As a leading food and drink agency we pride ourselves on keeping abreast of the latest developments in the world of foodservice and a key part of that is attending the regular Arena networking events. This week saw the summer event, held at the roof top venue of 30 Euston Square, it was impressively jam-packed with content and of course a rather fabulous lunch to boot. The day kicked-off with a presentation on the breakfast and brunch market from Deli France. As the only meal occasion in growth (at time of publication) it’s little wonder there is a desire to really understand the consumer drivers around this growing opportunity. Unsurprisingly, as with most of out of home eating market, there is a split between health and indulgence and with our busy lifestyles convenience is a big factor. As well as the more functional breakfast on-the-go, the rise of brunch was also examined in our millennial led ‘insta-focused’ world where brunch has become the go to for meeting up with friends. (For the full report visit to download.)

The next speaker (a virtually unprecedented one of four on the line-up) was Matt Thomas, MD of Searcys. This British catering brand has recently undergone a brand repositioning (read more on our MCA Marketing Conference blog here) and has some ambitious growth in its sights, but remains true to it’s routes in catering for heritage and culture sites across the country, as well as some of London’s most prestigious landmarks and destinations. He talked us through how they have had to adapt their offering to meet the demands of today’s consumer and hopefully engage with them to a point where they can follow them through life from celebrations to days out and even key life events. With the business split between venue catering and conferencing and event catering the challenges are many. With consumers booking later and function sizes shrinking whilst expectations rise, they have to work hard to maintain their enviable position as one of the most premium caterers in this space. Service and staff are as ever key and help to them to deliver exceptional experiences which keep their customers coming back time and again. It was clear Matt has a passion for the business and he even displayed an organogram in the spirit of true transparency so brands and suppliers can reach the right person and work together effectively (something Andrew the next speaker would like to see more of!).

Next to the stage was Andrew Allen, serial entrepreneur (behind Love Oggs, Spare Snacks, Olly Olives and Humble Acre) and founder of Biff’s Jack Shack the dirty vegan concept that everyone is talking about. He brought a breath of fresh air to the event with his puns, sometimes controversial opinions (trade shows are dead?) and insight into what it is to be a start-up in this industry. Calling for more information for start-ups to be able to navigate the highly fragmented and complex world of foodservice (I’m sure he’d approved of ours… on launching a food and drink brand , foodservice marketing and foodservice PR, not to mention our start-up service Jellypad) he urged the assembled foodservice attendees to come together to help others understand foodservice. As he rightly pointed out, foodservice offers a wealth of opportunities in a world where the ‘mults’ seem to be stealing a march on new brands, with Sainsbury’s future brands aisle and Tesco’s incubator scheme. As an industry we should be a hot bed of innovation and offer a route to market for up and coming brands and products, but when entrepreneurs often set out with a dream on being in every supermarket in the land it is down to us to help start-ups understand how they can succeed out of home.

Last, but far from least, was Martin Williams founder of M Restaurants and now CEO of Gaucho, who took us through his journey from actor to restaurant mover-and-shaker. Having left Gaucho to pursue his own project, launching the ‘internationally inspired playground of food, beverage and hospitality’ M Restaurants. These innovative restaurants offer a next level experience in hospitality with everything from a Himalayan Rock Salt chamber to celeb-packed events, members club and dog friendly dining, the brand has expanded to a more casual dining offer in Twickenham and may even look to move into the hotel space in the future. He has masterminded all this whilst also brokering a deal to save his previous employer Gaucho, of which he is now CEO. With a clear vision to ‘re-set’ the brand yet still remain true to its Argentinian routes, lightening the dark cowhide interiors and broadening the offer to include more international influences across both the menu and wine list to help appeal to a wider audience. With the failure of CAU (the high street spin-off brand from Gaucho) he is clear in his vision for the future of Gaucho and equally where it has gone wrong in the past and if the success of M Restaurants is anything to go by I would recommend keeping a close eye on Gaucho, which he hopes will rival the likes of Hawksmoor as the UK’s no.1 steak restaurant.

Having heard from the morning’s speakers it was then time to network with contacts old and new as we enjoyed some delightful English sparkling wine courtesy of Martin Williams. Then it was time to enjoy a fabulous lunch and accompanying wines,  in my case joined by Ronnie and Mark from our lovely client Essential Cuisine and Karis from Bestway Wholesale. The conversation and wine flowed and despite the weather not quite getting the memo (which meant the open air terrace was a touch on the wet side) this failed to put a dampener on the day and it was fair to say Lorraine had another highly successful event under her belt. Thanks to her and all the team at Arena and the day’s sponsors who made it possible. We look forward to the next event, but in the meantime you can see more highlights form this one by searching #ArenaSummer19 on Twitter.