Arena Round Table - March 2020
in partnership with Nestlé Professional
Associate Director, Speed Communications
Managing Director, ISS UK
Purchasing Director, Elior
Group Manager – Centrica, Baxter Storey
Foodservice and Sustainability Director, Compass
Insight Manager Food Platform, Sodexo
Managing Director, Vacherin
Channel Development Manager – Workplace, Nestle Professional
Procurement Manager, Blue Apple Catering
Future of the Workplace
In the second event of our new series of industry roundtable discussions, we gathered decision makers from the contract catering world to discuss the changing shape of workplace catering. Chaired by Vaneetha Balasubramaniam, Associate Director at Speed Communications and hosted by Nestlé Professional, the group’s discussion dissected the findings from Nestlé Professional’s Future of the Workplace e-report and focused on health & wellbeing, sustainability, plant-based foods and technology.
The over-riding theme of the conversation was that caterers now have to be “experts in everything” when it comes to the workplace. Great quality food that meets customer demand that fuels the workforce is no longer enough. In fact, it’s just expected. Caterers now need knowledge and expertise in technology, communications, sustainability & wellbeing, retailing – the list is growing.
Health & Wellbeing
The discussion began on the topic of health & wellbeing. Whilst all agreed that providing nutritionally balanced options is at the top of their agenda, and has been for some time, there was in-depth analysis about the definitions surrounding health, wellness, nutrition, and mental health. Interestingly, there is currently no scientific evidence linking nutrition to mental health, but caterers have a responsibility to recognise it as an integral issue within the workplace.
There is also lack of consistency in relation to the definition of health and ‘healthy options’. Customer demand for certain dishes and products in a city law firm can vary greatly, for example, from a blue collar workplace such as a call centre. And, some customers say they want ‘healthy’ food, just because they think it’s the right thing to do, when in actual fact, when you look at till sales, comfort food sales are far higher than the perceived ‘healthy’ dishes.
One caterer pointed out that it’s a case of focusing on the basics, such as including more fruit and veg, reducing sugar and salt and making comfort food “better for you”. Yet, in some sites, the demand for health-focused and functional foods is increasingly complex.
All agreed that the caterer’s role now includes client education about health and nutrition, which is a case of providing the ‘right’ information and often involves combatting the media.
It was unanimous that plant-based eating is not going away and will increase in size significantly over the next 50 years, driven by environmental awareness and health. Flexitarianism will quickly become the norm. Ironically, three or four years ago, ‘Meat Free Mondays’ were difficult to push through, now clients are asking for more, with plant-based dishes becoming standard on menus.
In some cases, this is causing clients to question costs – plant-based dishes are perceived by the client as cheaper to produce than meat-based dishes.
One of the biggest challenges for caterers in this area is training for chefs. It’s a new skill set that the average catering college currently doesn’t cover; it’s a gap that needs to be addressed.
In terms of manufacturing, it was agreed this is still very much an ‘exploratory’ space. Manufactured products are “hit and miss” and there aren’t enough products coming through for the lower end of the market.
One caterer commented that in London, the “shout is louder than the actual need” in relation to plant-based foods.
Formerly a tick box exercise for businesses, sustainability is now an integrated part of what caterers do, with most having their own sustainability departments, not only to manage their own environmental impact, but also to assist clients in operating their own businesses’ sustainably. It’s a topic that has become part of everyday conversation.
The caterer’s role is now about driving change from within, but it is also reliant on the supply chain. It was agreed that innovation is key, as is how you educate and influence.
One caterer said there is even more focus on local sourcing. People want to do better. And, when buying meat, the emphasis is on better quality sources.
It was agreed that the client wants everything when it comes to sustainability goals and it’s a race to see who can achieve it the quickest.
The conversation moved on to ordering apps and personalisation of food. One caterer said they felt the ordering apps were just a trend and that the workplace is “playing around” with technology.
It was agreed that there are certain situations where technology really improves service, such as hospitality booking and stadia. But this certainly isn’t true across the whole of workplace. Bespoke ordering and personalisation work in some sites, where employees take staggered breaks for example, but not in blue collar sites where all breaks are at set times.
One guest commented that if the infatuation with technology continues on its current path, there is a risk of all caterers turning into the likes of Deliveroo, operating from dark kitchens.
On the subject of Deliveroo and restaurant delivery, it was agreed that the hotel sector is feeling the impact more than B&I Catering. Facilities Managers don’t want a constant flow of food deliveries to the front desk and are in a position to stop that happening.
And, on to social media, it was agreed that it opens up an added value piece for the client. Some caterers engage directly with customers via social media, particularly in relation to health and nutrition.
Ultimately, clients are interested in the data. They want to understand purchasing habits. Caterers need to be able to provide that data and demonstrate that they’re using it to shape their offer.
The challenge moving forward is to “keep caterers as caterers, but embrace retailing”
Taking all the above into account, caterers cannot lose sight of their core offer, the food. And for Gen Z, it’s all about the type of food that you just want to “Insta”.
Download your copy of Nestlé Professional’s “Gen Z: Cater the Future e-report” here: https://bit.ly/2xIuaCv
If you’re interested in hosting or participating in a future round table event, please contact Lorraine.
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