The road to recovery is almost complete. What is next? The Alix Partners – EP report on the Food Service Sector.

Last Thursday, at the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre in Westminster, 130 senior industry players attended the presentations which looked at the outlook for the Food Service Sector.

Graeme Smith, Managing Director of Alix Partners, presented a picture which did show that the sector is well along the road to recovery, with the sector as whole back to 91% of 2019 revenue levels. This is a promising position from which the sector can look to the future with more positivity. It is now about what the future does hold.

Graeme noted that:

  • A solid recovery is taking place, with healthcare and education proving resilient and rapid rebound in stadia and heritage. B&I is now recovering more strongly
  • Inflation, regulations and innovation is now accelerating the outsourcing trend, and favouring operators with scale that can offset some of its impact and also driving a move towards cost-plus contracts.
  • Evolving consumer behaviours are driving the need to better understand and directly connect with consumers often using technology.
  • Food and hospitality is being used to encourage employees to return to the office but some work patterns have permanently changed, with a need for more flexible solutions.
  • The war for talent will see a need for many to strengthen their recruitment and retention strategies but also look for ways to remove labour from certain parts of the service provision.
  • It was also noted that a new landscape is emerging which does see the opportunity for stronger collaboration and partnership than existed previously.

Nigel Harris, owner of Absolute Taste and Menu Partners, was interviewed as to his views on the market. He spoke of his own journey which saw the business eyeing a turnover of £100m forecast for 2020, to see the business need to changed and adapt in such a challenging time. Nigel noted how well many employees in the industry responded to the challenges and helped lay the ground for the recovery. Nigel noted that many will need to decide on their pricing strategies and how they engage the consumer. He noted that many brands were struggling as the consumer had moved on and many had not adapted to new consumer desires.

James Latham, Director of Global Pricing with Compass Group, spoke that this challenging period gave all permission to create a new and different narrative with clients. James noted that the challenges would not simply ease and fall away but are here to stay for at least 18 months. As hard as this may seem, it does provide an opportunity for stronger and better relationships with clients.

A panel discussion with Julie Ennis (CEO for Corporate Services with Sodexo), Chris Mitchell ( MD with Genuine Dining), Julia Edmonds (Business Development Director, Elior) and Vince Pearson (NED, Litmus). They all spoke about the importance in this market for service innovation, for having stronger social purpose and for now having a positive outlook as we enter 2023.

Overall, there was a real feeling amongst all that a new market was emerging, that the new norm now was in place and we were all back to once again a proper trading market. There was a belief that there was tough times ahead but also some very positive signs for a brighter future.