In recognition of the ongoing growth of the UK foodservice sector, and the opportunity to put more produce on plates, The London Produce Show and Conference again has teamed up with Reynolds for the event’s popular Foodservice Tour. On the final day of the show, delegates will visit some of the newest eateries that London and the UK has to offer. PBUK catches up with Foodservice Tour host Andy Weir, head of marketing at Reynolds, to discover what’s on the agenda for Friday 8 June 2018.
Q: Andy, you’ve been busy these past few weeks putting the final touches to the Foodservice Tour. What can attendees expect this year?
A: As always with the Foodservice Tour, there’s a focus on fresh produce. We’ll visit a diverse mix of foodservice operators up and down the high street to show participants how different operators in the UK are making the very best of fresh produce. Also, while we’re walking we’ll stop and chat about the concepts we see along the way. That way, everyone will get a broad overview of what’s happening on the UK eating-out market.
Q: What’s the attraction and significance of the Foodservice Tour?
A: For me, foodservice is where most of the innovation happens [in fresh produce] as the eating-out market tends to lead the way when it comes to food trends. So, if you want a deep-dive insight into what’s hot and what’s not and where the future is headed for functional food and fresh produce trends, then definitely the Foodservice Tour is the one to sign up to. At Reynolds, we know the people behind the scenes, so we’ll get a glimpse into some of the kitchens of these operations and find out first-hand what makes the businesses so successful. It’s a money-can’t-buy type of tour.
Q: How will the tour unfold?
A: The tour will be hosted by myself, with the support of Ian Nottage, the chef director at Reynolds. Ian will talk about how we bring fresh produce to life at Reynolds and how we work with some of the operators on the high street to bring dishes through the development stage so consumers can enjoy them in restaurants. Tom Reynolds, Tony’s son and the company’s commercial manager, is joining us too. My colleagues and I will be there to discuss the general developments on the eating-out market and how we see it evolving over the next few years.
Q: How did you come up with the agenda this year? What trends are you aiming to highlight?
A: There’s quite a focus this year on veganism, which is not just the major trend in the world of fresh produce, but in UK food culture too — both in terms of the eating-out market and in the retail world. So, we’re going to see how some operators are developing their vegan offers.
Q: Will the tour encompass any other new trends?
A: Veganism is definitely the biggest talking point of the year by far. But across the different operators we’ll see other micro trends. Within at least a couple of the visits, we’ll see the concept around sharing food, which more operators are tapping into with menu options such as sharing platters. We’ll see that trend in its truest form at Sticks’n’Sushi, the final stop on the tour.
Q: We’ll come to Sticks’n’Sushi later … Firstly, can you detail where the tour will begin?
A: This year, we’re starting at Freshii. The clue to this concept is in the title. Freshii is really big when it comes to fresh produce. They’re all about super foods and making healthy, functional food convenient and affordable. Freshii’s menu is constantly evolving, and we’re meeting a lady called Kate Skerritt, who is the UK chief executive of Freshii, to get an insight behind the brand. It’s going to be a great first stop.
Q: Freshii is new to London, and, indeed, the UK. Where does the chain sit within the market, and from where does it hail?
A: Freshii operates in the fast, casual dining space. Effectively, it’s contemporary food to go, but they’re doing something different. Freshii’s mission is to change the way the world eats, which is a pretty bold mantra but with the amount of sites already in operation they’re starting to make a difference. The first UK site only opened a short while ago in January  on Chancery Lane in London, but Freshii is very much a global brand. Would you believe there are about 300 sites already globally? The vast majority are across the US and Canada, but Freshii operates in Sweden, Austria and the Netherlands. The nearest sites outside of London are Ireland, where there are quite a few.
Q: There has been a clear shift towards offering more healthy food in the fast, casual dining sector. Do you see this trend continuing?
A: Yes, we’re seeing it across the board with brands like Pod, Veggie Prêt and another brand from the US called by CHLOE, which recently opened in London. We visited Prêt’s second vegetarian store on the tour last year and since then they’ve announced that for every 10-20 openings going forward the veggie model will be part of their programme, depending on the location. by CHLOE is also following the veganism trend. We’re seeing a bit of an influx of international brands in this space, as well as home-grown operators. It’s exciting times!
Q: Will participants be able to try food from the menu at every stop?!
