Food and the space in which it’s housed

Kate Taylor on persuading customers to change their eating habits.

Changes to the dining environment can stimulate customers to purchase food and drink they wouldn’t normally choose, says Kate Taylor, account director and nutrition expert from Gather & Gather

It’s Monday and we spend most of the morning filling in our colleagues on weekend activities, mostly include food and drink. We predominately focus on the ‘what’, talking endlessly about how tasty our Saturday night meal was, yet not often do we mention the atmosphere where it was consumed or the impact the space had on us. Both of these are imperative in how we feel about the experience and our well-being – after all, a dodgy space creates a not-so-nice experience that can lead us to feel somewhat unhappy about the meal, which in turn triggers emotions linked to well-being.

Gather & Gather has recently opened two new cafes, both with well-being subtly at the heart of them. Subtle is the key word here – too obvious and it will appear ‘nanny state’, not obvious enough and it will get lost among the chocolate bars and crisps. It’s interesting how a new environment can stimulate customers to purchase food and drink slightly differently to their normal habits. A new space is the opportunity to set a benchmark for expectations, eating habits and well-being. Clean and inviting spaces, warm tones and  textures somehow makes customers respond to food differently. Not only does health and well-being have a place here, so does price.

Space one is an inviting cafe environment housed next to the reception area. It is the epitome of customer service and supports the guest experience. It has a retail range that’s a little more premium and has an edge of ‘good for you’ about it. Full sugar cola has been removed due to its low sales volumes, while slimline (smaller portion) cans of diet and zero varieties have taken its place on the shelf.

Sold only in this outlet, sales have more than doubled. Not being an advocate of fizzy drinks, if I had a choice it would always be a diet variety over the full sugar. Sweet potato brownies are selling on par with our mini- Victoria sponge cakes. When it comes to lunch, premium salad varieties with additional proteins are the standout offer between 11am and 2pm and there isn’t a bar of confectionery in sight. And not one single person has said anything about the lack of confectionery yet – not one piece of feedback about missing chocolate bars.

We’ve also launched smoked salmon and cream cheese savoury muffins, Muma Oz’s ham and egg cups (a firm favourite of mine), which are gluten free and low in carbohydrates too. In addition, mozzarella and avocado bagels plus pear and apple bircher sell out every day. Might I add that six months ago we tried the majority of these products in other locations but they were an epic failure and we quickly took them off sale. Perhaps it wasn’t the right time, or perhaps it’s due to the change in space that alters how people behave and what they want to consume? Communication also evidently plays a part and is integral to landing any new offer, in particular when it’s related to health or well-being, to provide as much information as possible – and you can’t really go wrong.

Some of you may reference my last article on moving the pick ‘n’ mix and the role of sugar in our diets. This is much the same, continual messaging about what’s being offered and why. Why would I choose a sweet potato brownie over a Victoria sponge? Well, first of all it’s 40p cheaper, and as price is the thing people are most concerned about when it comes to food issues (according to DEFRA, 2015), that’s one thing ticked off the list.

Also, I’ve been offered a sample from the young person behind the counter and thirdly, there’s a short note telling me sweet potatoes are one of my five day and that this product contains less sugar than the Victoria sponge.

There’s no big red, amber or green calorie labels but just honest good food with a bit of education to assist.

Moving on to space two, which opened a mere week and a half later with a different offer but one with a subtle nod to overall well-being. Cue the Vietnamese and South Asian food trends, something not offered elsewhere within reach of our customers.

Once again, what was once a coffee and sandwich station has now turned into a place you can enjoy your lunch, or brunch, and purchase something nutritious and tasty without a fried chip in sight. As I write, this cafe has only been trading for three days, so I have limited insight into sales and impact. However, after speaking directly with customers, I can assure you they have been enjoying something new, clean and fresh.

As for the coffee – that beverage that many of us live off because of early mornings and late evenings – those 20oz buckets have disappeared and been replaced with smaller, tastier, handcrafted versions of the caffeine hit people crave. This is also subtly linked to well-being – with so many health food experts these days it’s a wonder these giant drinks are still around. I can only put it down to value for money exceeding people’s thoughts on what’s good for them.

In a world where almost everyone has an opinion on what’s good for you or not, the importance of having an expert in this field has never been greater. Registered nutritionists have a place on the team of every company responsible for providing food and beverage to the British public – not only to complete some recipe analysis but also to advise and educate our customers and, more importantly, our teams. They are the ones on the front line and, to be fair, they respond far better at informing customers when it’s a little educational rather than a big red number.

And one final thought to leave you with – we don’t have to look far to see those who have had an impact on health recently and the tone of voice and approach they use, which is positive. It’s no wonder anyone with a good marketing knowledge uses shades of white to promote food that’s good for you.

It’s clean and crisp and, therefore, should be thought about in promotional tools for all food and beverage linked to well-being, and any space used to dine in as well.