Watch: Insights on food service trends, plant-based and more

In this Q&A, three industry experts offer their perspectives on the biggest issues food service providers face. Watch this informative primer on demand.

November 14, 2023

35 Min View

Food-service providers, both commercial and non-commercial, encounter myriad problems in this post-pandemic world: changing demographics, a labor shortage, shrink and food wase, and the future of plant-based foods.

Meeting these challenges is going to require that retailers and food service providers create innovative, interesting solutions. Of course, seeking advice from others in the industry—especially those with broad experience—is never a bad idea. In Natural Products Expo East’s Innovation Experience session Retail & Food Service Executives Serve Up Innovation Insights, Matt Cotton, founder and CEO lobbed these questions at three industry experts: Neil Doherty, senior director, culinary development, Sysco; Rob Morasco, vice president innovation, Sodexo Campus; and Natalie Taake, senior innovation manager, Kroger. Read their biographies, below, then watch the video and consider their advice.

Matt Cotton, moderator

Founder and CEO, Rooted Food Sales

Cotton has worked as director of foodservice sales for two startups—Farmwise (acquired by B&G Foods) and Buen Sabor—helping both to turn foodservice from scratch into strong businesses in under a year. He deepened his understanding of the industry by spearheading foodservice sales for PGI, a $50 million company. He has done extensive work with most of the industry’s major distributors and management companies, and he has sales experience in nearly every foodservice category, specializing in College & University, Business & Industry, QSR & Convenience. Cotton took all his knowledge and passion and started his own brokerage, Rooted Food Sales, in March 2020. Rooted exists to help innovative and better-for-you brands grow in foodservice.

Neil Doherty

Senior Director, Culinary Development, Sysco

At the age of 14, in Ballina, Ireland, Doherty began his career in a quaint farming community working as a kitchen helper in Belleek Castle and on a market gardening farm in England. After attending culinary school in Galway, he chopped, sautéed and filleted his way through Ireland’s culinary world. Moving to New York City, he served as executive chef in hotels, restaurants and start-up kitchens, he ultimately landed the position of corporate chef for Sysco Corporation in Houston, Texas. At Sysco, he has consulted with and influenced restaurant brands big and small, locally and internationally.

To stay current on trends, techniques and flavors, Doherty works with chefs from around the globe. He believes in constant continued education to perfect his craft and expand his knowledge base. The media took notice of his lively personality and vast culinary expertise. He has been featured in national and trade magazines, newspapers and TV programs for his creative take on traditional dishes from various ethnic cuisines.

Rob Morasco

Vice President Innovation, Sodexo Campus

Morasco began his career with Sodexo in 1997 at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia. He spent 17 years with universities, progressing through chef roles before becoming the senior director of offer development. He then spent seven years leading Culinary and Offer Development for all of Sodexo’s North American business before returning to the Campus Segment in 2022. In this role, he leads the efforts in driving innovation to achieve tangible results for the company’s operators, clients and customers. A big part of innovating for Generation Z, Morasco strives to get a better understanding of their food-related wants and needs. That discussion almost always involves a conversation around sustainability and plant-based eating.

Natalie Taake

Senior Innovation Manager, Kroger

Taake has spent her 20-year food and beverage career translating food science, culinary arts, consumer insights and trend predictions into actionable business plans.  A magnetic speaker and master taster, Taake’s expertise has been featured on CNN, Food Network, and America’s Test Kitchen.  She currently leads the Innovation Center of Excellence at Kroger, working across all categories and brands for Kroger’s $40 billion private-label business.

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