The food and beverage (F&B) sector has arguably been the most innovative market within retail and leisure over the past decade and yet operators also face extraordinary challenges, as consumer demands evolve quickly and dramatically. After all, who could have foreseen the soaring demand for vegan food in the US and UK, or the rise in corporate backing for plant-based foods, with the likes of Bill Gates and We Work co-founder Miguel McKelvey as high-profile protagonists.
Similarly, food allergens and ethical and environmental awareness are rising at the same time as consumers show an increasing willingness to embrace new world foods, fusion offers and even consider insects as a new lean protein source.
We asked four industry experts for their views on how food operators can embrace these diverse requirements and lead the agenda.
James Hacon, partner and managing director, Think Hospitality
Q. There are so many nutritional, dietary and ethical food trends… what advice would you give F&B operators about how they shape and adapt their offers?
JH. You have to differentiate between a trend and an allergen; as an operator you have a legal obligation to clearly communicate any allergen information for your customers. In the past year there have been far too many well-publicised serious incidents with people becoming very ill or even losing their lives due to labelling or processes. As companies selling food, our first responsibility, ahead of anything else, is the safety of our customers.
There has been a trickle of brands that have come through recently and announced that they are sticking to their recipes with absolute conviction, to ensure the analysis around allergens is accurate, as allowing for changes and swap-outs can cause unexpected consequences, which in turn puts a lot of responsibility on often junior frontline staff.
When it comes to food trends, it’s important to distinguish between the secular trends that are for the long term and cyclical trends that come and go. As an operator, you may want to adapt your seasonal or special ranges with the cyclical trends, but your core ranging should only really be influenced by secular trends. An example of this is the secular trend towards plant-based foods, primarily influenced by the impact of meat production on the environment.
A good example of cyclical food trend is the latest popular global flavour – for now it’s South American and Hawaiian, for instance.
Marco Beolchi, retail food specialist
Q. There are so many nutritional, dietary and ethical food trends…what advice would you give F&B operators about how they shape and adapt their offers?
MB: I think today the challenge is not only to be able to adapt one’s offer of products and services to the current trends, creating vegan, Asian or exotic flavour concepts, but also to “be relevant” to people. In order to do this, social media is increasingly crucial, now that even longer content is becoming increasingly familiar. This represents an opportunity for brands to bring value by providing relevant content in a transparent, spontaneous and non-intrusive way.Furthermore, social commerce today represents only a small percentage of total retail sales, but this number is expected to explode in the coming years and therefore the added value will be to integrate social commerce in traditional sales networks, building a true omni-channel digital and social marketing strategy.