The Arena Savoy Lecture has been the centrepiece of Arena’s event calendar for over 20 years showcasing both UK and global senior industry leaders as its speakers. This year's event entitled 'Adapt and Win in Changing Times' featured an economic overview followed by a panel of industry leaders who discussed the health of the UK foodservice and hospitality sector, the current challenges being faced, opportunities arising and how businesses within the sector can continue to survive and grow.
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By Nicola Knight, Insight Manager - Eating Out and Food-to-Go, IGD, and Charlotte Jackson, Head of Foodservice, William Murray PR & Marketing
This year’s Arena Savoy Lecture was one of the best attended and most memorable events in the organisation’s 32 year history. Nearly 200 guests gathered in the impressive Savoy Lancaster Ballroom, firstly to listen to industry leaders discuss the challenges and opportunities facing the sector during a time of immense change, then to celebrate the achievements of two inspiring individuals – the late Naomi Arnold, co-founder of Arena and Andy Kemp - whose contributions to the industry have had a direct impact on many in the room.
The evening began with a presentation from Chief Economist at IGD, James Walton. IGD’s programmes of Commercial Insight and Social Impact are designed to drive change across the food industry and James shared insights on the theme of “Adapting and winning in changing times”.
James commended the dynamism and agility of the industry in the face of a complex set of challenges, and the resilience in demand for eating and drinking out despite pressures on consumers’ spend. This bodes well for the year ahead – however, high levels of unpredictability still exist, from volatile energy pricing to the impact of the Windsor Framework, and consumers will need to grapple with unusually high costs for some time to come. James concluded by summarising the reasons for optimism: supply chain stability, falling commodity prices and demand resilience. But also highlighted some “watch-outs”: inflation impacts still to be passed on, a slow recovery of household wealth and the need for improvements in supply chain resilience.
Following on from James’ contextual presentation, guests heard the views of industry leaders Paul Nieduszynski, Chief Commercial Officer at Sysco GB, Wendy Bartlett MBE, Founder of Bartlett Mitchell (now BM Catering), James Bielby, CEO of FWD in a panel debate hosted by Ann Elliott.
With food inflation hitting its highest level since 1977, 10% of the world’s calories coming out of the Ukraine not to mention the catalogue of life-altering events, such as Brexit and covid, the panel echoed James’ commentary, that it’s a sombering time for the industry.
“People are down trading, buying less and buying just in time”, according to James Bielby.
And, according to Wendy Bartlett, Brexit was the worst thing to ever happen to the UK in terms of labour. “We’re just not that attractive anymore - people don’t want to come to the UK. They’re now actually thinking, ‘why am I here? It’s expensive’.”
Yet, despite the challenges or the “drama” that the industry continually faces, there was optimism from the panel. The resilience and collaboration that has become synonymous with the industry, was highlighted and it was agreed that the industry needs to continually review, assess and work together.
“We need to think carefully about the resilience of our supply chain. There are domestic challenges that we’re not looking at in the intelligent way we should be,” said James Bielby.
Paul from Sysco highlighted that the supply chain needs to forecast demand and we need to continue to innovate with food to excite consumers. And crucially, "if prices do come down, we need to pass them on" to keep driving the market forward.
Wendy highlighted that some sectors are bouncing back and is expecting more to come back in B&I: “Food is a real attraction in the office. We’re seeing lot of companies giving it away for free as employees are seeing it as a benefit.”
It’s pubs, hotels and restaurants where the outlook is uncertain, as these sectors are driven by discretionary spend, as outlined in James Walton’s presentation. Consumers are looking for value, but as Paul pointed out "We mustn’t cut corners. We need to maintain the right level of standards."
And, standards are rising. Consumers are more educated, than they ever have been in the past. As Wendy raised, there are now 25 different coffees on a menu when there used to be only one or two. If consumers are going to spend money, they will ‘spend well’. They know what they want. To win, the industry needs to up its game in terms of communication. From the end-user across the entire supply chain.
The general feeling was that there will be good to come from the last four years. People are looking after their teams more and suppliers will work better with buyers, so it’s not just about price. And, we will likely see a boost in tourism from visitors to London.
Whilst there are some watch-outs – James highlighted security and resilience – the general consensus of the panel was optimism.
After an opportunity for guests to catch up in the stunning River Room they went onto enjoy a delicious three-course meal prepared and served in the beautiful Lancaster Ballroom.
Huge thanks to the event partners – Délifrance for supplying the focaccia bites and bread rolls, Britvic Soft Drinks for their range of soft drinks, Unity Wines for the Prosecco and red and white wine, Nestlé Professional for the Nescafe Coffee and Nutritics which enabled us to showcase the carbon footprint of our menu served on the evening.
A big thank you from Arena to all those that contributed to the raffle. Just over £3000 was raised for Springboard and Hospitality Action.
For a copy of James’ slides, please email Lorraine at email@example.com
To learn more about marketing strategies that deliver commercial results, visit www.williammurray.co.uk
To read James’ latest Economic Viewpoint report or sign up for his next webinar on 13 July visit www.igd.com/social-impact/economics