One of the most exciting things about our work is that we get involved in the simple and delightful business of seeing and, most importantly, tasting new ideas and food concepts that still seem to be hitting the High Street on a regular basis.
Back in January, Sainsbury’s unveiled something new in Central London. We all know Sainsbury’s and trust their products – a lot of us cook with them everyday, so it seems a logical extension for the store to offer us ready cooked ‘Food to Go’. Sainsbury’s Fresh Kitchen opened in busy Fleet Street and thus far, despite a few inevitable teething problems seems to be holding its own in a very competitive market segment. The other important thing is that the company can use its considerable buying power to undercut the more traditional lunch providers in this part of London, providing good value and tasty food – the ultimate goal of every operator. Although not a unique difference, “hot food to go” is, in my opinion the next big step forward. Sandwiches and baguettes can only cut it so far, especially when the weather is bad; a hot hand held snack provides the comfort that customers desire and you only need to see what the sandwich bars are introducing through their NPD programmes and it is clear that hot is “hot”. Prêt have launched a number of hot dishes, porridge being the most notable and successful. Simple, yes, profitable, certainly, and another reason to search them out.
Another idea, and one of my favourites, emanating from warmer climates is the hand held Indian snacks offered by Mooli’s based in Soho. Go, if you are in London and wonder at the ever changing fillings and mouth explosions that they manage to achieve. Other “hot” offers include the Burrito boys, such as Chilango and Tortilla. A big eat, if ever there was, but a great average spend as well, with consumers willing to shell out over £6.50 for the authentic experience. Lets also not forget the traditional simple offers of hot Cornish Pasties and Sausage Rolls. West Cornwall Pasty and Greggs still manage to satisfy a vast number of transit and shopping consumers, with roadside providers such as Wild Bean Cafe keeping the white vans of the UK filled up and happy, in every sense!
Innovation is moving faster, as the high streets of the UK become more congested with food offers. Bizarrely, as retail and shops have suffered, the “cost of entry” to the High Street has got more affordable, and we have seen more new offers, more new branches and more new foodservice appearing on our streets.
The big two sandwich sellers, certainly in terms of brand presence, Prêt and EAT are considering their response to this and continue to evolve and develop. A trial in some Prêt stores has seen a reduced range, but with the products being made in front of the consumer. I would suggest this can only work in certain environments if the number of customers coming through the doors means that waiting times are still manageable. Hot offers have been staple of both operators for some time now, but they will need to carefully watch the market in this developing area, if they are to keep up with the new entrants.
Another area that continues to amaze me is the increasing numbers of smaller independent operators who want to offer something just a little different. Very often these small companies aren’t able to afford the big commercial rents in major city centres, so they set up in areas with a high transient footfall or local population, and where other similar units may act as a catalyst for their own business. Recently I had to spend a little time in Hampstead and marvelled at some of the fresh ideas and products that were available. OK, this may be a little enclave of ‘loveliness’ in North London, but from what I saw the majority of people were just going about their daily business, yet the artisan bakeries, pubs which brewed their own beer, specialist coffee shops and delis with all sorts of home grown and European based products on offer, were doing great trade. A return to traditional high street food shopping? I hope so, as the quality and price were both very attractive.
Based on this success, some of these operators are now in a position to bring their offer to a wider public, but many seem to be happy “knowing” their local customers and market place and thriving on it, despite the less than favourable economic climate.
Another market that has evolved massively is that of coffee – no longer the perceived preserve of the big three, Starbucks, Costa and Caffe Nero, there is now the so called ‘Third Wave of Coffee’ becoming more noticeable in the market place, with a greater concern for the finished product as well as all the stages involved in producing the perfect cup of coffee. It is a tricky subject – your favourite may seem tasteless to me, I may prefer something bitter and strong which would make you wince.
‘Third Wave’ coffee aspires to the highest form of culinary appreciation of coffee. Those that follow it appreciate far more the origin of the bean, the subtleties of the flavour and where it is grown and harvested around the world. Think wine, then think coffee, you are now on the ‘Third Wave’.
The current trend toward super-premium coffees, such as small batch roasts, artfully crafted espresso drinks and direct-from-origin beans typify the trend. Operators such as Sacred, Monmouth, Dose Espresso, Flat White, Kaffeine, Lantana and Tapped and Packed deliver these products each day, and to increasingly more discerning market . These are not “flash in the pan” businesses either, some have been around for 30 years.
In essence, the ‘Third Wave’ is the de-commodification of coffee. The good news is that there is a place for all of these waves of coffee. You pick and you chose at what point you want to buy into the hierarchy of quality, but don’t be afraid of offering the higher quality levels.
So what’s the point I’m making? Well I guess it is a simple one. Innovation, development, improvement and change will keep your consumer engaged. Our consumer, from the High Street shopper to the student, from the office worker to the factory operative are all expecting us to raise our game. How much time you spend on new product development will determine how closely you engage with your consumer. But there is a really simple way to develop your product range. Go shopping, go and look what others are doing and then have a crack at it yourself.