Foodservice has become an integral part of the retail sector but it continues to undergo rapid transformation as new concepts and models spring up. FEJ assesses what impact this changing market place is having on catering equipment buying behaviour and kitchen planning across the sector.
Visitors to the Gateshead Metrocentre can’t help but notice the level of development work taking place at the moment. More than £16m is being spent on extending the leisure aspect of the site and when it is complete in spring 2016 it will house no fewer than 24 restaurants, cafes and bars.
Getting key restaurant names on board has been a central component of the project, with Intu, the operator of this particular destination, viewing foodservice as an important “experience-based” ingredient that embraces the needs of today’s retail shopper.
It is a scenario being repeated up and down the country, and one that is symbolic of the way in which retail developers and restaurant operators are becoming intrinsically linked. Some might even say that one can no longer survive without the other these days.
But it is not only the larger shopping malls and retail centres that are getting in on the act. Traditional retail and multi-channel players, such as the department store chains, are also looking closely at how they can attract shoppers and keep them in store by offering compelling foodservice propositions.
Selfridges and John Lewis have both announced enhancements to their food portfolios through tie-ups with third party operators this year, while independent retailers have made noises too, most notably fashion giant Burberry, which installed a café at its Regent Street flagship. Debenhams has been busy too, recently launching a new restaurant venture called Chi Kitchen.
The concept is the brainchild of restaurateur Eddie Lim, owner of Belgravia institution Mango Tree, who Debenhams enlisted to lead the project. “Our aim is to build a brand exclusively to Debenhams, which is going to offer not only good pan-Asian food but also good energy to Debenhams’ loyal and new customers,” he explains. “The food will be exotic, colourful and incredibly tasty.”
Chi Kitchen is now open at the chain’s Oxford Street and Birmingham branches, serving an all-day dining menu influenced by Thai, Chinese, Malaysian, Japanese, Vietnamese and Korean cuisine. In London, an open-plan robata grill serves as the focal point of the kitchen, allowing guests a glimpse of their dishes being cooked. The dining counter, meanwhile, doubles as a sushi bar and will deliver freshly prepared sushi and sashimi, while the restaurant will also offer its full menu to take away via a grab-and-go counter.
“We are delighted to be broadening our food offer and partnering with a fantastic, unique brand such as Chi Kitchen to offer our customers an exceptional, new dining experience,” says Debenhams’ UK director of space planning, Mark Jordan, whose team is tasked with uncovering the best foodservice brands to fill a chunk of the one million square feet of floor space that it earmarked earlier this year for concessions by April 2016. Back in the North East, Fenwick has unveiled a grand redevelopment of its Newcastle Food Hall to customers after a multi-million pound investment.
A full redesign, including the introduction of new eateries, brands and products, was carried out as part of the transformation project, which was two years in planning and encompassed an extensive consultation process with customers.
The development now offers a range of dining experiences alongside a retail offering that showcases the very best regional and international produce. New restaurant spaces include Fuego, a Mediterranean-inspired wine bar and restaurant, and bakery-patisserie-café Mason + Rye, centred on fine patisserie, artisan baking and viennoiserie to either eat in or take away.
“It’s been a busy few months with the redevelopment work but we’re delighted to now be welcoming the first customers into our brand new Food Hall,” says Rhys McKinnell, head of food and catering at Fenwick Newcastle. “Our vision was to create an exceptional dining and retail experience in the heart of Newcastle and we feel we’ve achieved just that.”
Those operating in a retail environment are often catering for a very diverse clientele. With most offering a fast casual dining experience, customers are typically looking for quality meals served in the shortest possible time in order to return to shopping. This push for quality and the need to cater for all tastes has inspired foodservice operators to create menus with fresh food, seasonal choices and a selection of styles.
“This requirement for a diverse menu can put pressure on the storage and kitchen area of a retail catering outlet,” says Rag Hulait, senior sales consultant at wireless temperature monitoring specialist Monika. “In many of the new shopping centres, stores are supported by a maze of service roads, loading bays and back-of-house storage facilities, some of which can be many hundreds of feet from the store itself.”
