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Fri 7th Dec 2018 - Friday Opinion
Authors: Glynn Davis, Jill Whittaker and Ann Elliott
Subjects: Nation of food-lovers, Apprenticeship Levy – use it before you lose it, and choose your words wisely

Nation of food-lovers by Glynn Davis

For many years the UK’s major supermarkets worked hard to convince people shopping for food was a massive chore while there were so many more interesting things they could do with their time.

To support their argument, they created sterile environments and put elements in place to ensure customers would be in and out of their enormous superstores as quickly as possible. That is why their cafes have always been a massive disappointment. For these purveyors of food to have presented food so badly in their in-store eateries has always shocked me.

They are now realising their argument was flawed. The reality is many people in the UK enjoy food shopping, with the rise of farmers’ markets, the new breed of delicatessens, street food markets, and new craft and artisan food and drink producers as proof. The major supermarkets have ultimately failed to fully quash British consumers’ underlying love of food and drink shopping.  

We have arguably moved into the domain of some of our European cousins. The Spanish and Italians, for instance, have always retained their links to food in a way we lost years ago. We should be thankful, therefore, we have had the likes of the Roux family, Raymond Blanc, Antonio Carluccio, Giorgio Locatelli and José Pizarro (to name a few off the top of my head) who have made the UK their home and played major roles in promoting the philosophy of “living to eat” rather than “eating to live”. We should be grateful for their efforts over many years.

It is in this tradition that Andrea Rasca has put down roots in the UK, opening Mercato Metropolitano in south London in 2016 to promote what he describes as a “healthy and sustainable community food market with an Italian soul”.

The 4,500 square metre site focuses on artisans and local producers who take space within the market and pay a sales-related rental fee. The market also raises awareness of sustainability through its on-site farm, cookery lessons and a cultural programme of films, exhibitions and events that involve the local community.

This latter aspect is possible thanks to Rasca’s decision not to configure the business solely to maximise profits. He admits this philosophy has been tough to hold on to as it would have been much easier to do deals with the likes of Coca-Cola and other big brands but this would have diverted him from his long-term plan to build a business that is profitable but maintains sustainable and ethical principles.

Having attracted three million people during the past two years who spend an average of 192 minutes in the market and with healthy profits flowing through, Rasca says the concept is proven. This has led to interest in Mercato Metropolitano-type propositions being developed elsewhere, with three projects set to open in the next 12 months.

Mercato Mayfair will be first, with a market created as part of the Grosvenor Estates’ £5m restoration of St Mark’s church. With 300 square metres given over to community classes, music and readings, Rasca says it was made clear to developers this was not solely about profit. He says: “We talked about our values and the expected rent. When they gave me the figure I told them they needed to talk to Tiffany & Co – I sell aubergines – but we came to an agreement.”

The second market will be part of a new development in Ilford funded by the Greater London Authority, which will see Mercato Metropolitano given funds to replicate the regeneration work it delivered in Elephant and Castle at an area nine miles east of central London. The 2,500 square metres of trading space will be complemented by a hydroponics set-up that will allow the market to grow vegetables and herbs. This will form part of what Rasca calls a “circular economy market”. Thirdly, Elephant Park will launch in Elephant and Castle involving plenty of production alongside retailing and community activities.

There is clearly much to be learnt from these new ways of dealing with food, which will ultimately feed not only into the way major supermarkets operate but also mainstream food and beverage operators because it is becoming abundantly clear we are a nation that has a deep love of food.
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends

Apprenticeship Levy – use it before you lose it by Jill Whittaker

We’re approaching the second anniversary of the Apprenticeship Levy, arguably the biggest overhaul of the apprenticeship system in a generation, yet our independent research has found 40% of hospitality professionals admit to having a “poor” or “very poor” understanding of the system. What is more, fewer than half have used up the majority of their funds – meaning thousands of pounds could be lost.

As a reminder, the levy itself requires all companies with a pay bill of more than £3m to contribute 0.5% of their payroll costs to the scheme, which they then claim back to fund apprenticeships. This amount is then topped up by 10% from the government. Businesses with a pay bill below £3m don’t pay into the fund but can still access government subsidies of 90% of the cost of the apprenticeship, with employers co-paying the additional 10%. However, contributions to the scheme are only banked for 24 months and, therefore, businesses have until May 2019 to use their initial funding pots.

Why aren’t businesses using their levy funding? Our research uncovered the top reasons:

Businesses are taking time to ensure they are investing in a high-quality programme

Employers don’t have enough time to set up or extend an apprenticeship programme

Many don’t understand the legislation

Businesses haven’t found the right training provider to work with
 
The hospitality industry faces a dire skills shortage of an estimated 375,000 positions so it has never been more important for businesses to reap the benefits of apprenticeships and help future-proof the industry as a whole.

