Former Sodexo CEO Shares Insights on Hospitality Trends Providing New Opportunities for DTG
This week, we are starting a new series of conversations, where we sit down with DTG executives and industry leaders to gather their insights and share their perspectives. For our inaugural Executive Spotlight, we spoke to Mark Bickford who was recently named a Strategic Consultant to DTG. Mark has more than 35 years of experience in the hospitality industry, most recently serving as CEO of Sodexo North America.
In his role with DTG, Mark provides DTG with strategic counsel and insights about the hospitality industry so that it can better navigate the landscape of on-site food service and the market forces driving change in the various hospitality industries. We sat down with Mark recently to learn more about his background and the insights he is sharing with DTG.
How does your background lend itself to this new role with DTG?
I have always had a passion for food and wine. After starting out as a professional chef working in restaurants, I joined Boston-based Creative Gourmet, a small, regional, high-end, on-site food service company, and moved to the business side of hospitality. Local businesses, hospitals, colleges, and universities used Creative Gourmet for their off-premises catered events. The company grew quickly and began to transition to on-site food service for companies, hospitals, and universities such as State Street Bank, Dana Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Law School. After a series of mergers and acquisitions, Creative Gourmet ultimately became part of Sodexo.
During my time at Sodexo, I held 19 different roles, starting as a chef-manager responsible for a premier high-tech client. In 2009, I became president for Sodexo’s Corporate Services business. In 2015, was named CEO of Sodexo North America.
How did you learn about DTG and its mobile workstations?
A personal connection brought me to DTG shortly after I transitioned to consulting. DTG was working with Sodexo on a campus pilot program for its new hospitality carts, when Steve Shaheen, DTG founder and CEO, explained the concept behind the Chef PowerStation and how the battery technology could safely and efficiently power hospitality carts. I saw that as a massive opportunity that didn’t exist in the market.
The closest thing I’d seen to it are large trucks that have kitchens and powered equipment and can run off huge generators and can be brought to remote locations. Unfortunately, these trucks come with a lot of restrictions such as proximity to a power source, cost considerations and staffing. The idea of bringing food and beverage services to any location safely and regardless of available power source was exciting, and a great opportunity for me to use my three-plus decades of experience to help educate and advocate.
Why do you think no other companies have addressed this opportunity?
There hasn’t been the demand. Until now, food and beverage preparation and serving solutions have been fixed assets that must be positioned near a power source, among other resources.
The pandemic changed all that. It created that demand. We could no longer have large groups of people congregating in central food service locations.
The pandemic created a need to provide meals to smaller groups of people in dispersed locations, often without any infrastructure. Simultaneously, there was an increased demand for food delivery with central kitchens used to produce the meals that are being delivered. These ghost kitchens, as they’re called, were in their infancy when the pandemic struck.
What are some other trends driving changes in the hospitality industry?
Businesses across most industries are in a fight for talent. In this current climate, where there is tight competition for talent and fewer people willing to return to the office, companies are allowing employees to work from home and are leasing smaller spaces. They’re revisiting their real estate footprint – no longer are companies building large, sprawling campuses where thousands of employees work in central locations. And those changes impact the space they devote to food service.
Food service is still a baby boomer model – it’s been the same for the past 40-50 years, where a company, hospital or university devotes a large, central location for their employees, students, patrons, etc. to walk through a line, order and collect their food, and proceed to a staffed cashier station. Companies are revisiting this resource-intensive approach to on-site food service.
What do you see as some of the biggest opportunities for DTG hospitality carts?
The number one opportunity is in the corporate sector where real estate is the largest driver of change. The new normal is far fewer employees working on site. Cafeterias lie dormant most of the day, as companies pay the associated costs – rent, cleaning, payroll, etc. What was once a profitable business, food service is now being subsidized by companies. Tens of thousands of companies are in this situation. DTG hospitality carts bridge that gap, providing businesses with a cost-effective solution to offer their employees hot and cold fresh food, beverage, and barista services wherever they’re needed.
The second largest market opportunity is sports and leisure. Think of NFL games, Formula One races, music concerts and festivals. They all have one thing in common – large numbers of people convened for a concentrated period of time. And, given the format of these events, the patrons all want access to concession services at the same time – during an intermission, for example, creating long lines and missed opportunities.
These facilities are challenged with meeting as much food and beverage demand as efficiently as possible with limited staff, power sources, and space. This is another setting where a few dozen DTG hospitality carts dispersed throughout the facility can efficiently and cost-effectively meet that demand. Luxury suites present an additional market opportunity, where a cart with a chef serving fresh cooked food offers a creative way to create demand and differentiate services.
Hotels and resorts that host large numbers of events outside is another market prime for DTG hospitality carts. These businesses need to ask themselves how many events they’re turning down because of their limited capacity to facilitate additional events with one central kitchen.
When you’re not helping DTG grow its presence in hospitality industries, what do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I enjoy cooking and wine. I’m a certified wine specialist, which means I focus on learning about the history of wine, grape varieties, winemaking, and the primary wine regions of the world. I love to travel, read (the Medieval period of 800 to the 1800s being my favorite genre), and enjoy music. In fact, I’ve been a lead guitarist in a local band for years. And, if there’s any time left, I’ll find a way to squeeze in a round of golf from time to time.