With every step along the ‘Roadmap to Recovery’, it does feel like the foodservice industry and its associated supply chain are almost resuming normal service.
All four UK nations have now reopened indoor dining, and at the time of writing, the 21 June date for social distancing relaxation still stands, in England at least. That will be vital for the sector to fully shake off the shackles of lockdown and operate at maximum capacity, but there remain a few concerns.
It does seem to currently be a race of Covid variants versus vaccines, particularly if the Delta/Indian strain definitively proves to be more transmissible, but if the jab rate outstrips transmission then the reopening schedule can stay on course, and both the foodservice industry and its supply chain can look forward to a more normal second half of the year.
Nevertheless, until then we are slightly stuck in this in-between phase, slowly inching towards normality but knowing that we are not there yet. Longer term planning conversations do seem to be taking place now though, with many distributors pointing towards a solid pipeline of work coming down the line, and orderbooks filling up.
When outdoor dining was the only in-person option in April and May, it also looks like some operators relished using outside spaces in a different way and that intend on maintaining that facility (subject to the rigours of the good old British weather), and so outdoor catering equipment could be a long-term option for dealers to think about providing.
Hopefully in the coming months, more end users will consider either asset renewal or complete kitchen refurbishment, when they are more confident that their income won’t be disrupted again. Particularly in city centres, workers coming back to offices from doing their jobs at home will provide a crucial boost in lunchtime trade and may prompt both chains and independents to sign on the dotted line to make equipment investments.
Although the churn in foodservice outlets has undoubtedly grown, as some operators have scaled back, this could be the perfect opportunity for others to take over sites – usually with different business models and menus, which will then segue into kitchen overhauls. Faster food categories and drive-throughs seem to be the sectors to watch, and while deliveries won’t now be the only foodservice avenues available to diners, this type of service is still forecast to steadily grow, so dealers may want to keep their hands in the dark kitchen segment too.
As certainty starts to return, it will be great to have a solid foundation under our feet again. Fingers crossed the journey towards normality will not be protracted.