The 4th July brought the foodservice sector one step closer to recovery, but in a post-covid world the question on everyone’s minds is when will the industry return to its former glory? As part of their Food Strategy Forum series, MCA examined what a post-lockdown recovery looks like for the UK market, highlighting the impact coronavirus has had on trends, dynamic meal equation and the consequential shift in consumer attitudes and eating habits.

Consumer response during lockdown was promising with 86% saying they were missing going to restaurants, 82% missing popping out to get their coffee fix and 76% missing enjoying a drink at a pub. But the enthusiasm to re-open the hospitality industry was also met with concern over coronavirus. 64% of consumers were “worried” about returning to communal dining areas and footfall is expected to decline due to continued travel restrictions and social distancing measures. Operators aren’t optimistic either. When asked how long it would be before they achieved pre-coronavirus levels of turnover, 43% expect it would take 6-12 months and almost half (44%) anticipated that it would take longer.

It might sound all doom and gloom but we – as both consumers and businesses – have proven ourselves to be adaptable during turbulent times. With social distancing now top priority for consumers when eating out, followed by seeing a restaurant being regularly cleaned and staff wearing masks, operators can help calm the unease of returning to ‘enclosed spaces’ by implementing these new safety measures and communicating them clearly. One-way systems and digital ordering are quickly become the norm across sites and consumers are receptive to these changes.

A post-covid UK market sees the opportunities to appear on the consumer plate dwindle with the average 90 meals a month split by 81 grocery, 5 deliveries, 2 meal kits and just 2 foodservice on-site. “Scratch cooking” has taken off during lockdown with more and more younger consumers teaching themselves and turning their sustainability concerns from the war on plastic to supporting their community by buying local produce to cook with. Budgetary behaviour has also altered, with an impending recession making many consumers question their previous eating out and drinking spend and cutting back on non-essential spending. This key demographic might be difficult to entice back on-site but delivery offers a large opportunity for operators to target these consumers.

Whilst we are all hopeful for a return to normality, there are still significant barriers stunting the market’s growth and we can expect recovery to be slow. Foodservice has lost out to grocery and grocery delivered channels across lockdown and must now work hard to get consumers back. Value for money, provenance and experience will be key trends for operators to focus on moving forward, not to mention trust, value for money and Covid-safe provisions.

To find out more about MCA’s Food Strategy Forum, see our ‘How has the value of money changed?’ blog for our top take outs from their webinar.