It seems we can’t get through a day without hearing about the impact of change. But, whether we cloak it with euphemisms such as innovation or disruption, the end result is that change is usually feared and seldom welcome. And, with headwinds forcing continued changes, businesses, employees and operators alike are more flummoxed than ever.
The impact of change was clearly on the menu at the recent Restaurants Canada Show, held at the end of February in Toronto. Most of the featured panels touched on innovation and/or disruption. From the future of distribution, to the emergence of the grocerant, to sustainability and the changing landscape of restaurant chains, the overarching theme was that innovation is bringing us to new heights, but it’s also causing a riot of challenges. The continued evolution of the grocery store is certainly impacting the foodservice industry, as the lines between these two segments continue to blur. And, more change is afoot with the explosive popularity of meal kits. As Jeff York, co-CEO of Farm Boy, a boutique grocery shop he describes as an “affordable Whole Foods” stated succinctly “We’re all in take-home meals now.” Steve Kampstra, vice-president, Canada, Broad-line Distribution, Gordon Food Service, said during a panel on the future of distribution, “If you don’t provide off-premise meals, you’re missing a big opportunity.”
Much of the change taking place is being fuelled by our hectic lifestyles. As Mark Cousineau, national category manager, Food Service, 7-Eleven explained, today’s customers want the “gift of time.” He’s right on the money. Clearly, we seek convenience because our lives are frenetic. Sure, we want healthy food that tastes good, but preparing it takes time — a commodity in short supply. The options are, therefore, clear: stop by a restaurant on the way home to pick up food or eat in, order it online, drop by the local grocery store to pick up food to go, or opt for meal kits instead.
Clearly, grocery stores are paying close attention to what restaurants are doing. Tony Cammalleri, director of Culinary Innovation at Longo’s, stressed he looks to restaurants as a source of inspiration and would like to bring some of those restaurant elements into the grocery store. “We’re always evolving and looking at opportunities,” he said.
At the end of the day, as Susan Senecal, president and CEO of A&W Restaurants said, while speaking on a Leadership panel, “Today, there are so many ways you can connect with your guests.” But, she advises, the question that needs to be asked is “How do we make people’s lives easier? We have to deliver a clear benefit. We need to look at ourselves as sherpas — leading consumers to where they want to be.”