Caterers overlooking best sellers

The other day I heard that a small niche manufacturer of healthy snack bars had got listings in two major supermarket chains but had failed to get a listing at a contract caterer because there would be little demand for the product. The next day, I picked up a trade magazine for retail and read no fewer than 20 articles or advertisements for healthy or healthier-for-you foods, including ones for bread, cheese, biscuits, soft drinks, breakfast oats, milk, yoghurts, snacks – healthier confectionery (Maltesers now down to 190 calories per pack) – even going as far as ‘healthier-for-your-dog’ pet food.

So I ask myself – why would the same consumer who wants to buy healthier-for-you foods from retail outlets not want the same healthier-for-you-food in foodservice and catering outlets? And the same question applies to functional products. I was stunned to learn from our caterer tracking programme recently that only 35% of foodservice outlets offer sports and energy drinks like Red Bull or Lucozade – whereas it is almost 100% in retail outlets. Why the penetration gap? Only 9% of independent caterers sell smoothies – a high margin, high demand product for health conscious consumers who usually have the money to spend on what it takes to fuel their minds and bodies.

Dining out of home often used to be about indulgence, a treat. Now it is very much more about re-fueling, and quickly. When we spoke to 1,500 customers of food outlets while they were actually dining, we discovered that their trip was about anything and everything except indulgence. Their reason for visiting the outlet was based on location, a need for food, quickly and conveniently. A lot of people who were going to have three courses ended up having only two.

Wholesalers have various roles to play – but increasingly they need to be at the forefront of changes in consumer demands and lifestyles to help their customers stay ahead of the competition, to help them exploit sales opportunities, and frankly, help them become more retail focused.

There are many points they should be raising with their foodservice customers, such as:

l Only 40% of caterers sell confectionery in their outlets – even with a move to healthy products, confectionery remains the most impulsive line in UK retail.

l Do caterers have a good offer in other impulse lines? Why do pubs and bars insist on having crisps and snacks stored behind the bar when every retail outlet in the country has them merchandised in the main body of the shop? Would bringing them out from behind the bar into an impulse zone inside the customer area of pubs not increase sales exponentially?

l Back to health, why do one in four foodservice businesses not sell water?

And finally, why is it that we see so many tertiary or secondary brands in foodservice? Consumers love brands. Millions of pounds have been invested into marketing products but caterers then choose higher margin but lower volume selling products. Retailers take the view of trying to get more customers, and selling more to them by giving them what they want.

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