Foodservices Round-Up: Food, People and Technology Trends in 2021
“The world has changed. Coronavirus has seen to that. Counting on a quick return to business as usual is not a viable strategy. The shock of the pandemic and future behaviours can’t be ignored. Whatever the path forward, companies need to think strategically and plan for a new normal”.
This is what PricewaterhouseCoopers was writing at the end of 2020, which feels like a lifetime ago.
Having supported corporate clients – all global organisations – throughout the last year and a half, TAF Catering Consultancy now reflects on what’s in store for foodservices for the rest of 2021.
However, before concentrating on future developments, we’d like to summarise “the story so far”.
The Before: January 2021
Defining Moment: Due to changing working patterns and a staggered, highly regulated return to work, caterers evolved their workplace offer around shorter working weeks and immune/energy boosting menus allowing better control of food waste.
- Food | Whilst traditional B&I was at a standstill, with lockdown three underway, contract caterers concentrated business development efforts in key sectors that were unaffected by the pandemic: cleaning, security, healthcare, education, and supply chain.
- People | Redundancies affected operators to various degrees, depending on caterers’ size and core business. The UK accommodation and food services sector had the highest number of employees furloughed, with London recording the highest uptake (27%). (source: gov.uk)
- Technology | Innovation around techdine was at an all-time high, accelerating the digital transformation through App development and tech-enabled, flexible, delivered-in catering.
The After: June 2021
Defining Moment: A new trend around techdine emerged – the development of contract caterer run, freshly prepared food only, unmanned, and automated foodservices.
- Food | Customer’s expectations on food quality at work were at an all-time high, after spending time at home catering for themselves. Caterers focused on streamlining menus – with a simpler but still exceptional food offer and the development of cafe-style operations.
- People | With remote working being the norm, employers focused on creating “reasons to visit” for employees, reimagining office space to accommodate ad-hoc training and mentoring, innovation activities, and face-to-face meetings, facilitating meaningful employee interactions.
- Technology | With consumer preferences shifting towards a contactless, cashless culture for good, App technology was ubiquitous in staff restaurants, supporting the whole customer experience. Where required, contract caterers rationalised foodservice operations to include solutions such as smart fridges, hot food techdine, and Amazon-style unmanned outlets.
The Future: Roadmap to the End of 2021
- Workplace Feeding: The Cost of Food
- Two economic factors will affect foodservices at least until the end of the year: rising inflation rates and increasing food prices.
- In June, Britain’s inflation rate rose to 2.5% – the highest since August 2018 – a combination of supply shortages and rising demand following lockdown restrictions easing.
- Food prices are also set to increase by 5% by the autumn (source: The Guardian). This is due to driver, abattoir staff and other worker shortages driving up pay and other costs partly because of the “Brexit Effect” (among other things). Turkey and pigs in blankets may not be on the menu this Christmas… Product categories most affected: meat, soft fruit, and
- Foodservices Impact | Chefs need to become even more agile in planning their menus and sourcing seasonal ingredients cost effectively, taking into account crops may also be affected by adverse climate conditions (that’s why supplier Crop Reports are essential). Costly ingredients make dishes unprofitable for the caterer and unaffordable for customers. Higher inflation rates will also need to be considered when forecasting food costs.
- People: An ongoing Hospitality Staffing Crisis?
- According to recruitment specialist REED, a record number of vacancies were advertised in May 2021 (275k jobpostings, a 237% increase YOY), matched by an overall rise in salaries.
- Catering and Hospitality were no exception, with 2021 wages going from an average £22,701 (May 2020) to £26,888 (May 2021). The most affected roles: Kitchen Staff (+43%), Hotel Manager (+13%) Assistant Manager (+12%) and Chef De Partie (+ 10%) (Source: reed.co.uk)
- Whilst this seems encouraging, we are all aware of the much-debated staff shortages affecting the sector (102kvacancies April to June 2021). Will the “war for talent” ever end?
- Foodservices Impact | Kate Nicholls described the situation as a “reset moment” while the industry reassesses working conditions, training, and skills development (source: bbc.co.uk).
- From a social perspective, cross sector collaboration will be essential to raise the profile of the hospitality industry and its career opportunities, inspiring young generations/career changers to join (as per the government “Hospitality Strategy: Reopening, Recovery, Resilience”, July 2021).
- For those who do work in hospitality, it’s all about (re)engaging hearts and minds by providing employees with clear career paths and removing concerns over job security, longevity and pay.
- How to engage employees better? These will be the 3 key enablers:
- Leadership that ensures company mission and values are reflected in the actual culture;
- Line managers who motivate, empower, and support employees;
- Employees’ voice throughout the organisation, to involve them in decision
- Technology: Enhancing Foodservices in 2021
- Initially adopted out of necessity, the uptake of techdine solutions and smart technology will surely increase well beyond 2021. TAF’s top 3 tech must-haves for workplace Staff Restaurants:
- The Internet of Things (IoT) | Front of house: kiosks, mobile ordering systems and customer location tracking (via mobile devices) will improve order accuracy, reduce customer waiting times and ultimately increase engagement. Back of House: IoT-enabled kitchens will allow staff to remotely monitor catering equipment (from fridges to ovens), troubleshoot issues and anticipate potential equipment failures, whilst obtaining real time reporting of compliance data for audits and inspections.
- Automated Stock Management Software | Stock management automation removes the likelihood of human error and allows the optimisation of resources by streamlining the inventory process and removing low value adding admin activities. Key functionalities include: real time stock tracking so orders are accurate and timely; food waste tracking; recipe creation and management (to facilitate menu planning and costing); invoice generation and AI based stock predictions to adjust supply levels.
- Digital Menu & Kitchen Boards | Front of house, tills will gradually be replaced by tablet POS systems and totally cashless operations (a number of UK tech suppliers such as Dynamify are already offering this option as standard). Digital menu boards will also increase menu visibility, help with time and cost management (as printing menus is time consuming and not environmentally friendly) and allow for instant menu changes. The use of kitchen display screens is also on the rise, as more Staff Restaurants now cook to order. Electronic displays ensure greater order accuracy, help streamline workflows, and create a more sustainable kitchen operation.
N.B. In the current climate, we assume that cashless/contactless payments, online ordering systems and customer engagement apps are a given.
Final Thoughts | Workplace Foodservices have come a long way since they were pushed to reset and develop new staff feeding solutions, faced with life changing circumstances. Innovation is on an upward trajectory that hopefully won’t stop to ultimately benefit clients, customers and caterers themselves. Complacency is no longer an option if we want to effectively meet future challenges. In the meantime, all the best for what is left of this (British) summer and see you again soon.
Alex Mingoni | Consultant
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