Arena Autumn Event 2018

When Contract Catering meets the High Street

In an exclusive interview, Frank Gleeson, Aramark's CEO and Regional President, Northern Europe, took to the stage alongside Jon Knight, CEO, Jamie Oliver Restaurant Group, to discuss their partnership and how it will help realise Aramark's ambitions for expansion and create an opportunity for Jamie Oliver Restaurant Group to expand away from the high street.  An inspiring insight session presented by Simon Stenning, MCA, also explored key trends within contract catering and the high street and consider the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

This event takes place from 10.30am to 4.00pm
Join the conversation #ArenaAutumn18

Attendee List


Take a look at the attendee list for this event.

Event Review

The Banking Hall in the City of London provided a new venue for the sell-out Autumn Arena Event… and what a venue.  The magnificent space wowed guests and suited the event format perfectly, with welcoming and comfortable spaces for interaction throughout the day and an inclusive set up for the main attractions; an overview of the eating out market by Simon Stenning of MCA and the headline interview that saw Hospitality Action’s Mark Lewis talk to Frank Gleeson, the CEO and Regional President of  Northern Europe, Aramark, and Jon Knight, CEO of Jamie Oliver Restaurant Group, about the new partnership between their two businesses.

Opening the event, Simon Stenning’s ‘Understanding the 2018 Eating Out market’ presentation set the scene of the 2018 eating-out landscape, which is forecast to hit £89.4bn, with over 325,000 outlets.

How are consumers behaving?

Undoubtedly, political and economic uncertainty is causing consumers to naturally slow down with their behaviour and spending. Whilst incomes may be up, they are being squeezed by inflation and consumer confidence has been negative ever since the referendum. Frequency of dining has decreased, except for breakfast (we are having breakfast out as much as we are dinner) and when they do eat out, consumers are having to spend more, with menu prices up for breakfast, lunch and snacks.

The restaurant sector

Overall, the eating-out market is set to grow at 1.5%, which is above GDP, with a small growth in outlets – but it will be a different picture in each sector. This is highlighted in the restaurant sector, where branded restaurants are predicted to grow 3.7% for 2018, with successes including Nandos, Miller & Carter and Wagamama, but independent restaurants, who have less scale and resource to overcome the head winds, will see a decline of 2.8%.

A long-term view (to 2021) predicts ongoing problems until the macro political/economic market improves. There will be a shift in the market and growth will be masked by declines in a couple of sectors, namely tenanted pubs and independent restaurants.

The combination of over-supply and under-demand that we’ve experienced over the past couple of years is leading to Darwinian survival of the fittest and the rising importance of exceptional, experiential value.

“Consumer expectation is changing. They want ‘the The’ and not just ‘a’. Give them something that can’t be done somewhere else.”

Contract catering

The contract catering market has had its challenges, with a reported decline in share of visits for breakfast and lunch. But, opportunities are always there for the taking, created by external factors including record levels of employment, an ageing demographic that is good for the health and care sectors, a growing population increasing the numbers of school pupils, tourism growth resulting from the weakened pound and a consumer demand to spend less.

Conversely, operators need to be mindful of the pitfalls, including food price rises, employee shortages, the impact of more people working remotely or from home, increasing competition from the high street, the now outdated - but still present - negative perception of the ‘canteen’, and the need to keep abreast of the rapidly-changing trends and dietary needs.

Simon describes food-to-go, an area that is still in growth, as a battle ground. Consumers have so many options, from street food and retail to partial-dine-in and dine-in-led outlets, and not forgetting the contract caterer trying to keep people on site; all competing to give the consumer what they want.  And, what do they want? There’s increasing demand for healthier eating, greater value, more sustainable options, technology that makes food-to-go easier, smoother and faster, and hot food (something that contract caterers can deliver very well).

