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EDITOR’S VIEW: Wounded caterer knows things have got to change back of house

Andrew Seymour

One company I’ve been keeping close tabs on since writing this piece in July last year is SSP.

With the firm’s core activities firmly anchored in air and railway hubs, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a catering provider more exposed to a scenario in which the general public is ordered by the government to stay at home and reduce travel.

The company gobbled up revenue prior to the pandemic, but it has just announced a £475m rights issue in an attempt to raise capital after revealing that sales continue to be down 80% on what they were prior to the pandemic.

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SSP has made 14,000 roles redundant in the past 12 months, underscoring the severity of the crisis facing the business. Whichever way you look at it, they are frightening numbers.

Bosses are confident that it will benefit from the market’s recovery quickly once society does reopen. On the basis that people will start coming into contact with its kiosks and restaurants again when they return to work and move around, it is easy to see why they have some optimism to cling onto.

The company has identified the delivery of efficient revenue conversion as one of the core pillars of its strategy to recover from the pandemic and that will involve doubling down on areas such as culinary automation to improve performance.

It has already said it plans to retain the structural benefits and efficiency measures achieved during the pandemic where relevant, and will continue to re-engineer various aspects of the business to optimise margins.

The pandemic has made firms such as SSP more sensitive than ever to the need to avoid unproductive costs, manage cost inflation and automate culinary processes to make kitchens and back-of-house areas as efficient as possible.

It will seek to optimise gross margins by reducing product ranges where appropriate and simplify menus to focus on the best-selling, highest margin items. This approach will also have the net benefit of assisting in reducing waste and driving greater purchasing and production efficiency.

The roll-out of digital technology, including customer ordering and payment technology models, will only accelerate the push towards creating a leaner business.

As SSP seeks to increase average transaction values while simultaneously reducing labour costs, its equipment suppliers will have a vital role to play in providing the input, advice and infrastructure required to get this wounded corporate beast back on its feet again.

EDITOR’S VIEW: Freight crisis threatens to nudge catering equipment prices in an uncomfortable direction

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Andrew Seymour

The author Andrew Seymour

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