You might be forgiven for assuming that political uncertainty in the UK could temper expectations of growth for large foodservice management companies (FSM).
However, as the trade group UKHospitality has shown in its Food Service Management Market Report 2019, launched earlier this month, every company surveyed was confident their revenue would continue to grow. For 90% of respondents, the key to that growth was winning share of the market from their competition.
This is perhaps unsurprising, given that the most-cited constraint on growth was tighter consumer spending, above only the rising cost of food. As consumers tighten belts, the largest FSM companies look to broaden their reach across the market.
Still, says UKHospitality’s director of policy Jim Cathcart (pictured), “Everyone is feeling the pressure.”
Some of the most intense pressure is concentrated on staffing. Recruitment overall is faltering, although slightly higher than this time last year. A large chunk of the sector is made up of people who have moved to the country, and UKHospitality has been lobbying hard for reassurance on the status of these workers. (It has, among other work, successfully had the fee for settled status applications waived).
“We need to challenge the perception of hospitality as unskilled work,” says Cathcart. “We push back on that attitude very strongly.”
A career of choice
Recruitment is a multi-layered issue, and the trade body is working to address every angle. As Cathcart points out, hospitality needs to be promoted as a career of choice in the UK to compete successfully with the “different mindset” in other countries.
One route would be better awareness and funding of apprenticeship schemes, on which UKHospitality very much agrees with its survey respondents: 90% of whom want the government to make apprenticeships more attractive. Such an initiative could well improve problems in recruitment, which is acutely felt when hiring chefs in particular.
As ever, the industry is balancing economic and staffing concerns with consumer demands. The last few years have seen the industry swept by the urgent and rapidly growing call for sustainable produce, packaging, and supply chains.
Often associated with environmental sustainability, another key consumer demand is for meat-free options. To put it another way, two years ago just 10% of UKHospitality’s survey respondents said that providing a meat-free choice was a priority whereas in 2019 70% said that it was a major focus.
“Meat-free options are absolutely driving menus today,” Cathcart explains. “Only a few years ago a given menu might have had one or two vegetarian choices at a push: now it’s informing practically the whole menu. I don’t see this trend slowing down, either – it will only increase going forward.”
Very real risks
An equally urgent worry for almost every foodservice provider is the correct handling of allergen labels. After two high-profile allergen fatalities at national chains in 2019, the whole industry feels a poignant but acute need to address problems – but UKHospitality warns strongly against “kneejerk” legislation.
Poorly thought-through bureaucracy could pose problems for smaller businesses, UKHospitality points out in its market report.
As Dr Lisa Ackerley, food safety advisor at UKHospitality says, “Smaller businesses are unlikely to have integrated allergen management systems, as they would rely on reading the packaging and labels from supplied foods to collate their allergen sheets and deal with customer queries.
“There is a very real risk that either businesses will try to comply and get it wrong or muddled, or that they will give up and simply buy in pre-packed items,” she adds.
Hospitality businesses, from the smallest local pubs to the largest FSM companies, find support in UKHospitality. The trade body has released today its manifesto for the next government, outlining the ways in which it can boost the sector – which is the third largest private sector employer in the country.
As the trade body’s chief executive, Kate Nicholls, writes in its manifesto, “Hospitality businesses are integral to almost every community in the UK.”
It’s clear from the FSM market report that the sector needs support, particularly in recruitment, but also to keep a vibrant and competitive market open for even the smallest foodservice businesses as the whole industry adapts to the times.