BUSINESS LEADERS DISCUSS THE FUTURE OF THE FOOD AND DRINK SECTOR

food-and-drink-roundtableBusiness Leader Magazine brought together key figures from the food and drink sector to talk about the issues affecting businesses operating in it, and to think about its future.

Can you explain why you have launched Almeda Food with Passion? 

Brady George: “My opinion is that the most important decision you make is what you chose to put in your mouth each day. I was fed up of going out for a meal and there being nothing but processed food, and not real food.

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Brady George, Managing Director of Almeda

“We wanted to try and do something about it. So we launched Almeda Food With Passion in March this year. It is a work placed catering business and movement for change. Our goal ultimately is to deliver organic food to the UK and for us to re-discover what nutrition is.”

What have the challenges been?

 Brady George: “It’s always going to be challenging because we have a situation where we’re
becoming much more aware of sustainability and health but what we’re talking about here is mass change. It’s not going to be solved overnight.

 “Regarding workplace catering, we deal a lot with procurement managers so the indicator is cost and that makes it a challenge.”

 What have been the main challenges others have faced in the room?

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Emily Fletcher, co-founder of Polar Pops

Emily Fletcher: “The main challenge we face is – as our product is at the high-end of the market – price and getting people to buy our product because the value will be found over the long term.

 “We’d like to be in all of the cafes around the parks in Bristol or at Bristol Zoo but we’re approaching huge companies like Compass Group and they’re operating on massive margins which don’t make it conducive for smaller firms like ours. The big challenge is that yes you can have big ideas but it’s about slowly gathering momentum and gaining market share.”

Rich Osborn: “This is an interesting point about sourcing locally and smaller firms being given opportunities. We’ve just signed a contract with Bristol City Council and they are seeing the benefits of sourcing products locally, and we will be supplying all of the parks that the local authority run, so there are positive signs here.”

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Helena Hills, co-founder of TrueStart Coffee

Helena Hills: “We’ve entered a super saturated market as our category is performance coffee, which competes with both energy drinks and the coffee market. We’re trying to educate on natural energy and stripping everything back. Why should you nourish your body? People know they have a choice but does the consumer really understand the after effects and impact that some foods have on their bodies.

 “We’ve come up with a new concept so cutting through the noise has been difficult.”

 In what is clearly a tough market how important is brand to building success?”

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Tristan Hogg, Managing Director of Pieminister

Tristan Hogg: “The way we’ve used our brand is to soften quite a lot of what could be preachy messages. We use free range meat, always sourced locally. That can be quite exclusive and can put up a lot of barriers why people might not want to buy you or they might perceive you’re more expensive.

 “The Power of the brand is that it keeps it fun and light when there are lots of serious messages out there. Yes, I agree with educating people about food choices but that can be a hard sell sometimes. It’s better to understand what barriers people might have to buying and then breaking them down.

 “Our motto is good times for pies. With food, it’s not a serious thing. It is pies at the end of the day and it should be something people can engage with; as it’s not all about changing the world alone but giving people really good experiences.”

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David Heath, Managing Director of Heath Associates

 David Heath: “The power of brand is key. Some of Pieminister’s competitors for example have gone down the saturate the market route, whereas Tristan has done it differently.

 “I suspect the route that Tristan has gone will be the best route because once you’re in a volume market the natural reaction from every buyer is to squeeze you. Once this happens your margin erodes so you take quality out of the product, which damages the brand.

 “This is why it is important to know what you are trying to do and stick to it. Your brand is your messaging.”

Tristan Hogg: “Those are interesting points and what we understand much better now is than before, is that the pie market was for much older people we’ve changed perceptions. We’ve gone from it being mystery meat and soggy pastry to a cool and urban brand and one of our core markets is twenty to twenty-five year olds.”

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Marti Burgess, Associate Director of ‎Gregg Latchams LLP

Marti Burgess: “Regarding brand, I also think that food businesses that direct sell to the public do such a great job in building their brand, as they are engaging people with it because they can ask questions and find out more about the story and its provenance – you believe the story and where they are getting their ingredients from.”