A: Absolutely! We’ll be eating at all of the restaurants. Some food tours only offer a whistle-stop experience with a quick coffee or bite to eat. This tour is much more focused. Rather than doing 18 quick stops over three to four hours, we’ll spend about an hour at each location and take on the full experience.
Q: Will delegates have a chance to meet the chefs and senior management too?
A: Of course. We’ll be meeting the experts behind the scenes – the brains behind the outfits. We’re meeting the UK chief executive of Freshii – Kate Skerritt; the executive development chef for Bill’s – Rie Lorentzen; and the group chief operating officer of Sticks’n’Sushi, Andreas Karlsson.
Q: You mention the tour will include Bill’s, a café-style chain that has been around for quite some time now. What should pique delegates’ interest about this stop?
A: Bill’s is definitely one of the pioneers of all-day dining within the casual dining space. Recently, the chain has rolled out three ‘Best of Bill’s’ concept sites in Covent Garden, Westfield and St Albans. There, you’ll find dishes that aren’t currently available across the entire chain, which gives the team a chance to try out new ideas and concepts that may or may not eventually roll out across the entire chain. We’re going to visit the site at Covent Garden where there’s a real emphasis on sharing dishes and also a big focus on vegan menu items, which ties together both of the new eating-out trends I mentioned.
Q: What’s planned for the stop at Bill’s?
A: The team will introduce us to some of the newer dishes, and we’ll meet Rie Lorentzen, the executive development chef. Rie is responsible for the food and the ever-evolving menu at Bill’s. She’ll be able to tell us some history about the brand and how it was founded in Brighton many years ago by Bill Collison himself, back in 2000. Rie will also give us an insight into how the food at Bill’s has developed over the years and how the chain is making the most of vegan food and fresh produce, plus a look at where it might go in the future as well – if we’re lucky!
Q: The tour will wind up at sushi chain Sticks’n’Sushi. Why have you chosen this outfit for the final pitstop?
A: Sticks’n’Sushi is a Copenhagen-based restaurant business, which also operates seven restaurants in the UK. We’re going to its Covent Garden site. This is more of a lunch and dinner-focused operator, hence we’re going there for lunch. We’ll meet Andreas Karlsson, the chief operating officer, who will talk to us about the Sticks’n’Sushi concept, their food culture and how the business has developed over last few years in the UK.
Q: What can those who’ve been on the Foodservice Tour before expect to learn this time around?
A: Each year we try to visit different places and a mix of styles of foodservice outlets. Even though we visited Bill’s four years ago, this time we’ll see another side to Bill’s via one of its concept stores. We’ll experience a very distinct menu and a new host to get a different take on the chain. Everywhere else, we’ve not been to before.
Q: How well is the foodservice market performing in the UK right now?
A: Certainly, the foodservice market is still growing, but like any industry there are certain parts of the market that are growing faster than others and some operators are doing better than others. The contemporary fast food space, where the likes of Freshii is operating, is probably performing better than most. The managed casual dining sector and managed pub sector are both growing by around 4 per cent a year. While there’s some inflation influence there, it’s fair to say the market is still holding its own.
The most exciting aspect to the eating-out market is the relentless drive in innovation. There are still new operators coming into the market, both international chains as well as a lot of domestic operators who are developing new concepts to satisfy that thirst among UK consumers for the freshest food, new flavours and different concepts.
Q: What about those casual dining chains that aren’t doing so well. We’ve seen major restructuring by the likes of Jamie’s Italian, Byron and Prezzo. What’s happening there?
A: The market is really challenging right now. Specifically, there have been some challenges around business rates. We’ve seen a degree of food inflation, following the Brexit referendum, where the value of the pound against the euro has fallen about 15 per cent, which has put some serious pressure on imported goods. There’s also the cost of labour, of course, which is increasing as a result of government regulation around the minimum wage, as well as falling levels of immigration.
When you put all those factors together, it’s almost the perfect storm. So, it’s inevitable that some operators are needing to scale back on their expansion plans and, in some places, to close some of their outlets because of the changing market dynamics. On the flip side, it’s good that operators do that because it means they can focus on those stores that are doing well and reinvest their time and effort into revamping menus and changing the look and feel of their restaurants where appropriate. It’s all about continually evolving and adjusting to suit the current climate, I guess.
Q: Any final thoughts for those embarking on the Foodservice Tour?
A: The most important thing to remember is do not eat breakfast because there’s going to be so much food! By all means, have a coffee but you won’t go hungry.
For further information, visit www.londonproduceshow.co.uk