Rising disposable income and consumer confidence make catering and foodservice a major opportunity for UK wholesalers. That’s the verdict from Catherine Hinchcliff, Head of Customer Marketing at Bidvest 3663.

cateringTalking to Wholesale Manager, Catherine says the current value of the foodservice sector is estimated by Allegra to be over £76 bn at retail value and expected to grow over the next five years. “This growth is partly due to increased disposable income, growing spending confidence and rising employment and is great news for the eating out sector.”

The industry has recently faced a number of challenges including managing long-term foodservice inflation on commodities like wheat and seafood products. This is in the face of deflationary food prices caused by price wars between supermarkets competing against discounters. Further problems at operating level have come from the difficulties experienced in retaining and recruiting drivers following the requirement to undergo 35 additional hours of training to maintain CPC licence.

Other dampeners include different speeds of economic recovery across the UK, ongoing restrictions on spend across the public sector and the long-term loss of share by independent foodservice outlets to groups.

Far-reaching changes in legislation have affected caterers over the last year too. Catherine says these include the new School Food Standards and Food Information Regulations (FIR) and Government Buying Standards ( now mandatory for central government departments including prisons and recommended for hospitals, and education), and in 2017, the Plan for Public Procurement with its balanced scorecard for tenders. Wholesalers are expected to meet these new demands and help their customers to implement these changes.

Caterers also increasingly look for advice and expertise from their foodservice provider and a flexible service that meets the needs of a changing marketplace. When it comes to caterers’ understanding of FIR, schools implementing Universal Infant Free School Meals or care homes meeting the needs of residents with dementia or dysphasia and those on fortified diets, wholesalers can help in several different ways.

Catherine Hinchcliff and her colleagues at Bidvest 3663 have supported customers by providing training and best practice workshops for the new Food Information Regulations. They have launched a ‘School Food Plan Made Easy’ campaign to help schools understand the requirements of the new School Food Standards and just introduced a ‘Fortification Week’ to raise awareness and provide solutions on the subject of fortified diets for care homes.

Product availability is crucial as a chef depends on their wholesaler to make sure everything they order is delivered on time and in good condition. This is particularly important following the introduction of FIR, as teams need to know exactly what allergens are in the food they are working with. The rise of online and consumer review websites mean that wholesaler reliability is even more important, to help chefs serve what’s on their menus and avoid bad reviews.

As always, wholesalers and suppliers have had to meet the changing needs of the marketplace and move quickly to help operators keep their menus fresh and relevant. However, they must balance innovation against cost and margin, and look for products that inspire their customers and keep them coming back. Working closely with suppliers is critical to delivering the best service and bringing to market relevant ranges and innovative products for caterers.

Kitchens are busy, stressful environments and chefs require flexibility when ordering food, so e-commerce platforms are important as they allow browsing, and 24 hour ordering, whether that’s on their tablet, computer or mobile.

Looking ahead, Catherine Hinchcliff says there are excellent opportunities for growth in the foodservice sector by getting closer to customers and flexing to meet their needs as fully as possible. Keeping up with market trends, offering advice and stocking relevant products are central to delivering great service and communicating effectively with customers.

Many wholesalers offer a broad range of products from raw ingredients to ready to finish food items, as well as drinks, non-food and catering equipment, which can make life that little bit easier for caterers who will only need to go to one place to meet all of their needs. There are also gains to be had from new ranges that tap into key consumer demands for example the free from market which is now worth around £100m in the UK.

Provenance continues to be a key trend and data shows that customers are willing to pay more for food that is high quality and has a story to tell.  Some 62% of consumers prefer to eat in places that signpost provenance. Offering artisan, sustainable, ethically sourced or British products can help operators tap into the UK’s growing foodie culture.

This demand for transparency in the supply chain drives a need to demonstrate corporate social responsibility. Making healthier food choices easier to access will help to combat poor diet and nutrition. Working with suppliers to offer a comprehensive range of sustainable products, and investing in highly efficient delivery vehicles are just some of the steps that Catherine Hinchcliff says Bidvest 3663 is taking as a business: “Corporate Social Responsibility is now a way of doing business and for wholesalers, suppliers and caterers, who wish to demonstrate that they care about the quality and integrity of their products.”

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