Pace of foodservice change will create casualties

The foodservice sector is undergoing significant change and companies that fail to stay in touch with where customer demand is heading face being left behind.

That was the verdict of industry experts taking part in analyst firm Horizons’ latest Thought Leadership Forum in London, where improving profitability, future spending habits and spotting the next consumer trend were hotly-debated themes.

Emma Read, Horizons’ director of marketing and business development, told the audience of operators, suppliers and analysts, that while eating out penetration and frequency were up this year, average spend per visit was still below pre-downturn levels.

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“This is a very changing marketplace,” she warned. “Horizons’ research shows there are huge opportunities in areas such as snacking and breakfast while smaller business units are being developed for locations such as transport hubs and shopping malls. The challenge is to stay in touch with customer needs and be able to adapt to the way the sector is moving,” she said.

Consumer insight was one of the main themes of key speaker Paul Pomroy, SVP and CFO for McDonald’s UK.

He gave a revealing account of the changes the company has made to its UK business over the past decade, including broadening its menu, extending its opening hours to 24/7 in some outlets and giving restaurants a fresh look to fit in with what customers demanded.

“You have to keep changing,” he agreed. “Competition entering the market keeps us on our toes and the business sees this as a good thing. We remain market leading in the informal eating out sector and that is down to our desire to evolve, whilst meeting the demands from our customers.”

He added that McDonald’s employs an internal customer insight team that specialises in ensuring it delivers what customers want, while it uses restaurant analysis software from RMS Revenue Management to understand the relationship between pricing and customer behaviour.

Meanwhile, Max Luthy of global trend watching company Trendwatching.com tackled the issue of identifying trends and how companies can choose which ones will best suit their own businesses.

True trends, he said, raise and change consumer expectation. “Deliver more than goods,” he urged. “Sservice is still key. The last touch point you have with your customer is in the delivery. Truly customer-centric brands understand that delivery is just the start.”

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