Time for a new narrative? The rise of stronger collaborative partnerships

The pandemic and the years since have been an immensely challenging time for all. It is only now, in 2023, that most operators have seen their turnovers recover to 2019 levels. Research suggests that operating costs have increased by 11% and with food inflation remaining stubbornly high, for an industry that operates at low margins, this illustrates the pressures placed on operators.

At the same time, many companies have needed to rethink business practices, services, and design. People haven’t returned to work in the same way, businesses are faced with new previously unencountered issues and most accept that the answers will only be found through stronger collaboration and a sharing of knowledge.

As is often the case in such challenging times, important lessons are learnt and what follows is a genuine desire for change: new solutions are found, new alliances emerge, and industries work harder to ensure a better landscape.

Within our industry, we are seeing arguably one of the most progressive eras in the last twenty-five years:

  • There are new and stronger partnerships between operators and suppliers emerging.
  • There is a move toward new service levels and experiences being developed. Service innovation is one of the fastest growing areas of investment; especially with the advancement in AI which can help reduce operating costs and improve margins.
  • There is a greater focus on people. There is an awareness that social mobility needs to be improved, and that people need more support to develop their skills and achieve their potential.
  • Sustainability sits right at the heart of all discussions and real progress is being made.

Considering the pressures that have been placed on outsourcing businesses, it is admirable to see these operators leading the way in delivering innovation and change. As this change continues, it is important to acknowledge that there is still a need for more to be done to ensure that there is not a return to some of the poor practices of the past. The call has been for improvement in openness and transparency, in trust, innovation and in business models. This can only happen if everyone works collaboratively.

Our aim at EP is to highlight and promote the positive changes that are taking place and explore and debate how the many good areas of progress can be further built upon.

The industry has enjoyed many decades of development and growth, but it has not always been progressive. Many talk of past failings. Some have even argued that outsourcing will decline fuelled by structural risks, questionable cost savings, and multiple complexities. However, such predictions seem to fly in the face of an industry that has performed well in the most pressurised of times and continues to grow.

What is needed is a new narrative which highlights the lessons learnt and shows how stronger collaboration and openness can benefit all.

Food service outsourcing has, over the last three years, helped their clients compete in new ways. Many offices have seen their services improve and costs reduced. Many stadiums have seen revenues improve through world-class food and experiences. Many schools have felt truly supported. Organisations across the spectrum have described the growing importance of collaboration with suppliers and service providers to mitigate complexity, reduce transaction costs, and gain competitive advantages.

Many have naturally looked towards vested and admired the guiding principles yet for some, it is a step too far. Where there is consensus, is the desire for a process that is collaborative, and where all voices are heard. As the outsource operators push forward, it needs everyone to evolve alongside.

Our goal now is to bring together major influencers, from all sides, to debate and discuss how the industry can build on the land laid in the past three years and create a new, progressive narrative for food service.

We would like an audience to join us to debate this on the 14th of November. To find out more, please email izzy.mchattie@epmagazine.co.uk