From chefs crafting gastronomic delicacies to restaurants tendering trendy cuisine, the foodservice industry inspires the more mundane segments of the food manufacturing community. Foodservices are also of interest to food companies in that they form a growing customer base.

The source of grocery products is often a mystery to consumers despite extensive packaging information. Thus, not surprisingly, an even larger knowledge gap exists for foods consumed in foodservice establishments. Diners fantasize about talented chefs—or at least cooks—earnestly turning out culinary delights in the back kitchen.

Cooks and chefs do exist, but business constraints such as the high cost of labor and limited kitchen space means a growing business opportunity for prepared foods companies. In each Prepared Foods' Annual R&D Survey since 1998, food manufacturers have listed products for the foodservice channel as providing the greatest growth opportunity among the choices given them. For example, 47% of respondents to last year's survey listed “foodservice” as a growth area, with “nutritionally fortified foods and beverages” a runner-up at 31%.

The size of this opportunity is staggering. Technomic Inc, Chicago, Ill., forecasts the 2002 foodservice market to be $430 billion in retail (consumer) sales. The lion's share of this business is divided between limited service restaurants, such as hamburger and pizza restaurants with 31.1% of sales, and full service restaurants with 29.4% of sales (2001 estimates). The next largest segment falls to retail hosts, such as supermarkets and convenience stores, with 8.9% of the foodservice market.

Of even more interest is the forecasted $141 billion in 2002 of “prepared foods” that food manufacturers will sell to foodservice operators. Technomic reports this figure has grown each year since 1972, when $17.9 billion of processed products entered the foodservice distribution channel.

As a food scientist, I'd like to think the improving sensory quality of prepared foods also has helped drive their use in restaurants and institutions. This will continue due to advances in food technology—and the proactive efforts of one industry segment—research and development chefs.

“Six years ago at the American Culinary Federation's meeting, I sat in a 'break-out' session in which a speaker had not been assigned,” Bill “Pops” Hahne, corporate executive chef, Eatem Foods told me. Those present discussed the need for a discipline that combined food technology and the culinary arts. The seeds were planted for the Research Chefs Association (RCA, of which Hahne is the current president.

Food companies recently have been hiring chefs for a variety of reasons; a primary one is for assistance in developing more flavorful foods, notes Hahne. Chefs define food flavors in a different way than food technologists.

Hahne feels it's easier to transfer culinary arts to food technologists than to transfer food science to chefs—because there is more information in the culinary area. “Food technologists don't need to know how to cut up a chicken,” says Hahne, but understanding how chefs create flavors through ingredient use and cooking techniques is valuable. RCA's activities include a research chef certification and educational opportunities through colleges, short courses and distance learning.

In this issue and in the coming year, we at Prepared Foods will place increased emphasis on this area. Articles starting on page 22, including a report from this year's American Culinary Federation meeting, provide snapshots of ways in which the foodservice industry impacts packaged retail foods. I hope you find them useful and enjoyable.