Will both Coronavirus and Lockdown serve to change the face of Food Service?

Of course, most of us are debating with colleagues each day just how life will change after lockdown. What will be the changes in day to day working?

It is a remarkably difficult discussion as there is no clarity of the facts. Some argue that, as the lockdown is eased, it will be under the 40s that are released back into the workplace first. There are those that argue that the workplace will not be fully functional again until July.  It should be expected that there will be a fall of around 25% of employees travelling into the office, as they have discovered that working from home is effective.
Even this could be optimistic. One global bank last week voiced a view that they may seek to reduce their office space by up to 70%. Others are talking about 40-50%. 

Whether one agrees with this or not, it will have a major impact on both how daily work patterns function and also directly on their food service provision. It will change the whole office landscape beyond recognition.

It could be a period of major change, the like of which we have not seen before. Workplace Insight last week commented that:

“Central to this rebuilding process will be the preservation of capital – can businesses retain cash that typically would have been tied up in either establishing or existing office space under the self-delivery model. Companies of all sizes will want to use this cash in a more constructive way”

They argued that office spaces will be re-engineered as employees will not travel to work as they previously did and that the spaces will be used in a completely different way.

However, at the same time, there is more and more research emerging that notes just how important food is when attracting and retaining great talent. So could the food service be re-engineered?

For the B&I foodservice sector, there are both opportunities and threats.

● Will companies ask their employees to stay within buildings whilst at work and not venture out – hence giving a boost in the in-house facilities?

● Will we see a move towards an increasing relationship with delivered-in food concepts which offer greater flexibility and adaptability on a day to day basis – as no one can really accurately judge the short term work patterns?

● Will companies offer greater benefits to those that chose to work at home, including the ability to link into a delivered-in model? During this crisis, some are already delivering food boxes to their teams. It is logical if some major companies do reduce their office space footprint by 50-70%.

All these options are being discussed which is natural enough.

Last week EP talked to Sarah Ahern from City Pantry, which is Europe’s largest online B2B platform for food delivery, and Ahern made a strong argument for why they believe there will be a real change in how food service is acquired.  Ahern argues that Corporate Catering is changing and that it is only a matter of time before a number of major companies explore delivered-in food models.

● 64% of employees would choose delivery over the office canteen. This is a high percentage which naturally will impact on existing services plus create a momentum for change.

● Healthy eating is growing at speed and of course, many want to “buy” the product and brand that they trust. The market today is worth $702 bn and growing. It is natural again that many would rather “order in” a brand of choice.

● There is a growing demand from companies in reclaiming kitchen space which has been a discussion that has been in play over a number of recent years.

● Food will be a very important tool for corporates as it is a key way of bringing people together. Eating habits will have changed during lockdown and flexibility will be important to have. Working with a delivered-in model allows employees to make individual choice orders and gives employees a wide range of choice as City Pantry can offer access to over 600 vendors.

● Interestingly there is also a sustainability argument in that it reduces the number of potential individual meal deliveries to an office, offers plastic-free packaging and can be fulfilled by a zero-emissions fleet. ● Of course, it creates a whole new business model which is gaining traction with a number of major companies such as Expedia, BlackRock, Accenture and Deutsche Bank to name a few.

City Pantry goes further with their business argument, understanding the role that food can play as a strategic employee benefit:

● The growth of the Millennial workforce has meant employee expectations have changed, placing more focus on positive working environments and work-life balance. Many companies do understand that there is a need to retain great talent as it can cost up to 2-3x their salary to replace them. If work patterns do change, then the need to attract the best talent will be even more important.

● For Millennials, having choice and access to their favourite food brands will be increasingly important. Their research notes that 92% of office workers eat the same lunch more than once per week when in truth people want greater variety. Their research shows that no one international cuisine is offered on more than 12% of occasions highlighting that people do want variety. Their research notes that people order:

o   British on 12% of occasions

o   Middle Eastern on 12% of times

o   Japanese 11%

o   Mexican 10%

o   American 9%

o   Indian 7%

o   Italian 7%

o   Vietnamese – 6%

o   Chinese – 5%

o   Greek – 4%

o   Thai 3% and so on

● If employees want this level of choice, there is an argument to build a partnership with delivered-in models. ● This year seesMillennials become the largest group in the workplace and they are seeking such flexibility of offer.

There is a sound rationale and logic to this argument and one can understand why many companies are beginning to engage with them.

But what are your views? How do you see the change to come?