Author: Harri Jaaskelainen, 02 June 2017

I had the pleasure of attending the New Food Frontiers event at the Everyman Screen on the Green in Angel, North London earlier this week. The venue was, as I learnt during the opening address, the venue of Sex Pistols’ very first gig in 1977. It therefore provided a fitting environment for exploring the future of F&B, the hot topic that has captured much article space within the retail property industry over the last couple of years, no doubt much the same way the provocative band would have done in its heyday.

The audience was treated to a wide array of keynote speakers, ranging from designers to operators to advisers and academics alike, all coming in with varying years of experience and, more importantly, all bringing their own, specific angle to the debate which made it that much more interesting.

Healthy Eating

I will share two of the key topics here that came through loud and clear throughout the day and how they both apply to, and shape, the future of F&B strategies within shopping centres.

The easily-bored consumer

Many of the individual presentations reflected the notion that we as consumers have become lazier; we are seeking instant gratification, and we value convenience, value and experience above anything else. Nothing terribly new there, I suppose. However, what really grabbed my attention was the phobia that we have as consumers towards commitment. We seek constant renewal in so many different aspects of our lives, not least when it comes to shopping and entertainment.

It then follows that the F&B offer within a shopping centre needs constant refreshing in order to keep it attractive to the centre visitors. By keeping it attractive, I mean providing something different to the mainstream brands that we see on every high street already.

Who should shopping centres go after?

We have all seen how popular street food has become over the last 5 years or so. A trendy fad that attracts people from all walks of life, providing freshly-made food in countless different cuisines and product ranges. Some of these operators have been so popular that they have managed to turn the small van unit into a serious business, taking up a bricks and mortar unit on the high street. One such success story is Pizza Pilgrims that now operates 7 units across London.

However, making the jump from a street food van to a permanent unit within a shopping centre is much more difficult. Consumers want to see new and exciting F&B brands and yet only the mainstream F&B brands that have the covenant strength and robust finances behind them to make the necessary investments and long-term lease commitments are realistically able to vie for spaces within key schemes.

Pop-up food

The solution?

Rents for F&B units would have to come down for landlords to bring new, independent F&B operators into their centres. Given that is not such a palatable option from the landlord’s perspective, the next best alternative is to provide a dedicated space for a rotating programme of pop-up operators that allows the small, start-up businesses to bring their products on display to the masses. 

Consumers are brand image creators

The explosion in the accessibility and use of the Internet and social media has meant that the conventional roles of the company and the consumer have changed. Companies have moved away from being the sole deliverer and guardian of the company’s brand identity that would have traditionally been created by the company. These days, brands themselves have become experiences and therefore the always-connected, experience-seeking consumers play a huge role in creating that brand identity. Tying that to a recent research statistics about the F&B industry and social media which estimated that 20% of Britons have posted a picture of their food on social media within the last month, we can start seeing the particular relevance and importance this issue carries for the industry. Getting the product right every time, across the estate, is the challenge the operators need to be able to face up to both now and in the future.

One of the over-arching messages of the day was that in the future, across all industries, only social and convivial businesses will survive. The good news is that this is exactly what F&B businesses should be all about.

As well as passing my kudos to Portland Design and the partner companies for coming together and organising such a successful and thought-provoking event, I would like to finish with a direct quote from Tamira Snell, Senior Advisor and Futurist at the Copenhagen Institute of Future Studies, on the importance of brands being interesting to consumers: 

If you want to engage with other people you need to be interesting and brands are no different: Would you like to sit next to you(r brand) at Dinner?

Tamira Snell

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