A cross-section of distributors have expressed collective optimism for the industry’s post-Covid recovery.
Having weathered the significant impact of Covid-19 restrictions across a number of market sectors, from hospitality, business and industry, through to education and healthcare, the collective outlook represents a positive picture for the UK foodservice industry.
Whitco commercial director Vita Whitaker said: “The business outlook for Whitco at the moment is very positive.
“One of the biggest things we’ve noticed is a concentrated focus on outdoor spaces. You only need to look to the places like the Alps to see how, even in cold weather, guests are willing to embrace outdoor hospitality. As long as outlets tailor their offering – both from what they serve, and how they set-up – rather than panic and replicate indoor systems, outdoor dining can become a viable, long-term revenue stream.”
The positivity is echoed by a number of other distributors, including Tim Fisher, MD of Garners Foodservice Equipment: “Things are most definitely moving in the right direction, and we are feeling a great deal more positive that we did 6 months ago.”
Andrew Fordyce, group MD at IFSE, added: “We’re definitely feeling more positive about the future. Our pipeline is currently strong, and is moving back towards pre-Covid levels.”
Often seen as the biggest barometer of market confidence, end-user capital investment in foodservice equipment has also started to gather momentum over the past 6 months.
Whitaker added: “While some customers have been investing throughout the last year, others are starting to do so now as market confidence returns. Hospitality businesses in particular are increasingly starting to focus on asset renewal, which is a good indicator of confidence. Ultimately, consumers want to enjoy themselves and that will only increase once restrictions allow.”
Fordyce concurred: “Collectively, we have certainly seen a clear desire to invest and get things moving. However, sectors such as business and industry are understandably waiting on client decisions regarding post-Covid working arrangements.”
While the initial outlook for post-Covid recovery appears much stronger than any other time in the past 12 months, distributors are wary of a number of new challenges that have emerged, ranging from Brexit and supply chain issues, through to skills and pricing.
“As distributors we need to be flexible and adapt to the new ways of working which have emerged post-Covid,” added Fisher. “However, we also need to remain vigilant and, as an industry, resist the worrying trend of excessive discounting as this will ultimately devalue the products and services we offer.”
Whitco believes one of the biggest challenges for distributors will be coping with the sustained impact of more than 12 months of disruption and upheaval. According to Whittaker: “Currently it is hard to predict and plan, which presents a challenge both in terms of staff, but also in managing supply and keeping things constant.
“It is important to cope now, and plan for what will hopefully be a more certain 2022. Opportunities such as permanently upgrading outside space will provide continuity for both caterers and those that supply them.”
Fordyce added: “Initiatives such as the furlough scheme have allowed companies to retain talent and keep teams together. The biggest challenge now is to develop solutions and systems that work for a hospitality industry that has had to significantly re-think its future.”
Suppliers too are feeling more positive, with Darren Lockley, head of region at Electrolux Professional UK and Ireland, commenting: “The last 12 months have proven to be the toughest operating conditions in living memory, however it feels like there is finally light at the end of the tunnel. While it was the turn of the operators to adapt to survive during Covid-enforced closures, and the extent to which so many businesses were able to is a testament to their resilience and ingenuity; it is now down to manufacturers and distributors to reconfigure our offerings to the demands of a marketplace which will be starkly different to before.
“We have already witnessed the enthusiasm with which consumers returned to the hospitality sector in April, however we cannot take for granted the opportunities that may arise. Owners and operators are already one step ahead in the future of British hospitality; however I look forward to working closely with our network of distributors over the coming months and years to help our industry continue to reinvent, innovate and succeed.”