These are my personal thoughts about some of the external challenges we face and how they may impact workplace catering in the future.

1 – WFH and hybrid working post-Covid-19

The most significant challenge for workplace catering is the impact on workplace attendance.

The BBC, McKinsey and YouGov say there will be an increase in working from home either full-time or part time (hybrid working). Other research includes; Workdesign magazine predicts companies will replace some large city offices with regional hubs. And improvements to air quality may be achieved in the way the office is planned, resulting in smaller occupation levels.

McKinsey predict that offices will have specific purposes – social, collaboration or for culture-embedding. This chimes with research from media expert, Digiday. Why shouldn’t workplaces be used as brand activation tools for employees, copying from retail, just like an apple store does? Gartner predicted that working will revolve around portfolios of diversified roles and skills performed in teams that dynamically resize and reform.

Feedback is inconclusive so far, but a Harvard University research paper showed some productivity increasing and sickness decreased when people worked from home, making it an attractive proposition for some.

How will the workplace demographic vary? Stats show that the appeal of working remotely varies in different age groups. Without those light bulb moments at the watercooler or the Perkee coffee bar, how can food-service support their clients develop new casual ways to brainstorm and problem solve?

Yahoo abandoned a shift to working from home in 2013 because it discovered some workers got lonely and wanted to be with their colleagues, which segues nicely into….

2 – Health and well-being

Health and well-being will provide many challenges and opportunities for catering.

The UK has recorded high Covid-19 deaths per capita. Early Government data shows a link between Covid-19 and poor health. The 2020 National Food Strategy (part 1) includes a commitment from Government to publish a White Paper every 6 months. And laws planned for 2022 which will ban the promotion of unhealthy foods. As caterers, what are we doing to prepare for more regulation or will we swerve it, by being proactive?

Emerging evidence from the Health Foundation shows Covid-19’s effect on mental health. In a recent Deloitte survey, 80% of companies said employees’ well-being was important to their success. How can catering support clients with their teams’ well-being?

It’s no surprise that Mintel reports customers are more concerned about their health. And their expectations include being able to use technology to support healthier and personalised ‘smart diets’. The evidence regarding changes in customer behaviour and use of technology since March 2020 is staggering. “As your lifestyle changes due to Covid-19, so do your needs and wishes”. As a result of this digital transformation, when customers return to work their expectations will have shifted dramatically. How can caterers use technology to support customers in these desires? The impact for catering will be in my next blog!

3 – Sustainability

Companies with purpose will prosper. We have seen them do the right thing by their teams, customers and the wider community during Covid. They can proudly answer the question, “What did you do to help?” Donating food to The Felix Project and snack bags for NHS workers were just some of the projects bartlett mitchell supported.

Covid has shown us that when we act together, we can make big things happen fast. The push for a vaccine has united people from all over the world. There were dramatic changes to society after WWII. I believe this same collective effort will shape our future again. In a ‘build back better’ community there will be a refocus on sustainability and environmental issues and a will to act.

Pre Covid-19 we were already starting to see a huge increase of conscious capitalism and social enterprises, companies that benefitted individuals, society and the planet, this is set to increase.  I am volunteering with Unltd and their talent bank of social entrepreneurs is immense, if they enter food-service they will be formidable.

Deloitte predicts that clients will demand greater food supply-chain transparency including lower food miles. Edie reports that because Covid-19 brought global economies to a standstill it knocked the confidence in global and connected trade. How will food-service businesses benefit from more localised, value chains? How will menus change? British agriculture is well-off for dairy, meat, eggs and fish and to an extent grains. We are weaker at growing fruit and vegetables. In 2019 we only produced 55% of what we ate in the UK. The average UK adult is expected to double their proportion of plant-based foods. Millennials are the most meat-free generation – 15% of this generation said that they don’t eat meat by following a pescatarian, vegetarian or vegan diet. Gen Z are set to overtake millennials. What will menus look like, how are we up-skilling our teams for the challenges this will bring?

Mintel predicts an increase in conscious consumerism. At bartlett mitchell we have already seen this reflected in the increasing sales of our award-winning and Fairtrade Perkee coffee.

From 2021 social value must be demonstrated in public procurement and with an increase in triple bottom line reporting, private companies will likely follow. Hosting Cop26 and planned net zero legislation have the potential to position the UK as sustainability leaders. What are the decisions businesses will need to make now to achieve net-zero greenhouse gases by 2050?

Team members will work for passion and purpose, not just money. Aaron Hurst, author of ‘The Purpose Economy,’ says we are in a new era. We’re driven by having meaning, or purpose, through our work, through challenges and growth as individuals, and through strong relationships with those around us. How will foodservice attract outstanding individuals to come and work for our purpose-driven organisations?

4 – The economy-stupid

We face economic challenges from every angle.

Covid-19 has cost the UK Government £300bn, how will taxes rise to pay for this? Business confidence is uncertain and clients are under pressure to review costs and get more value for money. A recession and slower growth is anticipated by economists, which will impact consumer spending as will job insecurity and increased automation. Customers will expect a focus on value with ‘values’. They won’t expect low-cost food at the expense of low ethics.

State Street said, “The knock-on effects of Brexit mean that the UK economy is like a car driving with the handbrake on” and may take several years for economic benefits to be realised. We are starting to see some changes, but what will the Brexit, mid-term to long-term effects of the exchange rate and tariffs be on food costs and availability?

Amara’s law which was then added to by Bill Gates states, “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next 10. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.” As society reopens, employees may initially be enthusiastic to come to the office. We need to support our clients with an amazing experience that ‘makes the journey worth it’, so that they want to return and be match-ready for the next phase in our development.

Lin Dickens

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