Just in time for the annual Restaurants Canada Show happening at the end of February, we sat down with CEO Shanna Munro to get her take on local food, the foodservice industry, and a sneak peek at the upcoming 2017 Canada Unleashed Show.
Tell us a little about yourself. How did you find your way into the foodservice industry?
I am a product of the industry. Like many Canadian students, I found my very first job in the restaurant industry. I worked part-time as a cashier at a KFC on Bank Street in Ottawa. I loved it so much, I stayed after my studies. From Assistant Manager – with a little work, a lot of passion and the help of many amazing people – I worked myself up to Vice President managing Yum! Brand restaurants across the country.
I could not tell you enough about the extraordinary people I met along the way. This is a very demanding industry and it attracts hard-working people willing to go the extra mile for customers and colleagues alike. I would venture to say that the restaurant industry defines what it means to be part of a team as much as any sports organization out there. It’s a collaboration of efforts that makes us successful. The barriers of entry have traditionally been rather manageable, so the industry attracts a lot of competition. You better be creative, surround yourself with top talent and remain on your ‘A’ game.
I find it a privilege to make a difference in an industry I love, and where I have spent the better part of my career. There is a definite fit between the current needs of Restaurants Canada and my experience in the restaurant industry as an operator who understands how to deal with immediate priorities while anticipating strategic opportunities on the horizon.
For a number of years local sourcing, sustainable foods, craft beers, artisan foods have all been in top trends according to your annual chefs survey. What do you think is fueling this?
You’re right – those trends have been and continue to be popular in Canada. There are many reasons why people enjoy eating locally-grown food. Eating local means cutting down the travel time of their food, which means produce can be picked when it’s riper – and that typically means it tastes better and retains more nutrients. In addition, people often like supporting local farmers, growers and producers when they have the choice.
Restaurants Canada began an annual survey of Canadian chefs in 2010 to get their thoughts on Hot Trends and Up-and-Coming Trends. Local food and the locavore movement have been on our top 10 list of Hot Trends every year. It was the #1 Hot Trend four years running, from 2010 through 2013. Craft beers were the #1 Hot Trend in 2015 and 2016, and are poised to repeat again this year. And in recent years, artisan cheeses, liquors and pickles have emerged as Hot Trends or Up-and-Coming Trends.
This tells us Canadian chefs recognize these trends and are giving customers what they want!
The next survey is going out to chefs soon, any predictions for 2017 trends?
We’re in the process of compiling results from the Chef Survey, and will announce this year’s winners at RC Show 2017. Without giving too much away, veggie-centric cuisine – making fresh produce the star of the dish – might be on the list of Up-and-Coming Trends. Some of last year’s Hot Trends look to repeat, with a few fresh faces joining the list!
A lot is happening in food service in recent years, reemergence of food trucks, technology assisting restaurants to attract, retain and service clients, and the growth of fast casual. As well there have been a number of issues such as fair treatment of workers, challenges to find skilled labour, and increased policy/regulations on menus. What do you see as critical issues that need to be addressed/supported for the long-term health and sustainability of the industry?
The restaurant industry is fundamentally about people, and supporting both sides of the employee-customer equation is what keeps our industry sustainable.
On the employee side, our biggest issue is labour costs. This is where we need governments across Canada to take notice and make changes. In our latest Restaurant Outlook Survey, 72% of restaurateurs said labour costs were hurting their business. In Alberta, where the minimum wage will jump to $15 an hour by 2018, 87% of operators are feeling the pinch. Arbitrary, politically-driven spikes in minimum wage kill jobs and shut down businesses. We keep reminding governments that restaurants are the number one provider of first-time jobs, and they hire one in five youth. A planned, steady approach to raising minimum wage – like tying it to predictable factors like inflation – would help small businesses absorb these costs without forcing them to cut jobs and hours, and provide opportunities for young Canadians.
Restaurateurs are also struggling to find the right workers in certain regions. Our survey shows labour shortages hurt nearly 40% of operators. Our industry is committed to hiring Canadians first, and we are immensely proud of our diverse and inclusive workforce, but in some areas, we need better access to foreign workers to fill the gaps. We need governments to step up with policies that help our industry continue to grow and provide these all-important first jobs. Restaurants Canada also provides tools and resources to help with recruitment and retention like the Diversity Toolkit.
On the customer side, the restaurant industry has to keep up with – if not stay ahead of – the latest trends. Customers want to know what goes into their food. Is it healthy? Organic? Natural? Local? What about allergens? The restaurant industry is responding to these trends through constant menu innovation. We’re working with governments to make nutrition information available to consumers. Whether it’s quick service or fine dining, restaurateurs are looking at natural ingredients, healthy choices and local food sources to meet customer needs. Collaboration with other Canadian agri-food industries is also critical, and our industry works closely with farmers and suppliers to find cost-effective ways to serve quality ingredients. This type of collaboration is essential for our mutual success and long-term health.
RC Show is coming up - give us a sneak peak and what you are excited about?
If you’re coming to RC Show 2017, you’re in for a treat! You’ll learn how to drive your business at our leadership conferences, where panellists from PepsiCo, Uber Everything, Rank Higher and others will share their keys to success and how they can work for you. You’ll discover cutting-edge products and services on our show floor, where we’re featuring eight pavilions. Don’t miss Shake and Sling with the exciting RC Bartending Championships, and the Coffee and Tea Pavilion’s daily presentations from industry experts. We’re all about the food, so be sure to sample what’s on offer – we have chefs coming from across the country to prepare regional dishes on the show floor and at off-site events. Join us at Canada Unleashed as we celebrate 150 years of foodservice innovation, leadership, and culinary excellence!
And while you're at the Restaurants Canada Show, make sure to stop by the Ontario Pavilion and check out what's new and exciting from farmers and processors in Ontario.
If you would like to know more about Shanna's thoughts on the foodservice industry, here's a Q&A on Restaurants Canada's website.