MISSISSAUGA — Change was on the agenda earlier this week when the Canadian Association of Food Professionals (CAFP) hosted an industry panel at its monthly meeting. Held at the Mississauga Convention Centre, the afternoon session attracted members eager to learn about the key trends impacting the foodservice industry.
The panel, moderated by Dana MacCauley from Food Starter, featured Shanna Munro, president and CEO of Restaurants Canada; Wendy Brancato, Regional vice-president, Sysco Foodservice; Craig Murray, vice-president Sales & Marketing, Highliner Food; and Gary Wildman, director of Foodservices, Longo’s. A 10-minute intro by Margot Swindall of Technomic Inc. set the stage by highlighting several key industry stats.
Swindall told the audience that based on Technomic stats, the fast-casual segment is the darling of the industry these days, showing 11.6 per cent growth and 6.4 per cent unit growth, while QSR is showing growth of 5.9 per cent and unit growth of 1.4 per cent. On the flip side, the fine-dining segment is showing declines of 4.8 per cent with no unit growth.
Swindall also highlighted five key consumer trends making the grade these days: dining out as entertainment; growth in ethically minded choices; a continuing backlash against large chains; the growing influence of millennials; and the need for more personalization.
The panel got underway with panelists asked to determine whether trends trump concept. “It’s not mutually exclusive,” said Munro, adding operators need to be resilient and adapt to change. “It’s necessary to monitor trends and incorporate them into your concept but it’s also important to stick to your knitting,” she urged.
The M word surfaced throughout the discussion. “We’re trying to figure out millennials,” said Highliner’s Craig Murray. “We had to bring them into our research and make them more ongoing in the process of change and how we innovate.” Murray noted that differing tastes are now fuelling change among suppliers, highlighting the trend to healthier eating. “It’s inherent that seafood is healthy, but millennials’ demands and the company’s flavour profiles are changing. It’s moving away from fish and chips to all sorts of species, and at different price points. Affordability is a big piece of it,” he explained.
But just as millennials continue to influence change, the sheer size of the baby-boomer demographic is still significant in producing change. “Restaurants have to ask themselves, are they aging friendly?” posited Brancato, pointing to issues such as parking (making it more accessible for those with physical issues), sound factor (are restaurants too loud to encourage conversation?), lighting (are restaurants too dark for customers to read the menu?) and font size (is type too small?) on menus as important considerations. “If you look at the chains, they haven’t really grasped that yet,” said Brancato. “Will consumers go to restaurants if they can’t hear, see or talk?” quipped Brancato.
With the growth in third-party delivery systems such as Uber Eats, the panel was asked to assess how such delivery services are changing the restaurant experience. Munro stated, “With 55 per cent of meals ordered at restaurants and 42 per cent ordered by smartphone, the trend is not going to go away.” She emphasized the importance for operators to carefully consider this option. “You need to be aware of it, but if it doesn’t work with your concept, you shouldn’t necessarily adapt it.” She also warned operators to read the contract and fine print. “Do your homework.”
From the grocery perspective, Longo’s Wildham told the audience the grocer is seriously “looking at digital reservations. We’re moving slow to go fast,” he said, stressing the importance of product mix, freshness and quality. As for blurring of the lines between restaurants and grocers, Wildham said “These days, everyone is competing with everyone.” But regardless of which segment you operate in “restaurants that rely on sit-down have to figure out what creates values for their customers.”