux pas. MFHA offers webinars and networking conference calls, and sets up receptions and events in conjunction with other foodservice conferences.

Terrian Barnes, global diversity and inclusion officer for Yum! Brands Inc., in Louisville, Kentucky, was an MFHA founding board member and remains active. “I appreciate the fact that MFHA pushes me out of my comfort zone and allows me to experience the full depth and breadth of diversity and inclusion,” she says.

Research Chefs Association (RCA)

The Research Chefs Association’s 2,300 members, who are largely culinarians, food scientists, students, and manufacturers, are a microcosm of the food research and development world, reflecting the R&D process from concept to market.

RCA’s focus is clear, promoting its coined term and discipline culinology, the blending of culinary arts and the science of food.

For Sheila Carpenter, in R&D with Southeastern Mills Custom Food Coatings, of Rome, Georgia, the membership dues are more than offset by the value of learning food trends among the association’s chef members.

“I see what they are doing and bring those ideas to the mass market,” she says of the batters, breadings, and seasonings she helps the company develop.

Annual membership fees vary by discipline: $135 for culinology and chef members and $400 for suppliers, distributors, and sales and marketing professionals.

“Being an active member of RCA lends me a lot of credibility and professional recognition,” says chef and food scientist Susan Edwards with Cryovac Food Solutions, of Duncan, South Carolina. She is on RCA’s board of directors.

“When I go to meet a new person, if I tell them my title, that’s one thing,” she says. “But when I mention something about RCA, it’s a whole different conversation, and it matters.”

For others, the designation of Certified Research Chef or Certified Culinary Scientist, matters. RCA is the certifier of those credentials.

Among the tangible benefits of an RCA membership are subscriptions to RCA and related publications, access to members-only online features like the membership directory, access to a list of job postings, and discounts to RCA events, workshops, and certification programs.

Women Chefs & Restaurateurs (WCR)

Women, Chefs & Restaurateurs covers the entire spectrum of culinary disciplines.

Members come from the ranks of chefs, restaurateurs, educators, cookbook writers, private and personal chefs, sommeliers, beverage managers, restaurant front-of-house managers, consultants and publicists.

The organization, which offers networking and educational opportunities through its local exchanges, national conference and online forums, is dedicated to creating and expanding the professional and business opportunities for women in the industry. WCR also aims to provide support and foster an environment that ensures women equal access to the position, power and rewards offered by the restaurant industry.

Board member Kathleen Blake, who is the owner and chef for two Orlando, Florida, operations, Pine 22 and Rusty Spoon, says her entire career has been formed from her involvement with WCR.

“Every job that I have ever gotten has been through the WCR. That’s how my entire career has progressed,” she says.

Currently there are nearly 2,000 members of the organization. Membership costs vary from $45 a year for a student to $1,650 for a corporation and 10 employees. A beginning professional is charged $55 annually while an executive pays $195 annually.

The small-business rate is $280 a year, and that tier allows for three company members. WCR also boasts a scholarship and internship program designed for both culinary students and seasoned professionals.

Other benefits include a business listing online that is linked to the members’ company, cookbook guide linked to point of sale and member exposure through the website and monthly newsletter.

For Blake, being part of the organization that has given her so much now is about giving back to the next generation. “I have met so many great women, and now what is essential to me when I go to conference is reaching out to the younger generation.”

Women’s Foodservice Forum (WFF)

The Women’s Foodservice Forum helps women make strategic connections and develop as leaders in the foodservice industry. Focusing on 12 core competencies women must have to succeed, WFF’s website offers free leadership competency assessment for members, from emerging leaders to executives, allowing them to choose programming based on their assessment and developmental needs.

“The WFF’s Leadership Competency Assessment is a tool I access regularly and highly recommend to others,” says Terrian Barnes of Yum! Brands.

She has been a WFF leader since its founding in the late 1980s as a Yum! Brands ambassador, committee chair, and volunteer.

While WFF has 3,700 members, it estimates it has touched more than 10,000 people, and its goal is to engage more than 100,000, says Gretchen Sussman, who recently signed on fulltime as vice president of business development and industry relations. That will happen through the annual leadership conference, webinars (which some companies use as lunch-and-learns), and other leadership development tools. It conducts educational and networking programs called Regional Connects in about 40 cities—made possible by members who serve as volunteers, which helps to build their leadership skills.

WFF recently introduced the newly reduced individual membership rate of $199 providing the industry access to leadership development programming throughout their career.

The association also announced a new partnership with the Center for Executive Women at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University to offer WFF members enhanced educational programming leading to leadership certification.