Last Monday it seemed was the official start of Christmas in the world of foodservice and hospitality. Not only was it the Arena Christmas Event, it was also the Hospitality Action ‘Star Filled Night’ gala Christmas dinner. Of course as the leading foodservice pr agency we were at both (Oh you poor things I hear you cry!). Lunch at the Jumeriah Carlton Tower, followed by dinner prepared by chefs including none other than Raymond Blanc OBE, at Brassie Joel at the Westminster Park Plaza Hotel – not too shabby a start to the week by anyone’s standards.

The day began at the Arena Christmas Event with pearls of wisdom from Horizons, as they looked back over 2016 and looked ahead to 2017 and what impact Brexit may have on the hospitality market.
Here are our top take outs from the presentation:

What we saw in 2016
· The health trend took-off in a myriad of forms driven by both consumer and operator initiatives, from the rise of vegan to Starbucks coconut lattes and Coeliac UK accredited restaurants like Côte and Pho.
· The continued growth of casual dining and food on the go.
· The growth of foodservice at 2% attracting brands from retail which remains static.
· The rise of home delivery (estimated to be worth £18billion), dark kitchens and the loss of the relationship between consumer and brand as the delivery company takes it’s place.
· The merging of concepts as QSR’s offer table service, pubs embrace branded concessions and restaurants offer ‘to go’ menus.
· The importance of both ends of the spectrum with Gen Z and the grey pound.
· Diversity of the market as a whole encompassing different lifestyles, regions and cuisines – becoming wholly inclusive.
· Increasingly demanding consumers as technology means people want what they want, when they want it and aren’t prepared to wait.
· Tourism on the rise teamed with staycations driving the domestic market and the boost from Euro 2016 as football fans hit the pub to watch the tournament.
· London’s night tube helping to drive customers later into the night.
· Taking BBQ to the next level with the likes of Grillstock, Korean BBQ, Low ‘n Slow etc.
· Prices may have been down but sides were up helping to drive incremental sales.
· Whilst premiumisation was still in full effect, offering consumers ‘value for money’ and a more premium offer.
· The dichotomy between health and indulgence continues nicknamed ‘Saints & Sinners’.
· Lunch was up 2%, breakfast up 5.2% and snacking up 6.2% – while dayparts continue to merge as consumers want to eat what they want, when they want.
· Winners included coffee shops, Italian casual, Mexican, casual dining and cosmopolitan casual dining with a rise in acquisitions as larger brands and VC’s looked to invest in this vibrant market.

What we might see in 2017 and post Brexit
· Brexit and its impact on immigration is likely to have a huge impact on the hospitality sector which relies heavily on foreign students and lower paid immigrants.
· Value will continue to dominate as consumers want value for money rather than ‘cheap’ – which may lead to a resurgence of vouchers.
· The middle of the market may find themselves squeezed as high end and QSRs do well.
· The weak pound may be good for driving inbound tourism and staycations but it will drive prices up across equipment, food, fuel etc.
· The labour pool is likely to be reduced with costs going up to attract talent. This is likely to hit the sectors who rely heavily on cheap labour the most.
· We may see a more nationalistic movement with ‘buy British’ encouraged as an extension of the local sourcing trend we have seen for some years, but this will only go so far as we import so many food and drink products.
· Other ways to mitigate higher costs will become increasingly important, primarily overhead control including minimising wastage.
· Businesses who can harness or rely on more on IT than staffing will do well, including delivery models.
· Overall it’s likely to be a challenging year with a real focus on price and consumer confidence which will be key to driving the market – so fingers crossed that we all remain positive!

Then it was on to enjoy some pre-lunch goodies from our lovely client Moy Park, who was sponsoring the event, followed by a fabulous lunch from the team at the Jumeriah. After lunch came the headline talk for the day, Kevin Watson, MD of Amadeus, who took us through the journey of the company from the early days under Birmingham City Council to the success it is today, achieving 208% growth in profit since 2012. Told through the analogy of a child reaching adulthood, it’s fair to say there have been some bumps along the way (as with any adolescent) – notably the 2012 Olympics & reappointment of the whole senior team, about which Kevin was very honest and frank. However, no one can take away the success Amadeus has seen over recent years, extending its reach into other venues outside of the NEC and being in a position to pick and choose contracts to align with the right partners who value their commitment to service and quality. Using ordering technology, video and innovative man management techniques they have seen spend rise and the business take-off with the motto of ‘firm, friendly and fair’ – not a bad principle to do business by.

As the assembled crowd made their way to the pub or round the corner to Harvey Nicholls champagne bar, I headed to Westminster Park Plaza to support industry charity Hospitality Action at their ‘Star Filled Christmas’ event and join Fiona, Nick and Laura in a glass of bubbles. The night was held at Brasserie Joel which hosted celeb chefs – Raymond Blanc OBE, Bruno Loubet and Ashley Palmer-Watts alongside resident Executive Chef, Walter Ishizuka. Each chef masterminded a course, with Walter kicking-off proceedings with an amuse-bouche of oak smoked mackerel and kohlrabi, parmesan sable biscuit, yuzu and green apple jelly and pickled radish. Then it was Ashley Palmer-Watts’ turn with his iconic Meat Fruit starter, which was followed by Bruno Loubet’s corn velouté with sautéed Brussels sprout, black trompette and girolles, lovage oil and pheasant Boudin Blanc. The evening’s dessert was prepared by Raymond Blanc OBE and was a delicious exotic fruit raviole, kaffir lime and coconut jus which tasted as good as it looked (check out our Twitter to see for yourself). The night was lovely – great food, great company and all in a great cause, for which the night managed to raise over £15,000 with a little help from our MD Fiona in the live auction.

Well done to Penny and her team on a fabulous evening at Brasserie Joel and of course to Lorraine and her team for another great Arena event. After so much good food (and lets say a certain amount of bubbles) it was time to head home to digest. Let Christmas commence!

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