B&I catering sector bounces back to life

Project Oxygen 1

The workplace catering market continues to undergo a transformation as businesses and corporations think about the most enterprising ways to keep staff fed and watered. Choosing the right equipment and set-up is fundamental to creating a proposition that can stand toe-to-toe with the high street. FEJ reports.

Foodservice in the business and industry (B&I) sector is beginning to find its feet again after stumbling through the downturn. In many ways, it suffered something of a double whammy as the economic crisis struck: on one hand corporates postponed spending on new catering facilities, while on the other workers began tightening their belts as fiscal uncertainty spread.

Fortunately, things have picked up and one of the largest and most important parts of the catering industry is at the centre of some of the brightest and most ambitious projects around again. Although the B&I sector is very much a Monday to Friday affair, operators have had to step up their game in a bid to keep pace with the standards set by their retail counterparts.

Michael Eyre, product director at Jestic, has certainly witnessed a reaction to this scenario: “We are seeing the sector growing both in terms of size and the focus on quality,” he says. “This focus on quality is being driven primarily by the explosion in retail foodservice on the high street and the diversity of the offering available. In a bid to keep potential customers in-house, rather than seeing them purchase externally, the focus on quality and variety within the B&I industry is one trend we feel is set to continue for the foreseeable future.”

One company with considerable expertise in the B&I sector is Allsop & Pitts, a Devon-based kitchen house that has delivered numerous schemes for organisations involved in the provision of staff dining facilities.

“Two particular recent projects point to a major change from the traditional ‘staff canteen’ to a foodservice offer that is of a higher quality, greater variety and aligned more closely with a leisure time eating experience,” observes sales director Barry Webb. “Employers are improving the offer and facilities to keep staff on site and enhance employees’ overall conditions to help recruit and retain staff. The restaurant facilities may also be used for catering for visitors and need to reflect the image and aspirations of the company.”

Refit of Burford wildlife park resturant. 7/2/13Copyright Photo Tom Pilston. 07802 572 609 tom@pilston.fsnet.co.uk

Webb says one illustration of this came in a recent project that Allsop & Pitts delivered, where the servery and bar was deliberately installed adjacent to the reception for all visitors into the building to see and use.

The migration from ‘works canteen’ to ‘staff restaurant’ has certainly been a change for the better in recent years as caterers have endeavoured to change the old image of in-house dining through attractive restaurant design and fuller menu choice.

“There is now scope to include themed menus, as well as menu items from across the globe. All these add up to making dining at your place of work a convenient and pleasant experience,” observes Barry Hill, marketing manager of Falcon Foodservice Equipment. “This also has an impact on the equipment needed in the kitchen. Not only must the equipment be energy efficient and built to withstand the use in commercial kitchens, it needs to be able to cope with changing demand and a varied menu.”

While the consensus is that the B&I foodservice sector is expanding, operators are presented with some familiar obstacles that are destined to continue shaping market behaviour for a long while to come. Just like many caterers, funding remains a pain point, but more pertinently for this sector people are reluctant to pay full rates for the food they eat at work, which limits the income from the catering facility to recoup costs. Even where the food offer is of a high standard, the reluctance to pay a commercially-viable price may lead to subsidy rather than profit.

In a bid to keep potential customers in-house, rather than seeing them purchase externally, the focus on quality and variety within the B&I industry is a trend we feel is set to continue in the near future”

“As a result of the subsidised menu and limited facilities the challenge for those operating within the B&I sector is very much focused on the ‘cost verses contract’ value,” says Rag Hulait, senior sales consultant at wireless temperature monitoring specialist Monika.

“Those working in the B&I sector need to be able to maintain a quality offering in order to keep customers in-house rather than heading elsewhere, yet still able to make a profit at the same time. Once again, this comes down to efficiency savings, both in terms of equipment and labour. Using versatile, multifunctional equipment is essential to making the most of space and running a kitchen as efficiently as possible while using less or no staff can help to streamline a business and save on labour costs.”

One company that undoubtedly seconds this is Frima, which claims its multifunctional cooking systems are exactly the kind of products that B&I caterers are looking for. “The B&I market is a good sector for Frima as the brief is often to provide a modern and energy efficient kitchen,” says managing director, Graham Kille.

