Looking Back and Looking Ahead: An Interview with Gold Medal President J. Adam Browning
As we head into the new year, we’re looking at a big-picture overview of the concessions industry. The Gold Medal Marketing Team recently sat down with Gold Medal’s President, J. Adam Browning, to discuss some history and trends, and get his unique insights into how Gold Medal and the industry continue to grow and change. Here’s our conversation.
Gold Medal Marketing Team: How long have you been in the concessions industry, and what roles have you had?
J. Adam Browning: I joined Gold Medal as Vice President, General Counsel in 2010. In addition to my legal, compliance, and risk management duties, I immediately began attending trade shows to meet customers, understand their businesses, and understand the nuances of our markets. I was also asked to oversee the Gold Medal distribution center. There, I immersed myself in operations – I talked to our employees, listened to their needs, and identified and solved problems. About six months later, I was also given responsibility for the food products manufacturing department, where I continued to make improvements to our processes, and eventually, I oversaw our equipment manufacturing division. I also worked on many special projects for customers.
Through all of these experiences, as well as my close working relationship with members of other departments such as HR, sales, credit, and finance, I gained a thorough understanding of Gold Medal as a company and of the concessions industry as a whole. In 2012 I became Executive Vice President, General Counsel, and was appointed to the board of directors. In February 2017 I was promoted to President.
GMMT: What are the most notable changes you’ve witnessed during your time in the concessions industry?
JAB: There are at least three major changes to note. The first is an increase in regulations, testing, and compliance requirements, especially regarding food products. The federal government has continued to increase standards, and our goal is not only to meet those standards but to exceed them. Customers also have higher expectations in terms of the foods they eat and sell, and we strive to deliver product that exceeds those demands as well. In response to these changing standards, Gold Medal has made many capital improvements to our manufacturing process and also increased our quality control staff personnel and resources.
Another big change is the uptick in the number of cheap knockoffs and copies coming from overseas. Our strategy at Gold Medal for beating our competitors will always be to focus on the value, quality, price, and service of our equipment. We strive to be a trusted partner to our customers and to help them grow their business.
Finally, the labor market has changed significantly in the past few years. In light of the increase in regulations and competition, we need a workforce who is skilled and trained to produce the best equipment and products, but the labor market has tightened. To combat this, we’re focused on being the best employer we can be with an unmatched benefits package and a wonderful work culture, both to retain current employees and to attract new workers. One unique way we’re looking to bring in fresh new talent is through our partnership with Cincinnati Public Schools.
GMMT: How have customer expectations and trends changed over the years?
JAB: Customers expect much more today than they have in the past. There is a trend toward desiring gourmet and innovative products. The gourmet popcorn market continues to grow, extending from popcorn shops into grocery stores, movie theaters, and many other venues. Consumers are looking to be surprised with novelty items, and they not only want value but also photo-worthy food products to share on social media.
What tends to stay consistent, though, is the general demand for concession foods. Our industry has been said to be nearly recession-proof, as even during economic downtimes, people seek out entertainment venues where our products are sold: movie theaters, ballparks, and festivals. Concession foods trigger feelings of nostalgia and fond memories, bringing a bit of joy to customers during good times and bad.
GMMT: How has Gold Medal adapted to industry changes?
JAB: While continuing to focus on quality, we’ve invested more into innovation. Our engineers design machines with the newest technology in mind, to deliver on changing customer needs, an improved operator experience, and improved performance. Look for some exciting new developments to be announced this year.
Additionally, our flavor department researches the latest food trends and creates new recipes for customers, as well as providing ideas for creative ways to use our equipment and products that they may not have thought of before. Some examples of these include our sweet and savory waffles and warm and frozen beverage recipes.
GMMT: What are your predictions for the concessions industry in the future?
JAB: The major trend that will dominate the industry for the foreseeable future is the unique combination of the old and the new. Concessions consumers have long desired the nostalgic feelings that come with fun foods, and today they still want that, but with a twist of the unexpected. Experiencing familiarity but with a novel spin, and accessibility with an upscale and interesting feeling, is what the consumer is looking for. Concessionaires can capitalize on these desires by using existing equipment and supplies in unexpected ways.
Handcrafted, locally sourced items and global flavors are also important trends that aren’t going away any time soon, as well as younger generations’ gravitation toward immersive food encounters. These consumers want to be involved, with customization options and experiences – like watching food prep as a show and receiving a beautifully presented treat at the end.
While consumer demands and trends evolve over the years, one thing is certain: the concession industry is healthy and will continue to grow as savvy concessionaires adapt and invent creative new recipes that are irresistible. And Gold Medal will be right there with them, just like we have since 1931, at the forefront of industry innovation: delivering snacks, smiles, and success to our customers.