Bringing contract catering and the high street together

Turning his attention to the interview with Frank Gleeson and Jon Knight that was to follow, Simon considered the interaction between contract catering and the high street, two worlds that don’t sit naturally together. A number of interesting developments have preceded the latest partnership between Aramark and Jamie Oliver Restaurant Group with varying success; such as WSH and Benugo, Elior and Vita Mojo and Compass and Bateman & Co. Aramark has already courted the high street in the form of partnerships with Rocket and Freshii, so this latest venture is one to follow closely.

Aramark and Jamie Oliver Restaurant Group: a natural fit

Following a lively drinks reception, Hospitality Action’s CEO, Mark Lewis introduced Frank Gleeson and Jon Knight, the two industry leaders that attendees had gathered to hear more from.

The focus of the interview was, of course, the new ten-year partnership that Aramark and Jamie Oliver Restaurant Group (JORG) have just embarked upon. A partnership that makes JORG more accessible to a wider audience, whilst enhancing Aramark’s offer as part of its growth strategy.

A partnership both parties describe as a natural fit based on shared creativity, sector experience and ambition. Here’s what we learned about the new relationship…

A long-term commitment

Trends come and go but this is a way of working that’s here to stay and is future proofing both businesses.  The ten-year partnership gives Aramark’s current and future clients the opportunity to benefit from the union and its innovations. People are very interested in the partnership; it’s going into bids and offers an exclusive concept that’s a blend of creativity and innovation.

All JORG’s concepts will be available to Aramark. They will be adapted and customised for the different sectors, giving clients forward-thinking solutions that will help keep customers on site; including speedy service, technology and personalisation. And both Jon and Frank agreed that there’s no reason why new concepts developed within the partnership can’t be rolled back out on to the high street.

The Jamie Oliver effect

Although Jamie’s enthusiasm, values and work ethic were highly praised by Jon and Frank, the partnership is bigger than the personality. Aramark is buying into the JORG business that’s at the leading edge of the marketplace. The team’s standing and high street expertise will complement Aramark’s strengths, which include excellent execution. Having said that, Jamie Oliver is very hands on by nature, so he will be involved, and Aramark’s clients can expect to see personalised messages in tenders, for example.

Shared values

Jamie Oliver is known as a campaigner for issues including health and wellbeing, nutrition, sourcing and provenance. When it comes to these issues, there’s a line in the sand that cannot be crossed and an expectation that the relationship will uphold the JORG brand ethos. With similar values, Frank and his Aramark team tick all the necessary boxes.

Within the supply chain, there are also opportunities for suppliers if they meet the brand requirements and are transparent.

A place for learning

Culinary cross-fertilisation is a major benefit for both parties. The complementary skill sets of the talented chefs on both sides of the table will be shared and they will continually learn from each other.

Technology is another area where both parties can share knowledge and expertise, and it’s crucial to the partnership. Millennials and Gen Z are tech dependent, from ordering and paying to interactivity, loyalty and feedback, so the experience has to be seamless and competitive to improve the customer experience.  Take food to go, for example, this must be slick, as ‘sometimes you are selling more than food, you are selling time’.

Fit for purpose

Echoing Simon Stenning’s earlier advice, Frank and Jon confirmed that the market continues to be challenging for many reasons, but if you’re relevant people will come back to you. The experience you offer is everything and not something you can simply turn on. As Frank said: “Uncertainty, we can do nothing about, so we need to be fit for purpose.”

The industry needs to continue to offer choice and that’s what this partnership does. The challenge is now to deliver it on the ground and execute it well; after all you are only as good, or bad, as the last meal you serve! And, when asked if the partnership is based on great food or great business, the resounding reply was both. Good food equals good business.

So, what’s in store? The plan is to open three new sites as soon as possible; in a major university, a business and industry site in London and another in Ireland. Opening in a matter of months, these will be used to refine the Aramark/JORG offer and then it’s all systems go! Watch this space…

When the interview had ended, attendees continued their discussions over a superb three-course lunch. They also showed their ongoing generosity with a charity raffle that raised nearly £1200 for Hospitality Action and Springboard.