An opportunity to get closer to customers

Doom! Gloom! Latest research from HIM! shows that 24% of UK adults plan to use restaurants less in the next 12 months due to the current economic environment. Armageddon is upon us. We’re out of control. Or are we?

First, whatever the market conditions are like, there will always be winners and losers winning organisations are quick to react to opportunities that come their way. What we are hearing from shoppers is:

desire to support community businesses;

desire to buy locally sourced products;

plans to live more within their means;

looking around for good local deals;

an increased digital society (65% of shoppers have a smart-phone, or are planning on having one in the next 12 months).

How can foodservice operators benefit from these trends? First, it’s increasingly an expectation for local businesses to have a website but we hear of scarily high numbers of foodservice businesses which still don’t have one. They are missing out on a crucial communication channel one that has become an expectation.

Sixty five per cent of UK adults say they use Twitter or Facebook (that’s 32 million adults) and so this is a media form foodservice businesses must exploit.

How many foodservice businesses are ‘community businesses’? And even those who are, how well do they communicate this within their catchments and via local press? ‘Local’ and ‘values’ become more important to consumers during times of economic hardship.

Can local foodservice businesses link up with other local specialist retailers (20% of UK shoppers say they plan to use ‘specialist’ retailers more in the next 12 months)?

Sourcing quality meats, produce, flowers from specialist local providers will tick boxes here. Encouraging local art students to display their wares on restaurant walls will generate goodwill, interest and potentially sales for them and the students.

We know that many foodservice businesses are finding table demand exists on Fridays or Saturday’s only with quieter days of the week hard to drum up business. Would consumers be willing to change their ‘night out of the week’ to less busy periods’ in return for cheaper meals, or more value, in the same way airlines and trains charge more for busy periods and less for quieter times.

We look at the imminent Euro 2012 football championships and The Olympics and suggest foodservice operators need to view both as 14+ consecutive nights of finals. How many foodservice operators are planning on launching something different during these two major sporting events, and the Diamond Jubilee?

Forty one per cent of UK consumers say they plan to ‘cook from scratch at home’ more in the next 12 months. How many restaurants or foodservice businesses could open up their kitchens to local communities and become a “teaching kitchen” for people keen on cooking?

Thirty six per cent of UK consumers say they plan to entertain more at home in the next 12 months. Can local businesses develop a catering division to provide quality food to time-poor consumers (20% of adults expect to work even longer hours in 2012) who are keen to entertain but don’t have the time (or possibly skills) to prepare dinner-party quality food?

When times are tough, we need to think differently on how we are going to attract new customers into our outlets. We need to outsmart the competition, and offer a service and package that is going to compete favourably with supermarkets’ ready meals.

All of the ideas mentioned above can be worked on by wholesalers either through encouragement or via application of own initiatives.

Finally, while 24% of shoppers say they’re cutting back on eating out in restaurants, but 10% of the population say they plan to use restaurants more in the next 12 months. This goes to show that many restaurants and foodservice businesses will continue to prosper, by focusing on the customer, while others struggle.

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