Foodservice industry leaders debate trends and challenges

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Conference hears foodservice and hospitality sector is challenging but full of opportunities, reports Tina Nielsen

Foodservice and hospitality industry leaders came together last week in London, UK, to discuss the future trends and changes that will have an impact on the global sector.

Hosted by industry expert EP Business in Hospitality, the event was held in partnership with international law firm Bird & Bird. Over 200 delegates from hotels, restaurants and foodservice operators heard from headline speakers, including Chris Garside, managing director of contract catering firm Compass Group; and Gareth Banner, managing director of the Ned in London.

Setting the scene of the food and hospitality market today, EP CEO Chris Sheppardson painted a picture of change and one of opportunities. “Food and beverage is on the verge of enjoying a golden era,” he said. “All sectors of the industry are embracing new ideas, concepts and food innovation as food creates tribes in a way it never has before.”

The increase in veganism is just one example of current trends highlighted – it has grown by 300% in the last year. And in the UK one in three people today have a special diet; this has doubled from last year.

Among the key trends highlighted by speakers on the day was the challenge to create a much more personalised experience for consumers and get to grips with a rapidly changing consumer demographic. Garside from Compass pointed out that by next year 50% of consumers will be Millennials. “They are looking for convenience, flexibility, choice and variety and they are much more interested in dealing with businesses that show a social awareness,” he explained.

Sustainability was pointed out as equally important for operators and consumers. “Sustainability is the biggest factor for me,” said Sean Kelly, area director operations UK, Marriott Hotels International. “When I look for new companies to work with I ask for their sustainability programme and they need to demonstrate what they do when the contract is up for renewal.”

Technology was never far from the conversation, whether related to helping employees stay healthy with the application of artificial intelligence, tackling staff shortages or increasing productivity. The message was clear that AI is taking on ever greater importance in accessing customer data, which in turn can transform the customer experience and increase engagement.

“Food and beverage is pivotal in bringing people together both in life and work but it is also central to improving productivity in the workplace too,” concluded Sheppardson. “There is a growing need to reach future generations, embrace all levels of society and people from the perspective of lifestyle, values, food styles and nutritional diets. But there is also a much greater level of generosity at play today, which is evident in the broader approach of many businesses and that is changing and becoming ever more progressive.”

Tina Nielsen