Restaurants Canada Show Wrap-Up

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TORONTO — The 2020 Restaurant Canada Show wrapped up three days of educational sessions, and industry networking opportunities yesterday. The 75th edition of the show, which brings together foodservice industry professionals from across Canada and beyond, featured a full roster of events alongside its trade show, including expert panels, product demonstrations and culinary competitions. The F&H editorial team spent a busy three days bringing readers coverage of the RC Show events. Here’s a wrap-up of some of that coverage.

Choosing the Right Ghost Kitchen Model

In this March 1 session on the RC Show’s Speaker Stage, experts sat down to discuss the various approaches and models that exist within Canada’s growing ghost-kitchen phenomena. Moderated by Ron Cecillon, CEO of Balzac’s Coffee Roasters, the panel featured David Sorger, president of Smooth Commerce; Kristen Adamowski, Virtual Restaurants lead, Uber; Oren Borovitch, co-founder and COO of Kitchen Hub Inc.; and George Kottas, founder and CEO of Ghost Kitchens. 

While Uber Eats has focused on helping its partner restaurants identify opportunities to operate supplementary concepts out of their existing restaurants, companies such as Ghost Kitchens and Kitchen Hub have developed models focused on helping established chains and independent restaurants, respectively, expand into new markets without the overhead of bricks-and-mortar locations. 

Despite the range of formats, panelists largely agreed that capturing and acting on data is paramount to continued success within this segment. “[Ghost kitchen success] is requiring more and more to be able to reduce costs to be able to ensure that you increase your basket sizes, increased frequency and loyalty. They really need the ability to capture as much data on customers as humanly possible so that you can actually action on that data, so you’re not blindly guessing what you should be offering and managing your menus accordingly.” explained Sorger.

“Restaurants that are looking to move into delivery and takeout need to realize that they’re not moving into e-commerce,” said Borovitch. “The real estate that they used to spend a ton of money to acquire…that’s no longer the marketing and that’s no longer your location — your location is where you are on Uber Eats.”

Leadership Conference

The RC Leadership Conference 2020, which took place at Hotel X Toronto on March 2, provided attendees with insights on what will drive growth and what trends are coming down the pipe as we move into a new decade. In particular, speakers highlighted the blurring lines between traditional foodservice, retail, grocery and convenience stores, as well as the importance of customer experience. 

Opened and led by moderator Tony Chapman, the conference began with a dive into some of the latest industry research. 

Chris Elliott, senior economist with Restaurants Canada pointed out that while the foodservice industry is growing, this growth is slowing down due to a slowdown in disposable-income growth and Canada’s household-debt levels. “This is a growing industry, but if we break it down over the next five years…and if we factor out menu inflation and population, we’re looking at real sales growth of just 0.3 per cent,” he explains. “So for you to grow yourself, that means you’re going to have to take market share away from someone else. That’s the new rule.”

Donna Hood Crecca, principal, Technomic Inc., focused on shifts currently taking place in the U.S. and the ways convenience stores are putting greater focus on foodservice. “On-the-go is not an occasion, it’s, it’s a lifestyle,” she shared. “Today’s consumer is moving all the time and it creates a need for solutions. And increasingly, the consumer is looking for a solution that we call food everywhere — they want prepared foods and beverages to be available wherever they happen to be. And that means they’re seeking foodservice beyond restaurants.”

Asad Amin, VP, Canada, Marketing Strategy & Understanding at Ipsos, focused on consumers’ changing hierarchy of values and how they are impacting their eating and dining habits. He called out six key pillars characterizing the “contemporary consumption code”: sphere of influence, personalization, convenience, inspiration, technology and solution orientation. “People are a lot more informed than they’ve ever been and they’re arguably more educated than ever,” he explained. “This astonishing amount of knowledge they’re taking and placing into their decision making habits in terms of what they eat, where they go out to eat and how they prepare their meals as well.”

“People are going to look for ease and speed, but they’re not going to compromise the other values that they have,” he added.

Focusing on e-commerce, Vince Sgabellone, Client Development manager, The NPD Group, highlighted the importance of applying the lessons learned from “the retail transformations that are taking place” to the foodservice industry. “With foodservice in the early stages of its own digital revolution, there is a significant opportunity to learn from the shifts taking place in the retail space,” he explained.

“Amazon isn’t a retailer, they’re an aggregator. So let’s look at the aggregators in our industry: when I add them all together, they cover more than 10,000 doors…and they would be the number-5 operator in Canada. And, in a market that is only growing by about one per cent a year, they are growing exponentially,” Sgabellone pointed out. “They are our business partners, but are also something to watch out for — they’re also our competitors.”

