Opinion: The UK foodservice sector is changing, not declining, in 2018

Independent restaurants could prove a key growth area for equipment sales.

Alex Waring, partner at catering industry recruitment specialist, Cavendish Maine, reports that dealers and suppliers should be aware of and react to foodservice trends:

With the ongoing reports of large retail businesses struggling and some large restaurant chains closing sites, combined with uncertainty around Brexit, it’s understandable that people can become cautious about the state of the market and what the future holds.

All of our clients supply equipment, F&B products and/or services into the foodservice sector and so we track developments in the market carefully to understand the impact it will have on the equipment and supplies industry.

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We have drawn on research across the UK foodservice market – worth around £57bn and still in growth, in order to see the ‘bigger picture’: the market is not declining but the concepts are changing. This suggests that the real winners in the foodservice equipment and supplies industry will be those who are skilled at anticipating and reacting to trends, identifying the opportunities these trends create and delivering innovative solutions.

We have seen an increased desire for ‘artisan’ or ‘speciality’ concepts for some years now, including artisan bakeries and speciality coffee shops. Now we are hearing about a renewed growth in the independent restaurant sector.

This shift in consumer behaviour has been attributed to a variety of factors. Research suggests that diners are becoming more discerning and looking for something new or different. In line with tastes becoming more exploratory, the level of quality found in smaller, independent eateries is much higher and so diners are less reliant on the comfort of larger branded chains.

The take-away sector has grown by 34% over the last 5-6 years with 4,000 new takeaway sites opened in the last 3 years alone. More than one quarter of all food outlets are now takeaways.

Some of the current trends affecting the foodservice sector are being driven by the Millennial generation, and the growth in online ordering is no exception. Sites like JustEat and Deliveroo are rapidly growing in popularity, in particular among the Millennials who place less importance on eating out as a social activity and order a raft of products and services on their phone or device. The food delivery market has shown 10% growth year-on-year and is now worth £4bn.

Operators are seeing more people per hour, which, as well as an increase in sales and profits, means that they are required to improve efficiency in their restaurants leading to potential changes to layouts and additional equipment. Plans to roll-out ‘dark kitchens’ (online take-away only) across the UK represents another key growth area to be harnessed by equipment suppliers as well as the opportunity for innovation through disposable/reusable and environmentally friendly tableware and container solutions.

In terms of recruitment, the increase in new restaurant openings means that we are seeing a hike in requirements for skilled project sales managers (an area which has been quieter in recent years) who are able to consult and advise on cradle-to-grave restaurant and bar concepts.

There is still a healthy level of recruitment at key and national account level roles; whilst some foodservice groups are changing their concepts this area of the market still represents a significant opportunity for sales growth and development.

In my view one of the best aspects of the foodservice industry is that it is founded on a true passion for food and drink, trends in menu design, innovation and great service. The changes and developments that we are seeing now are fast-moving and exciting. There is a huge opportunity for equipment businesses to react to these changes with innovation and pace.

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