CNIC Focuses on Managing the Forces of Change
January 19, 2005 - The School Nutrition Association's 2005 Child Nutrition Industry Conference (CNIC) kicked off Sunday, January 16, 2005 in Austin, Texas.
In the opening general session, Susan Combs, Texas Department of Agriculture Commissioner, set the tone for a provocative and informative conference. Combs shared the details that led the state Agriculture Department to initiate a groundbreaking nutrition policy for all school nutrition programs in Texas.
Combs explained, “We, as adults, are feeding our kids to death. If we don’t do something about this, our kids will not outlive us.” Since unveiling the new policy, 126,000 more students are eating lunch and 64,000 more are eating breakfast.
Combs showcased materials the state has developed to support and promote message regarding health and nutrition. She also cited that the Texas policy has prompted manufacturers like Coca-Cola and Pepsico to expand their offerings of food products with healthier profiles.
The second portion of the opening session featured speakers Shirley R. Watkins and Dr. Thomas N. Robinson who shared the results of the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) report on Prevention of Childhood Obesity as well as recommendations for Healthy Homes, Healthy Schools and Healthy Communities.
Town Hall on Commercialization
Sunday's town hall panel format featured directors from three Texas school districts sharing best practice strategies they have used to incorporate the principals of commercial advertising and promotion into their school nutrition programs. These directors cited rich rewards that they have reaped and practical ideas other directors might consider.
Dorothy Thompson from Allen ISD noted that she likes to use manufacturers’ products because of their consistency in quality.
For elementary schools in Conroe, Debbie Zemanek developed a mascot, which is incorporated into different themes from year to year. In secondary schools, she uses branded vendors, such as Chik-Fil-A, Quizno and Pizza Hut, but packages their products in her own branded materials (called the Power Station).
Joyce Lyons and Dani Sheffield from Aldine ISD created a single theme/brand for her school nutrition program: Aldine Café.com. Here, students helped in the creative process. Quick Bytes is a grab-n-go station; Anti Virus is the area that features fresh foods and produce; Logout is the new name for the cashier stations. Download is where students empty their trays. Marketing materials use high-quality pictures of food items.
Point/Counterpoint on Privatization
On Monday, Valerie Wilson and John Frombach shared their varying experiences with contracting for foodservice in schools -- perhaps the most controversial topic in school nutrition.
Wilson shared the success her Newark, N.J. school district has had since implementing a pilot program to contract foodservice to a small sample of schools where district-operated and contract-operated schools would compete on a level playing field. The annual deficit has been reduced by half and a single contractor operates in 41 schools. Labor costs have been reduced. Best practices from both contract and self-op schools are applied across the board.
Frombach, current ASBO president, recalled his first experience working in a district that was considering contract management. He worked to turn the program around, keeping it self-operated and making it profitable.
Both Wilson and Frombach agreed that the administrative responsibilities and oversight of the contract should not be abdicated by the district or its in-house school nutrition director.
Wilson explained, “You have to monitor the management contract, and you have to challenge it when it is not right for your district.” She adds that that "the contract doesn’t mean you won’t have things to do as a school nutrition director.”
Frombach said, “It [contract management] may be the answer in some cases, but it should not be the first, immediate or only answer.” Frombach then echos Wilson's sentiment that "the administration must provide oversight."
This session was followed up by a town hall featuring many innovative strategies taken by self-operated Wayzata SD, as well as a presentation from Aramark School Support Services Vice President of Marketing, Carolina Lobo. Lobo urged participants to see this dialogue as “ a beginning spirit and new collaboration” and she coined the term: co-opetition.
What’s New for You
Back by popular demand! These innovative, 30-minute concurrent sessions provided more “face” time between industry and operators, and included Q&A opportunities, food sampling and product demonstration. In each session, industry showcase the latest and greatest innovations in products and services recently introduced to the market. Products range from muffins that meet new nutritional guidelines for Texas and California to fries with zero grams of trans fat.
Other events on the final day of CNIC included:
- Competitive Vending Foods Leo Lesh, SFNS spoke about dealing with the conflicts of profit vs. nutrition vs. competitive food sales vs. pouring rights. Carol Johnson, director of Seattle Public Schools and Keathleen Millett, director of Massachusetts Department of Education were on a panel that discussed how school districts and foodservice operations have dealt with the issues of competitive vending.
- Networking Hosted Luncheon Tuesday was the last change for attendees to visit more than a dozen booths in the Exhibit Hall and begin developing relationships with conference attendees.
- Closing General Session Clint Swindall, president and CEO of Verbalocity, discussed helping to find the proper balance in your lives and unleash creativity to compete in an ever-changing business world.
- Bar-B-Q at Stubb's Restaurant Attendees joined their peers for an evening of fun and entertainment in authentic Texas style. It was an evening of good food, exciting music and friendly folks.