“B&I clients have the investment and are looking for the correct returns with regards to energy, water and space saving. Multifunctional equipment is gaining ground as it helps achieve the flexibility in the menu choice. We’ve worked with clients who are looking at the replacement of old kitchens equipped with steam kettles and pressure pans that required insurance certificates, explaining to the purchasing department that modern technology, such as the Frima, will deliver benefits and savings and will pay for itself in a short period of time. We point out to the B&I customer the savings that can be also be made in extraction and water costs,” he adds.

Project Oxygen 012Combi ovens are another product category that provide the versatility many B&I operators desire, as they can perform multiple methods of cooking in a single unit.

“A combi can take the place of several more specialised pieces of equipment, while adding increased capacity within the same, or an even smaller, footprint. They are extremely energy efficient pieces of kit, too,” says Falcon’s Barry Hill. “It used to be that smaller establishments that either didn’t have the kitchen space or the demand to justify the cost of a combi oven were unable to take advantage of the benefits of combi cooking. Now, more compact models, such as the Falcon FCC 10X, allow these establishments to get in on the act.”

Space, power, availability and extraction issues are all concerns for operators working within the B&I sector. Foodservice equipment distributor, C&C Catering Equipment, has seen this firsthand, having delivered some of the largest B&I kitchen projects in the UK over the past five years.

“Space is often an issue in the fact that many catering areas are becoming smaller and this is a key consideration when planning a workspace and liaising with consultants,” says the company. “Over the years we have seen kitchens getting smaller and the client wanting more equipment in these spaces. A range of cooking methods is used in B&I sites now and the food offering has become a lot more complex over the past 10 years.”

Space is often an issue. many catering areas are becoming smaller and this is a key consideration when planning a workspace and liaising with consultants”

It is perhaps a reflection of how quickly things have changed in the B&I sector that caterers are trying to accommodate the varying tastes of the customer base. Unlike the high street, where multiple outlets offers a wide choice and cuisines from around the world, it can be a challenge to deliver this variety in a single environment while still being able to guarantee the quality demanded by the customer.

“This menu offering and space consideration is something that requires a great deal of thought when planning and specifying a kitchen,” notes Jestic’s Michael Eyre. “Equipment that is not only space-efficient but also offers the versatility required to produce a comprehensive menu is essential.”

After the difficulties the B&I industry faced during the dark days of the credit crisis, when operators found their businesses squeezed from all sides, these are the kind of dilemmas it definitely prefers to be facing.

Case study: Ernst & Young revamps canary wharf catering facilities

Employees based in the Canary Wharf HQ of global financial services firm Ernst & Young can have no complaints about the quality and variety of food on offer at their premises following a £900,000 foodservice equipment project that took place this summer.BOX OUT 2 - Ernst and Young 2

The organisation, which employs 212,000 staff globally, commissioned C&C Catering Equipment to install a commercial kitchen and staff dining facilities befitting its status as one of the world’s leading employers. It represented one of the most challenging schemes the Cheshire-based kitchen design firm has ever delivered given the entire project had to be completed within five weeks, hundreds of feet up and spread across four separate floors of the Canary Wharf tower.

C&C worked with builders Como and consultants Andrew Humble and Matt Scottow at Humble Arnold Associates to create a series of catering amenities. These included a plant room on the 25th floor and freezer/cold room and storage/dry store area on the 22nd floor.

The main kitchen, pantries and a separate auditorium pantry were installed on the 20th floor and front-of-house counters and back-end dishwash area on the 19th floor.

BOX OUT 2 - Ernst and Young 1C&C’s project director, Paul Parry, completed a five-week install in a three-week window by organising seven transport wagons to deliver as much equipment as possible over a single day to two of the floors. “We’re proud to have delivered this scheme to the high standards of the client, and by the completion date. Canary Wharf is a fantastic location and we are delighted to have provided such great facilities.”

Project: Ernst & Young London
Main Contractor: Como
Consultant: Humble Arnold
Value: £900,000+
Completion: Summer 2015

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