Our aim is to build a brand exclusively to Debenhams, which is going to offer not only good pan-Asian food but good energy to loyal and new customers”
Upon taking a food delivery, staff need to ensure items are delivered in the state expected, be it frozen, chilled or ambient, and in that regard Monika is seeing its services required. “The need for accurate but easy-to-use temperature monitoring in this scenario is essential, while the technology is able to link remotely to a central hub, from which a manager and or head office team can instantly identify the arrival and state of a delivery at a retail store.”
Retail stores can further enhance the management of responsibilities across a team by implementing a task management system. Hulait says Monika offers a Task Minder management system that highlights any relevant duties required and the timeframes for which they should be undertaken, displaying essential duties in visual and audible formats. “This task management system can be implemented front- and back-of-house where tasks such as mopping the kitchen floor or completing a walk-round of the dining area are key to maintain safety and hygiene in a food business,” he says.
Historically, the retail sector has enjoyed solid growth with hot snacking and hot food counters, but it is clear that times are evolving and customers are seeking other alternatives. “Customers are demanding more choice including vegetarian, healthier options and the choice to ‘build’ their own meals — for example a breakfast or salad buffet options,” comments Melissa Pereira, UK key account director at Rational. “As a result, the sector must still keep a close eye on trends to ensure that it can compete with the high street outlets, such as sandwich shops and QSRs.”
Food preparation through to serving must be both timely and fast, so speed of service is key, while food presentation is a massive consideration given that customers are known to buy with their eyes.
“As space is at a premium, stores should consider the best use of equipment within the kitchen to help deliver the best food offering with the least amount of equipment and lowest energy consumption,” says Pereira.
She notes that the patented dynamic air mixing system in Rational’s ovens is helping operators to achieve optimal cooking results by matching air flow and humidity.
“This feature ensures no flavour transfer when cooking sensitive products such as fish and vegetables at the same time in one unit. As the food is always gently cooked in the ideal climate, taste and colour are intensified, while ensuring maximum preservation of vitamins and minerals. Tasty breaded and deep fried foods can even be cooked in a Rational without the need for additional oil, again reducing costs.”
Warewashing suppliers are also keeping a keen eye on events in the retail sector. Such is the high level of all-day traffic at these sites, the task of managing dirty wares and replenishing tableware and cooking utensils cannot be taken lightly. DC Products is one company that claims to have noticed a shift in trends within the retail foodservice sector during the last year.
The requirement for a diverse menu can put pressure on the storage and kitchen area of a retail catering outlet”
“We have seen catering equipment being sold to more high-end convenience fast food outlets compared to catering equipment being sold to high street restaurants,” says director Bob Wood. “The coffee shop foodservice sector also continues to grow and we have seen an increase in our ice machines being sold to new Costa Coffee outlets that require ice for smoothies and iced coffees.”
Wood predicts that an added emphasis on convenience could see more and more operators shift their focus to “non-standalone” locations that offer higher footfall in 2016. “Big chains like Greggs have notably announced plans to shift their network away from high streets and towards travel locations such as shopping malls, motorway service stations and public transport hubs.”
The other important aspect of retail catering is servicing. With many sites open for extended hours, seven days a week, it can be difficult to fit in maintenance visits, but equally equipment failure can be disastrous. Serviceline is a company that has seen this firsthand.
“This year — and every year for retailers — the key demands when it comes to servicing, maintaining or repairing catering equipment include out-of-hours working and the assurance that ‘customer facing’ equipment is safe,” says the Stevenage-based firm’s managing director, Steve Elliott. “But retailers naturally only want this work done with minimal or no impact on their business.”
Elliott cites the installation of two major refrigeration systems for an out-of-town retailer as an example of a scenario where major work can be carried out without any disruption to customers, the chefs or the operation.
“The Serviceline team gave as much consideration as possible to kitchen staff, with five engineers working for a total of two weeks and two days between the hours of 11pm to 7am,” he explains. “The project included new electrical wiring and new pipework to all cabinets and coldrooms, and new ducting, cabling and compressors in the main kitchen servicing the site.”
Accessing retailers within airports or shopping centres to service equipment can also involve additional security and health and safety checks. Serviceline employs a full-time accreditations administrator to ensure that engineers’ clearances and training accreditations never run out.
“With increasing need for security clearances, access procedures and customers’ own management systems to be operated, it is vital that a service company understands how a customer works, so that they can serve them in the best possible way without fuss or drama,” concludes Elliott.