Navina Bartlett: “I’ve been selling directly at food stalls and we’ve established a niche product that is food pots with herb garnish. But on the other side, I’ve had meetings with buyers at Ocado and it is clearly about price for them, regardless of how nice your brand is, and I couldn’t justify making a loss on every unit I sell at this stage in my business.

 “We’ve started selling online direct to consumer and offices and this is how I’m hoping to scale it. I can also harness technology and use overnight couriers and online ordering to reach my target market.”

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Simon Holmes, store development and franchise sales for Subway Bristol and West

Simon Holmes: “The Subway brand is strong and it is always looking to be as innovative as possible. Much work is done behind the scenes in relation to trans fats and salt reduction too, which people may not know. You may or may not like the Subway brand but we still use many of the local suppliers that started with us from day one.

 “It’s a growing industry for us and fundamentally we’re a quick service restaurant that is about good quality, fresh products. Trust can be difficult for a huge global brand though, as the bigger you are the more focus is on you.”

Tristan Hogg: “It is funny because big brands like Subway get criticised but they’ll have much more traceability in where their produce is being sourced, than say the local kebab shop or smaller suppliers. There is a lot of merit in smaller businesses in looking at what bigger businesses do in terms of marketing and their positioning and brand. You should ignore businesses like Subway at your peril.”

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Rich Watts, Senior Catering Mark Manager at Soil Association

Rich Watts: “We’ve recently carried out some research into food habits and healthy eating and it found that whilst everybody wanted to eat healthy food, often they find the messages too preachy. Local and fresh is important but when it comes to the till and you look at the price the action is different to what you’d want in theory. I believe there is some important feedback here in regards to brand positioning.”

What are the experiences for food and drink businesses in relation to finding property and space to grow?

Simon Holmes: “We’re constantly looking for new locations and it can be challenging. We cover the whole of South West and have 94 stores (at the time of writing). There is always opportunities for franchisees and new people coming into the system.”

Marti Burgess: “Not everybody is finding it easy and many of my connections and clients certainly struggle. Finding space is a real challenge for many SME food businesses.”

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Tristan Hogg, Managing Director of Pieminister

Tristan Hogg: “I agree. The biggest challenge for any retail food business is finding space to open a store or to grow. You have to become an estate agent and you need to kiss a lot of frogs to find a site. Our ratio is look at twenty sites, find one good one and then compete against everybody else that is interested.”

Marti Burgess: “It is a real bunfight as we’ve had clients looking for sites for eighteen months and they have good strong small chains and they want to upscale. Being able to find a site is impossible – if you have a lead you need to decide which client is the best one to tell.

 “Furthermore city centre sites are just far too expensive. The McDonalds site in central Bristol is being kept by the landlord because McDonalds are still paying the rent and any independent that looks at the site is finding it too expensive. Prime spots at places like Cabot Circus do just go to chains but the council would like to see more independents taking this space.

 “It is hard for independents to compete unless a particular landlord has decided they are going to make a space bespoke for smaller firms. Some of the newer developments are being earmarked just for independents and that may be the only way that people overcome the hurdle. Mixed use developments seem to be the answer.”

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Marti Burgess, Associate Director of ‎Gregg Latchams LLP

What action can be taken to alleviate this?
Marti Burgess: “You go to some towns and they all look the same with no independent food places but just lots of chains. We need to be careful because unless political pressure is applied it could end up like this.

 “The answer is political pressure. Bristol is lucky that we have some really good food policy writers that are putting pressure on the council and government and that feeds through to the planning system and to developers. You wouldn’t get many other towns where this would happen.

 “We need to stand up and say what we want out city to look like, as we don’t want identikit towns all over the UK. We’re seeing some space become available for start-up and challenger brands. Umberslade have done this at Whapping Wharf for example as they have cheaper rates due to the fact they are containers.”

 Navina Bartlett: “That’s an interesting development as they were looking to put in ten at the start which is more than adequate for that area and then there was so much interest they decided to be greedy and go for Whapping Wharf Two which has another twenty units and this has put me off because there are too many and there won’t be enough footfall to benefit the tenants.”

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