Helen Drakakis looks into what products you need to start stocking in order to take complete advantage of the booming foodservice category in 2019
The high street is in crisis and restaurants are also witnessing a shake-up due to increasing supply costs and over-capacity in the market.
Among those teetering on the edge include casual dining outlets Jamie’s Italian and the Gaucho Restaurant Group.
However, there are pockets of growth. According to foodservice analyst MCA,
the pub sector will enjoy 1.6% growth this year, ahead of the eating-out market.
Quick-service restaurants, too, are weathering the storm, while food-to-go looks set to flourish.
For your business, understanding emerging consumer habits as well as keeping on top of the latest trends is key to success.
According to foodservice expert Peter Backman, one element that ties the foodservice winners together is a clear understanding of the customer. “JD Wetherspoon is thriving primarily because of its low-cost business model, and chains such as Nando’s have a simple offering delivered very well. At the premium end, The Ivy Collection is succeeding. All of these understand their customer,” he says.
What customers want is value and quality. “Pubs are doing well because they have brought the value of their offering into line with the price,” notes Backman.
Value and quality
With budgets squeezed and uncertainty around Brexit, consumer spending has flatlined, resulting in a desire for value. “Value does not refer to price, but the perceived benefits offset against the price,” says Bidfood’s customer marketing executive, Joe Angliss.
In response, wholesalers should offer keenly priced, high-quality products. Burgers, for example, will make up 10.8% of out-of-home spend in 2018, according to insight body MCA’s UK Eating Out Market Report.
Sam Henderson, managing director at wholesaler Lomond Fine Foods, is confident consumers want to trade up to better quality. “If someone likes a chicken burger, we give them the best chicken burger we can with 90% protein as opposed to 60%. There is a trend for people to want that better version,” he says.
Using brand credentials to outline the offer’s quality as well as placing emphasis on sustainable ingredients can also enhance customers’ perceptions, Bidfood’s Angliss adds.
Gloucester-based wholesaler Creed Foodservice, for example, has tapped into the increasing customer demand for traceability of products, represented by free-range, Farm Assured, Red Tractor and Fairtrade accreditations.
Alongside quality main offerings, consumers are also looking for better baps and bases, and so premium buns and brioches are proving popular in foodservice and convenience markets.
Wales-based Spar retailer Conrad Davies says he is now stocking a range of brioche buns next to his meats.
Likewise, baked goods supplier Kara Foods reports an increase in diners wanting baked items. “It is important the most popular dishes, especially burgers and pizzas, are offered with the right bakery elements to keep customers excited, such as premium burger buns and sourdough pizza bases,” says Kara’s marketing manager, Jane Deegan.
Drinks, given their higher margins, are another lucrative category for wholesalers. “Every pound being spent is more likely to be going on drink rather than food,” says hospitality expert Backman. He attributes this to an improvement of the offering to encompass craft beers and speciality spirits, such as gins.
World on a plate
Flavour profiles continue to draw inspiration from the street food trend and tap into a desire to try new and authentic global foods.
“The Latin American influence on street food continues to explode on the scene
with sushi burritos, street fries, wraps, tacos and yet more inventive handheld dishes evolving and growing,” says wholesaler Bidfood.
It also reports a growing enthusiasm for cuisine from the Middle East and North Africa, while Asian foods and flavours are becoming more authentic and traditional, linking back to their regions of origin. The trend for Caribbean flavours is also rising.
In Scotland, Lomond recently launched a range of Punjabi chicken, jerk chicken, and Caribbean corn and coconut soups. “We thought we might be going out on a limb, but these soups are doing really well,” says Henderson.
Grab and go
According to Gavin Rothwell, head of food-to-go at analyst IGD, there is a very strong growth opportunity in on-the-go foods, and the category as a whole “continues to provide a great source of inspiration and innovation”.
Lomond’s Henderson agrees. “It is one we are targeting as it is going to go pretty big,” he says, adding that “vertical dining” in the form of handheld foods such as chicken goujons, pop-in chicken and burgers is a focus for the company.
Ordering platforms, such as Just Eat, and delivery platforms, such as Deliveroo, are also morphing into each other’s space.
“Wholesalers really need to understand what is happening in delivery and how they should be gearing up for it,” says foodservice expert Backman.
Given that these platforms hold a wealth of data on what foods customers want at the time they want, this is pushing operators to tweak their offer.
“Deliveroo, for example, might advise an operator to serve more chicken tikka masala around 1.30pm based on their data. One way for wholesalers to become more aware would be for companies to increasingly work together with these platforms,” says Backman.
Wholesalers should have a range of healthy products or items that are perceived to be healthy, advises Lomond’s Henderson. Breakfast items such as overnight oats are doing particularly well for his business, alongside soup, of which the company supplies 16 tonnes a week to cafes, garden centres and, increasingly, convenience stores.
The company has just launched a Sri Lankan vegetable curry soup, which not only taps into a spicier flavour trend, but also ticks the vegan box.
However, Henderson notes there is a fine balance between offering a health range and understanding customers also want indulgent treats. “We developed a sugar-free cinnamon and walnut loaf, which tastes great, but we have not yet found a way to market it because very few people will buy sugar-free,” he says. “If people want an indulgence, they want to make sure it really is indulgent.”
“We have had two extreme weather events this year – the Beast from the East and a very hot summer – which were great for pubs, but not so good for restaurants. Wholesalers are going to have to get better at predicting weather. They need to plug into short-term, medium-term and long-range forecasts and perhaps analyse data over the past 10 years and relate it to weather using state-of-the-art technology. Wholesalers need to think more strategically about weather, rather than just reacting to it when it happens.”
“As a leading manufacturer, it is important we help our wholesale customers stay on top of consumer trends. We are seeing people on the lookout for free-from options on menus, while vegetarian dishes are also on the rise. As a result of these trends, wholesalers need to consider the most practical solutions for time-poor caterers in order to drive sales. Our new Bisto Gluten Free Granules are quick to make up ‒ all you have to do is add boiling water ‒ and are also suitable for vegetarians. Seasonal occasions see sales of Bisto gravy peak, so with Christmas coming up, it is key for wholesalers to be stocking items that help chefs cater for a range of requirements.”
“We tried an upmarket à la carte offering at lunchtime, but it did not work, so a year ago, we introduced a lunch menu including a range of pub classics, which have done really well. Our ‘soup and sandwich’ deal for £7.99 has been flying out. It is smaller portions, with quality food at an affordable price.”
“Gin is still king in drinks, but it is reaching its peak. Craft rum is seeing some traction and people are also showing interest in spirits such as bourbon. Other niche trends that are becoming more mainstream are lower-alcohol beers and organic and vegan beers.”
“As well as the traditional shortbreads and tray bakes, I want my in-store bakers to show their creativity, so we have a selection of fruit, banana and white chocolate scones and cakes such as raspberry tarts made with Scottish raspberries. Customers come in for a mid-morning coffee or afternoon tea, but we also place cakes in boxes so people can take out for work treats or occasions.”
“Traceability is really important for me and I like to have a one-to-one connection with the people I buy from. I use local wherever possible; it is a unique selling point for my diners, who want to know there is a story behind what we serve, and that it is high-quality.”