Arena Round Table - January 2023
in partnership with Premier Foods
For the first Arena round table of the year, leaders from all areas of foodservice gathered at Resolve Brasserie in London to discuss how the industry can work together to overcome the key challenges that it is currently facing. Anita Murray, CEO, William Murray PR & Marketing, chaired the discussion in association with Premier Foods, one of the UK’s largest food businesses.
Director of Corporate, Brakes
Sales Director, Bidfood
Business Performance and Transformation Director - Food Services, ISS
Head of People & Culture, Creams Franchising Ltd.
Managing Director, Sodexo UK&I
Anita Murray (Chair)
CEO, William Murray PR & Marketing
Former Managing Director, LEON
Operations Director, Lexington Catering
Foodservice Marketing Manager, Premier Foods
Head of Sustainability, Foodbuy
Managing Director – Healthcare and Retirement Living, Elior
Chef Director, Delicious by Design
Foodservice Director, Premier Foods
Cost of living crisis
Although 2022 was a challenging year for foodservice, there was a real air of optimism around the table for the year ahead. To begin, participants tackled the issue of cost of living and the overall impact this is having on the industry. With two-thirds of UK consumers planning to cut non-essentials in 2023, which includes eating out, this is undoubtedly a huge concern for the industry. Having said that, attendees agreed that it’s not all doom and gloom, and that there is still money out there. However, in order to succeed and ride the storm, businesses must be best in class and set themselves ahead of everyone else.
Panellists also identified QSR and grab & go as potential growth markets, suggesting that consumers are moving more into lunchtime/day part eating where there is less of a commitment on spend. Offering tapas and more sharing plate options was mentioned as an effective way of offering the consumer more choice, whilst also helping to keep costs down.
Value for money was also a big talking point, but not at the cost of quality. Participants agreed that although value led products are important, it is also about delivering a great service and quality product that has the right purpose, at the right price. If you are strong in offering all of these key areas, then people will spend. But it’s got to be genuine value for money.
One participant suggested that lunchtime spending has in fact increased within workplace catering, with hybrid working playing a part in this growth as well as consumers opting for healthier, more sustainable, locally sourced food out of the home.
With one fifth of the UK workforce planning to look for new jobs this year in search of higher salaries or better employee benefits, the discussion shifted to how the industry can attract new talent during such a challenging climate. There was a tone of disappointment in the room as most agreed that hospitality has taken its team members for granted, or as one panellist described it, ‘taking the michael’.
There has never been that transparency in growth and pay has always been a big issue. Described as one of the panellist’s ‘biggest bugbears’, hospitality has always struggled with the perception of being a career driven industry and this is what panellists agreed needs to be pushed - this idea that you can come in as a team member and finish as a CEO. It really happens. It’s these success stories that the industry needs to be focusing on, coupled with investing in team members, finding out what their needs are.
All participants were in agreement that it’s not just about the pay cheque at the end of the day, it’s about giving back to teams and going above and beyond to achieve this through reward schemes, benefits, flexibility and family care options. Everyone was in agreement that a career path in hospitality is a must.
Maternity leave was also singled out as being ‘poor’ within catering, therefore something that the industry needs to address, along with finding new ways of enticing parents and new mothers back into the sector. It was suggested that there’s got to be a social mindset shift in how the industry can offer flexibility in work life balance.
In terms of recruitment, one participant described the industry as being at a ‘crossroads of real issues’. It was suggested that even by offering career development, the industry would struggle to encourage people over the next two to five years.
Stability was acknowledged by the group as one of the reasons why the industry isn’t more attractive. There was a suggestion that zero hour contracts should be scrapped in order to help attract more people into foodservice.
Discussing the impact of rail strikes on the industry - which has now risen to a crippling £2.5bn - participants shared a level of concern, particularly for the restaurant trade where many businesses are losing hundreds and thousands of pounds each time there is a strike. However, from a corporate perspective, one panellist said the strikes had a ‘lower impact’ on the sector, due to its ability to be able to pivot and plan ahead.
As people have been forced to find other ways to travel, this has spread consumer money to other parts of the network, opening up new opportunities for other sectors. Despite the disruption and financial loss it has brought to the industry, some participants don’t perceive it as quite the ‘end of the world’ scenario that it has been made out to be, with some positives to come out of it.
Asking whether participants have any short-term strategies in place to help with increasing inflation rates, it was agreed by most that efficiency is key. From a wholesaler perspective, it’s about forming partnerships. It’s also about understanding your customer’s business and the different sectors within their business, and how you can influence that. The hardest thing, it was noted, will be to drive value with the inflation rate continuing to rise at the rate it is.
Suppliers can help drive efficiency through reviewing the size and frequency of its deliveries along with rationalising product lines. One of the key focuses, agreed by many, was how the supply chain can be made more efficient. It was also noted that inflation simply can not continue at these high levels.
To conclude the discussion, members summarised their key focuses for the future. One participant spoke about her passion for developing great food experiences within the workplace, and another said he would like to see a greater focus on sustainability. Other focus areas included more collaboration, more product development and a drive in digital innovations.
Despite the challenges facing foodservice, there is still an appetite out there - for growth, change and success. It was agreed that as an industry, we must stay focused and continue to talk and work together to help weather the storm.
If you’re interested in hosting or participating in a future round table event, please contact Lorraine.
As one of the UK’s largest food businesses, we’re passionate about food and believe, each and every day, we have the opportunity to enrich life for everyone. We employ over 4,000 dedicated colleagues operating from 15 sites across the country, manufacture a range of retail and foodservice products with our iconic brands which feature in millions of homes and outlets every day.