For the second portion of the event, Chapman did one-on-one interviews with industry leaders, including Bruce Linton, former co-CEO of Canopy Growth; George Kottas, CEO and founder of Ghost Kitchens; Ennio Perrone, VP of Business Strategy and Marketing, Eataly North America; and Frank Hennessey, CEO, Recipe Unlimited. 

B&B Workshop: Focus on Craft Spirits in Canada 

This discussion, led by Simon Ho, co-founder of Spirt of York, was accompanied by a shot of Spirit of York’s new line of liquor — an aquavit (a Scandinavian spirit).

He says that we are seeing the beginning of the craft distillery boom, much like we saw the beginning of the craft brewery boom in the past decade. A big talking point was the discussion of tax breaks for craft distillers who use NGS versus raw materials. NGS refers to neutral grain spirits, whereby to make this NGS a gin you’d just have to add the flavouring, rather than distilling it from its raw materials.

Big challenge for the industry is public perception of smaller brands — people stick with brands they know, making it harder for craft distilleries to get much needed brand recognition.

To help combat this, the LCBO features a small distilleries program, which helps craft distilleries get their products on shelves. Overall, 80 per cent of spirits sold in Canada are imported.

Look Who’s Coming to Dinner

Industry analyst Robert Carter led a discussion on why marketing to Gen-Z customers is different. According to panelists, including Jo-Ann McArthur from Nourish Food Marketing; Margot Swindall of Technomic; and Sylvain Charlebois, a professor at Dalhousie University, this generational cohort — the most diverse in Canada — expects fully customizable options that are mobile-phone optimized. Gen Zs also eat out more, but unlike millennials, who eat to have an experience or don’t have time to cook themselves, Gen Zs eat out to satisfy a certain craving they’re having. The panel also addressed the fact younger generations are drinking less than previous ones and the fact that Gen Zs are attracted to purpose-driven brands that stand for something. The overall take-away from the session was that operators need to gear marketing efforts towards millennials and Gen Z.

The Importance of Food Tourism 

Cindy Walker, owner of Chocolatea and Eric Boyar, owner/head chef of sixthirtynine led a discussion about how using local ingredients and supporting local restaurants and other ventures is good for the community. Citing the example of the Oxford Cheese Trail — a self-guided trail through the town of Oxford that allows visitors to try many different local restaurants and shops — this session focused on the recent growth in experiential tourism and examined how smaller communities can capitalize on this trend by creating a food trail that emphasizes what their town does well. According to Boyar, the rise in popularity of local ingredients can be a boon to smaller communities. “Farm to table is a great tend to be a part of,” he said, “but hopefully it won’t be a trend for much longer; hopefully it will soon become the new norm.”

Breakfast with Champions

The annual power breakfast brought together a roster of industry movers and shakers to discuss the latest research, ideas and trends impacting the foodservice industry today. 

Patrick Noone, executive vice-president, Technomic, delved into the trends and innovations that are most influencing Canada’s foodservice landscape for greater success in 2020 and beyond. 

Moderator Tony Chapman then sat down for a frank discussion with Adrian Niman of Food Dudes. The 36-year-old chef and entrepreneur offered advice for aspiring chefs and business owners, drawing on his own experience — both good and bad — building his catering business and food truck to a successful and respected multi-concept brand. He focused on the importance of learning from your mistakes, forging successful — and appropriate — partnerships and putting staff first. 

“We’re all taught that the customer comes first,” he told the room of more than 100 attendees. “But I believe your employees have to come first. You have to take care of your staff.”

Brand guru Joe Jackman, of Jackman Reinvent, motivated the room with advice on how to create purposeful change and rapidly reinvent your business with key insights from his debut book The Reinventionist Mindset. Dr. Morgaine Gaye, food futurologist and director, Bellwether Food Trends then took the stage to offer attendees thought-provoking insight about what the foodservice industry will look like in 10 years and what operators can do to prepare their business today.

The morning concluded with the presentation of the Restaurants Canada Award of Excellence, which recognizes one individual who is passionate, innovative and has made an outstanding and pioneering contribution to Canada’s restaurant and foodservice industry. This year’s winner, chef Keith Hoare, culinary instructor at Thistletown Collegiate in Etobicoke, Ont., was celebrated for his work inspiring a new generation of culinary professionals. 

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