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ICSC’s Food For Thought Conference Served Up Bountiful Tidbits of Inspiration

By Phil Colicchio, Executive Managing Director

Last week, the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC), hosted food industry experts, thought leaders and real estate investors for the third annual “Food For Thought” Conference: three days in New Orleans immersed in the unique trends, challenges and opportunities within the food & beverage industry… not to mention the numerous non-conference “immersion sessions” that can only take place in The Big Easy.

With approximately 350 in attendance, the conference kicked off with a NOLA-style Second Line parade, complete with a full brass band and twirlers. Experiential, to say the least! The conference was able to feed off of and maintain that energy throughout its sessions. I was honored to moderate the kick off panel session on Tuesday morning—If You Build It… The Making of a Food Hall, comprised of industry experts Edward Eimer, President at Eimer Design, Josh Levy, Partner at Waterstone Properties Group and Akhtar Nawab, Chef and Owner at Alta Calidad and Co-founder of Hospitality HQ. We looked at the conception/design/operation modules found in the modern day food hall, and how the trend toward amenitizing…. well, everything….. in order to provide an enhanced experience for all property types—including office, multi-family, hospitality, shopping centers and student housing, among others will be the value-add.

Robust and diverse questioning from the attendees followed the panel. We discussed how owners and developers are using the food hall model as a way to amenitize their properties and thus stay competitive and cutting edge for their tenants. Panelists observed that for consumers, they are artisanal, experiential, and instagram-able; and for operators, they offer economies of scale. Waterstone’s Josh Levy noted that for developers, food halls offer a unique hedge of risk and a “halo effect” on adjacent rents in the property. Finally, the food hall provides an authentic and one-of-a-kind identity providing the surrounding community a space to gather and support the local culinary crafts-people.

These themes of the evolution in dining, the experience factor, the rise of chef-driven concepts, and food delivery and design were prevalent and intertwined throughout the remaining sessions at the conference and I was delighted to see our how our conversation that morning was echoed in different forms throughout the day as each session took place. Other noteworthy conversations worth mentioning at the event were focused around topics of home meal kits; fast-casual versus QSR; technology within the food industry; convenience as the ultimate amenity; experience over all things; the saturation of dining on high streets and in suburban centers; ghost kitchens as the new hot trend for customer convenience and how chains will be able to maintain relevance.

It was a great few days in New Orleans with some colleagues in the industry who posed some thought provoking and inspiring insights that I’ll take with me and carry in pocket as we see these exciting trends continue to unfold.


Stay tuned for Cushman & Wakefield’s Food Halls 3.0 Report, coming out next month! In the meantime, you can read the Food Halls of North America Report HERE.


Phil Colicchio is an industry-leading expert in specialty food, beverage (F&B) and entertainment procurement. In his current role at Cushman & Wakefield, Phil, along with his partner, Trip Schneck, provides his expertise to our brokerage teams and other service lines to promote client-centric business development for existing developer, owner, investor, hotelier, resort and university clients around the country. Their strong relationships within both the F&B and entertainment communities serve as the currency that sets them apart in the era of newCommerce, and aid brokers as they assist their clients in building the right standout concept for their space. 


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