It’s been a busy 12 months for the UK foodservice industry, with the pace of growth reflecting the ever-improving fortunes of the restaurant and catering industry. Glancing back at this year’s editions of FEJ, it becomes apparent that the market has witnessed some seismic changes.
The year started off with us reporting on premium burger restaurant GBK’s plans to expand with four new sites, taking its total to more than 60.
The new-look restaurants were all set to include open kitchens as a fundamental part of the design, certain items of catering equipment upgraded to help make the cooking process quicker and simpler.
“In terms of layout in the new restaurants, we tend to have a run of our equipment so the kitchens are all very visible to our customers; fundamentally our kitchens are now at the heart of our restaurants,” explained CEO Alasdair Murdoch. “The enhancements have been designed around trying to make it better for the customers and one of the ways to do that is to make it operationally simple,” he added.
Over in the pub sector, industry giant JD Wetherspoon indicated it might kickstart a new wave of catering equipment investment when its founder and chairman unveiled ambitious plans to ramp up its coverage over the next five years. Tim Martin, the man behind the famous high street brand, revealed in an interview that the chain is targeting 200 pub openings by 2020, creating more than 15,000 new jobs in the process.
Martin opened the first JDW outlet back in 1979 and if the company meets its five-year target the number of stores it owns will exceed 1,000 for the first time in its history.
The quality and visibility of our new site pipeline over the next three years remains excellent”
The start of spring saw a US franchise with a different twist on pizza-making open what is expected to be the first of dozens of sites in the UK. Project Pie, which cooks on a Wood Stone stone-hearth pizza oven installed as the centrepiece of its restaurants, aims to build on the launch by targeting 60 branches over the next decade. The UK business is being spearheaded by John and Susan Canavan as well as Niall Howard, formerly CEO of Hakkasan Group.
Elsewhere, the PPHE Hotel Group launched a new dining concept in Nottingham based on a unique way of cooking locally-sourced food over wood embers. The kitchen features a custom-built cast iron grill, with all of the logs used for cooking taken from the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, which produces the wood as a natural by-product of sustainable coppicing.
In the retail space, Marks & Spencer revealed how it was slashing energy costs after installing Quintex’s Cheetah demand-controlled ventilation in the kitchens of 81 branches it operates. M&S expects to achieve an estimated annual energy saving of 839,658 kWh across the sites, which encompass kitchens serving customer cafés, staff restaurants and bakeries. The equipment should help M&S deliver a saving of 436 tonnes of carbon and a payback of 2.73 years through significantly cutting energy bills across the target sites.
“Preserving the environment and looking at ways in which we can become more energy efficient is as important to us as the goods we sell,” commented Paul Walton, energy engineer at Marks & Spencer. “Our partnership with Quintex will enable us to get one step closer to achieving our goals, while ensuring significant energy savings across our commercial kitchens for years to come.”
The summer began with Wagamama revealing that it was making its kitchens the centre of attention as it prepared to embark on an ambitious UK revamp. After opening a restaurant in Uxbridge, where passers-by are able to see into the kitchen through a wall-sized glass window, the company said it was kick-starting its biggest renewal plan to date.
Restaurant rival TRG, meanwhile, was also keen to talk expansion, confirming that it was on track with plans to launch as many as 50 new sites by the end of this year. Chairman, Alan Jackson, said: “In total we expect to open between 42 and 50 new restaurants this year, approximately two thirds of which will open in the second half. The quality and visibility of our new site pipeline over the next three years remains excellent.”
Another company with growth on its mind was Bella Italia, which announced it was targeting 40 new openings over the next two years as part of a strategic programme aimed at growing the business. In the grab-and-go sector, Greggs said its store upgrade programme was making “good progress”, with 118 refurbishments completed in just six months.
Based on those figures, the refurbishment of stores to Greggs’ latest bakery food-on-the-go format is
currently taking place at a rate of almost five outlets a week.
In the hotel sector, Radisson Hotels made a serious investment in its kitchens by installing the latest oil filtration equipment at almost 50 of its UK properties. The chain expects to improve the quality of fried product from its kitchens as a result of the Vito roll-out, while also saving on labour costs as the fryers don’t need to be drained and cleaned so often.
Elsewhere, figures from AlixPartners and CGA Peach revealed that the eating and drinking out market had seen a net increase of 1,770 new restaurants in the last 12 months.
Given the appetite for growth among the kind of operators described in this piece, it will come as no surprise to many that the report identified branded chain businesses as the catalyst for much of the expansion.
It would take a very brave person to bet against that continuing.