In fact, projections suggest the sector will need an additional 11,000 chefs in the next five years and 1.3 million more employees across the hospitality and tourism sector by 2024. When you add this to uncertainty brought about by Brexit, it could lead to serious implications on the hospitality industry’s ability to fill roles, especially considering Migration Advisory Committee recommendations that immigration to the UK should prioritise “high-skilled” workers.

What strikes me is if we know there is a pot of funding available in the sector that can be used to train employees and bolster skills in the industry, we should be using it to its full potential.

While the Apprenticeship Levy has brought many benefits, some fundamental challenges need to be addressed. First and foremost, SMEs used to be the largest employer of England’s apprentices but can no longer afford to pay the 10% contribution. As such, apprentice numbers in SMEs have drastically fallen.

However, there is an opportunity for levy-paying businesses to support other organisations within their supply chain by transferring 10% of their levy pot to SMEs or charities. In a particularly positive move, Philip Hammond has also proposed plans to increase the amount available that businesses can transfer to 25%. Yet our research found of the levy-paying businesses in the sector, 65% are unaware they can do this.

With the deadline to use the levy approaching, businesses are at crunch point to start using or losing some of their funding. That’s why we are encouraging hospitality employers to take full advantage of the Apprenticeship Levy to upskill their entire workforce and support other businesses and individuals within the industry.

While we are right to be nervous about the implications of Brexit and the growing skills shortage, let’s also use all the resources we have available to build prospective and attractive career opportunities in the hospitality industry. After all, investing in training programmes helps motivate employees, create a dynamic and enthusiastic workforce and, in turn, protect the hospitality industry now and into the future.

For further information on HIT Training, visit www.hittraining.co.uk
Jill Whittaker is managing director of HIT Training

Choose your words wisely by Ann Elliott 

On Wednesday, Propel reported Pret A Manger intends to remove the word “natural” from its logo and packs following pressure from the Real Bread Campaign. The article went on to state the move to remove “natural” was a response to revelations the company uses some artificial additives in its sandwich bread. 

Earlier this year, the Advertising Standards Authority ruled in favour of a complaint by the Real Bread Campaign, which argued Pret was misleading customers with claims on its website of selling certain items of “natural” food. The ruling was based on the fact Pret’s bread contains three additives including E472e, which strengthens dough and reduces the number of large holes.

From my limited understanding of food regulations, the definition of what constitutes natural is not clearly defined, whereas the definition of organic (as an example and by way of contrast) is tightly defined. Legally, it would appear, Pret doesn’t have a case to answer. Of course, the debate centres around what customers potentially believe to be the truth about a product versus the reality. I imagine most customers, when asked, would say a natural product shouldn’t include additives and would feel disappointed at learning the news about Pret.

However, Pret is not alone in this – certainly not when pubs, bars and restaurants are thrown in the mixing bowl. The word “fresh”, for instance, can similarly be interpreted in the same number of ways as “natural”. One client told me it didn’t really matter if a product was fresh as long as it had the “perception of being fresh” – customers wouldn’t be able to tell the difference – so we had to add the word “fresh” as many times as possible in the menu copy. Their argument was a frozen and defrosted product could appear fresh and was just as good as one that hadn’t been frozen. Would customers feel the same way, I wonder?

Or take “freshly cooked”. What does that really mean? Or “freshly battered”, “freshly made” or, my particular favourite, “freshly prepared”? The implication of all these phrases is every element of a dish is made in response to an order hitting the kitchen as opposed to any part of it being pre-made, pre-packaged, frozen or tinned. This simply cannot be the case in all instances. The word “fresh” is so powerful in the minds of customers, though, a minority of operators take liberties with its use knowing it will not, and cannot, be challenged. It might be misleading, but so what?

Of course it’s still possible to see the words “home baked” and “home cooked”, particularly in independent pub restaurants. Indeed, when I was a pub operator I remember one cook producing ten homemade steak and kidney pies from her carrier bag ready for the lunchtime trade. That can’t be the case nowadays so what do pubs mean when they use this phrase?

I know operators that use words and phrases such as local food, family-run suppliers, traceable, sustainable, wild-caught, provenance et al and I absolutely believe them. I know and understand their brand values and appreciate how honesty and integrity are fundamental to all they do. They don’t use these words lightly and every word means something to them and, therefore, to their customers.

Fundamentally, I think customers want brands to be what they say they are and to do what they say they are going to do. They don’t want to find out their promises have been hollow and their brand loyalty abused. Every word a brand writes about itself should be genuine, considered and never taken lightly because someone, somewhere, at some point, might look a bit deeper. They need to choose their words wisely – they can’t rely on customers taking them for granted any more.
Ann Elliott is chief executive of Elliotts, the leading integrated marketing agency in the hospitality and leisure sector – www.elliottsagency.com

 
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