What industry trends will contract caterers face in the new financial year?


As budgets are signed off and targets set for the coming year, the Winnow team and I took stock to review some of the key trends likely to affect the food service sector. 2016–17 was a turbulent year for the foodservice sector to say the least.

In the aftermath of Brexit and election of Donald Trump, consumer confidence is expected to stutter this year. Growth is also likely to slow as investment decisions are put on hold as negotiations with the EU commence.

Alongside this uncertain macroeconomic environment, caterers are facing rapidly increasing costs as the new National Living Wage comes into effect in April. Thereafter over 25’s will be paid £7.50 an hour, an increase of 30 pence compared to previous rates. Further, food prices are also predicted to rise by 3%–4% in the UK as the impact of a weakened pound sets in.

To remain competitive in an increasingly pressurised climate, foodservice operators will need to be at the top of their game. Looking ahead, there are three key trends that are set to influence the year ahead.

1.Flexitarianism and vegetables are on the up

According to Whole Foods, Flexitarianism (eating predominantly vegetables but not strictly vegetarian), is going to be one of the dominant food trends of 2017. Whilst the concept of eating less meat isn’t exactly new (Meat Free Monday was started in 2009 by the McCartneys for example), the signs are that Flexitarianism will begin to become more mainstream in 2017.

Looking out to the high street, last year we saw Pret launch its first ever vegetarian only pop-up ‘Veggie Pret’. The company reported the trial a huge success turning the pop-up into a permanent site. Pret are now planning a number of new openings in 2017 signalling strong demand from consumers for vegetarian and vegan products.

Meanwhile in Silicon Valley investors are pouring money into startups like Beyond Meat, developing plant based alternatives to proteins. Their flagship product, a burger patty which looks, tastes and bleeds like real meat, out sold real meat burgers in a head to head test at Whole Foods last year.

2.Responding to the delivery disruptors

Late last year The Caterer reported that takeaway sales increased by more than 50% with rise of delivery companies, accounting for up to 25% of some customers’ There has been some significant movement in the UK with the arrival of Uber Eats, the acquisition of Hungry House by JustEat for £200m, and Deliveroo raising an additional $275m in funding to compete. 

With customers changing, caterers will have to respond. Catherine Roe, CEO of Elior, said: “The rapid development of digital and technological innovation will be transformational in the hospitality world over the coming years. Great food and service will always be a core requirement, but the way it is delivered, paid for, made available and accessed will change markedly.”

Consumer behaviour is fundamentally changing to the point where we might actually question whether we need the physical restaurant. Deliveroo for example are launching ‘RooBoxes’ where customers can pick up their food, and high profile chefs like David Chang are intentionally designing menus that travel well.

On the production side, flexible kitchen spaces and central production units which can be scaled up or down depending on demand are reducing barriers to entry for smaller operators. ShareDining for example are creating an airbnb style marketplace for kitchen spaces and caterers.

Caterers will need to respond by offering more choice of offer, new methods of ordering and delivery, flexibility and better communications to keep up with technology startups who continue to disrupt the space.

3. The “Waste-Not Economy” crosses the chasm

In 2016 food waste as an issue really exploded. Brands like Compass Group responded by setting ambitious targets to reduce food waste by 10% by 2020 as part of the company’s commitment to become a truly sustainable business. In order to achieve this target the company teamed up with Winnow to use our smart meter to track food waste in their kitchens and reduce the amount going to landfill.

Compass Group UK & Ireland was one of Winnow’s first customers and has been a close partner in helping us develop and refine our technology. Winnow has been implemented across all key areas of their business including staff restaurants, universities, military bases and hospitals.

In 2016 pioneers like celebrated chef and food waste activist Massimo Bottura hit the headlines by turning leftovers from the Olympic village in Rio into three course dinners for people living in the city’s favelas. It is clear that consumers care about the issue of food waste and this trend will continue in 2017 becoming more mainstream.

More chefs are using beet greens, chard, turnip greens, mustard greens, carrot tops, many items often previously discarded.

Restaurants are making a conscious effort  to turn product previously considered waste into something more interesting and inventive. Think picking watermelon or spiralizing vegetable stalks.

With rising food costs, increased competition and increasingly demanding customers, it’s becoming abundantly clear is that caterers of all shapes and sizes would benefit from an increased focus on food waste to maintain margins.

Each of these trends are well on their way to becoming the norm. Catering companies should take advantage of them to ensure that they create value both for their business 
 and clients.