TRENDS AND OPPORTUNITIES IN A CHANGED MARKETPLACE
From small cafes and bakeries, to pizza taverns or Indian restaurants, to providers of fast take-away, to supermarkets and grocery stores big and small – the food and beverage industry is incredibly diverse. Its importance to the Australian economy is significant, with Government statistics released in February putting the accommodation and food industry combined as an employer of 851,000 people – 6.5% of the total workforce.
During COVID, the enormous diversity of the industry has meant that each sector has suffered a different level of set-back and challenges. But as an industry, these businesses have shown an amazing ability to adapt, find a niche, refine their focus and service their clients. The sector is predicted to recover over the next five years as economies open up, government venue restrictions ease and consumer confidence rebounds.
But what does the next 12 months bring? What are the trends and what’s driving the opportunities in this vital sector?
Looking at the movements in the food and beverage industry, both here and overseas, some key emerging trends have been identified by multiple research pieces:
- Buying fresh and buying local, as well as transparency on where food is sourced. Supplier relationships are the key here. The provenance of food, whether it’s local, organic, sustainable grown and harvested, needs to be documented.
- Planet-friendly businesses – no plastic, zero waste (or if there is waste, that it’s re-purposed), energy efficient practices, green suppliers.
- Vegan, vegetarian and cruelty-free options and a focus on immunity-boosting foods.
- Healthy food with minimum sodium and sugar, alternatives for dietary requirements including plant-based meat alternatives.
- New global flavours. There’s an increasing trend for adventurous new tastes from around the world.
- Instagram-able meals. If you’re putting it on a plate, make it look great.
- Increased hygiene protocols. Not a new trend but ranking as one of the most important.
A careful evaluation of these trends shows that there is a clear indication people are taking their social responsibility and environmental beliefs into the choices they make about what foods they eat, how they are prepared and where they buy or consume them.
If you are not moving to a carbon neutral model for your business, you need to. And you need to tell your clients what you are doing. People can’t see that you’ve signed up to green power or they may not know that your takeaway coffee cup is recycled and biodegradable.
When it comes to changing or tweaking your menus, don’t underestimate the power of research. Talk to your customers; find out what they like about your offering; why they come back; whether they would welcome vegan options or international flavours, for example. Don’t make assumptions.
What are the opportunities in this sector?
Be a local hero – your community can be the bedrock of your success. People are now more focused on what’s available in their neighbourhood. As a local business, how do you capitalise on this?
- A charm offensive. These people are not just customers, they are you neighbours. Smile when they walk in, get to know them, remember their favourite coffee fix, whether they like salt on their chips or want the big brekkie without tomato. And recruit your staff with an eye to people who can provide this charming service.
- Set your local persona. Amplify what you want to be known for, what your values are: e.g., a blackboard with a quote of the day or a joke; a dog watering station outside your business; a rewards scheme that benefits local community groups as well as your customers. A half-priced coffee on Fridays for teachers at the local school – there are so many small opportunities to build a persona that cements you as a part of the community.
- Create events for locals. Create a marketing calendar that includes all the big events locally – footy or netball season kick-offs or finals, school fetes, sports club fundraisers — and see how you can be part of these occasions. Create your own in-store events – coffee or wine or cheese tastings – events that will draw people to your business and allow you to build your database, network and sell.
- Bring your best to their home. If you are offering home delivery of your products, then make it a great experience. Well trained delivery people who look smart. Beautifully presented, well branded packages. A paper carry bag with your logo on it, containers that keep the food or drink warm or cold, little extras like pepper sachets, sauce, branded serviettes – even throw in a “Thanks for your order” card with an incentive for them to come back.
More tech for a better, safer experience
During 2021, Australians moved online for many of their requirements, and the convenience they experienced has meant that there is still a focus on getting their information, as well as ordering, online. Technology applications in the food and beverage industry are moving at light speed and your customers expect you to be offering them the benefits.
- Online ordering. Whether it’s for take-away, home-delivery, groceries or wine, people expect to peruse your offerings, know what it’s going to cost, order easily and pay securely. Collect their mobile number and set up a text to let them know when to pick up their order or when it will be delivered.
- Photos and reviews. Tempt them. Show them what your food or drink looks like. Provide explanations of culinary terms that people may not understand or translations of menu items in other languages. Have photos of your venue – because you really do want to get them out of their home and into your premise. Ask for feedback on their experience and if they were happy – ask them to post a review.
- Ramp up your social media. Let people know when you’ve got a new menu item, aquired a liquor licence, have changed your hours. Post photos of people enjoying your venue, ask questions on Facebook that get a conversation going.
- In-house menus. Provide online menus with free wi-fi, and let people order and pay online. This will save your staff valuable time processing orders and settling bills, and therefore they can put that extra time to good use adding value to the experience. Use specials boards to highlight those menu items you want to move.
The return of tourism
Tourists and mobile workforces play a great part in so many small businesses in this sector. A return of international travel may be a way off but people are travelling more domestically and across the Tasman. These movements will be of significant benefit to the sector.
Don’t be afraid of change
You need to survive, and you need to be profitable. Evaluate your business to see what you can change to help you do this. Experiment with change.
- Hours of Operation. Shape the hours you are open to maximise your trending times. When is your local hub eating, drinking, shopping? Is there an opportunity to provide a service when no-one else is? Experiment with different open hours and see what happens. Give the change a decent chance of proving itself but if it’s not working, stop the experiment – you don’t want dead time and dead wages.
- Rationalise your offering. Look at what is popular and what’s not ordered or left in the display cabinet. Work to keep your inventory lean. Stick to the basics but ensure you do them really well. Invest in the best and freshest ingredients to build an offering that is focused, manageable and great quality.
The next 12 months will be challenging for businesses in the food and drink sector. But it’s not all bad news. If you can be flexible in your thinking, engage meaningfully in your local community, keep your offerings fresh, have fun and be a fun place to experience, you’ll be giving yourself the best chance of thriving in this brave new world.
Corina Vucic is the Director of FC Business Solutions. With over 20 years in the franchise industry, and extensive operational and management experience, she works closely with leaders to take their business to the next level. Whatever their goals, Corina coaches, mentors and supports business owners and executives to maximise success and minimise risk for long-term business prosperity and security.