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Fri 18th Oct 2019 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Sweet spot, nanny state over-reach, Plan B, and dishing up a sustainable future
Authors: Glynn Davis, Paul Chase, Ann Elliott and Helen McMillan

Sweet spot by Glynn Davis

On a visit to Bristol one weekend the rain was so bad the only way I could entice my daughter out of the comfort of our hotel room and away from her iPhone to a nearby museum was to bribe her with the promise of popping into a branch of Kaspa’s Desserts on the way.

Even though it was a grey Sunday with limited visibility, there was no mistaking the garish purple and black decor as Kaspa’s shone like a beacon of hope for my 12-year-old. With its waffles, ice cream and other incredibly sweet confections, it’s ideally pitched at the young end of the market and, despite the amounts of ice cream served, is in one of the hottest parts of the foodservice sector right now.

Kaspa’s is one of a growing number of players tapping into the youth market, where plenty of youngsters seem to have sufficient amounts of disposable income (from parents) to ensure a level of demand to keep stoking the category’s growth. Part of Kaspa’s appeal is it’s a safe place for children to go (without parents) – often after school.

The franchise model has enabled Kaspa’s to open outlets around the country at a rapid rate. It’s a similar story at Creams, which was co-founded by Azhar Rehman – who split from the business to found Kaspa’s. There must be rivalry between the two brands because in my part of north London a Creams outlet came and suddenly went whereas a Kaspa’s down the road seems to have longevity.

Closure appears to be a rare occurrence among dessert specialists because a plethora of brands are setting up their ice-cream makers. Companies include Heavenly Desserts, which recently opened its 17th outlet in South Yorkshire with more lined up across the country – again helped by a focus on franchising.

These more established players are set to gain some company with newcomers entering the market such as Apple Butter, which is due to open its debut UK site in Covent Garden before Christmas as part of a plan to open five outlets. It will join Melt Desserts, which recently opened a second unit, in North Yorkshire, to add to its maiden restaurant in Blackburn. Meanwhile Gooey has signed on the dotted line for its first unit in west London in a site that once housed Prezzo.

Now the pizza expansion game is well and truly over, landlords are turning their attention to the desserts market. Reflecting the mood, Davis Coffer Lyons’ Louie Gazdar said: “Dessert bars remain a strong trend in the market. Barriers to entry are low and non-expensive fit-out costs and high mark-up on products has made them very appealing, while operators can often fit into affordable units.”

Central London landlord Shaftesbury certainly agrees with this thesis as dessert bars recently opened at three of its Chinatown properties – newcomers Meet Fresh and Taiyakiya, and a third London site for French-Japanese fusion concept Kova Patisserie. 
 
What all these outlets benefit from is the universally sweet tooth of youth but perhaps the appetite for sweet goods isn’t confined to children and is broadening because sales are on the rise. For the year to 16 June, retail sales of cake and biscuits increased £150m with the market for cake up 6.3% while biscuits lagged a little with a 1.9% uplift, according to data from consulting company Kantar.

While this trend continues it places dessert bars in an increasingly sweet spot. However, don’t expect me to cross the threshold unless I need to drag my children out to a boring old museum or coax them off their digital devices.
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends

Nanny state over-reach by Paul Chase

Dame Sally Davies, the nation’s self-described “nanny-in-chief”, has retired from her position as England’s Chief Medical Officer. Her final report, all 98 pages of it, proposes a series of measures that take nanny state over-reach into the realms of parody. You simply couldn’t make it up.

Her parting recommendations to government include calorie caps in restaurants; a ban on “junk food” marketing and advertising, which would prevent deals such as the one recently concluded between the England and Wales Cricket Board and KP Snacks; and, most controversially, a ban on snacking on public transport, which she described as “similar to the smoking ban”. All this in the name of protecting children. Dame Sally writes: “I want to see our children’s health, not companies’ profits, put at the forefront of government policy. It is every child’s right to live in a world that promotes, not harms, their health.” Dame Sally doesn’t explain how restricting the right of adults to eat on public transport would reduce the overall calorie consumption of children but hey, I don’t want to stop her painting the big picture with sweeping generalities by pointing out pesky, inconvenient practical details.

Those opposed to drinking alcohol or eating the “wrong foods” or too much food frequently invoke the cry: “We must save the chiiiiiildren!” In fact statistics surrounding childhood obesity are deeply flawed and misleading. As journalist and researcher Chris Snowdon has pointed out, the government ignores the clinical definition of child obesity when compiling its statistics. Instead, it uses a model based on assumptions that hugely exaggerate the problem. In fact, childhood obesity is a problem confined mostly to a narrow bracket of children living in deprived families whose needs are not being met – it is they we should be targeting.

Public health constantly conflates people who are overweight with those who are obese when research shows overweight people live, on average, longer than the obese or those of a supposedly healthy weight. Insofar as there is an obesity problem arising from a combination of over-eating and lack of exercise, it can’t be solved by outsourcing solutions to the state and its legislators to force us to change. Big Public Health always references Big State solutions but in reality those solutions rarely, if ever, work. The sugar levy is a case in point – there’s no example anywhere in the world of this leading to a reduction in obesity as people substitute other sources of sugar to replace those lost as a result of government-enforced product reformulation.

The proposal to make it a criminal offence to eat a sandwich on the bus is absurd but, more than that, it’s an assault on the very idea of what it means to be an autonomous adult living in a free society. If Dame Sally Davies is really concerned about the health of children does she really think it makes sense to encourage a culture of food-shaming in which we discourage people from eating when they feel hungry? What impact does she think this would have on anorexic girls or boys whose body-consciousness is already problematic?

I don’t believe we should polarise the debate by suggesting there’s a simple, binary choice. Individuals should exercise more self-control or the state should do it for them. The power to change unhealthy eating or drinking habits rests not with government agencies or atomised individuals. Insofar as government can influence these outcomes it should support strong communities in their efforts to tackle poverty and deprivation and find their own solutions to the health challenges they face. This can’t be carried out by a top-down approach that requires state regulation of every aspect of daily life or the dismantling of capitalism as a pre-requisite for a healthy community.
Paul Chase is director of Chase Consultancy and a leading industry commentator on alcohol and health

Plan B by Ann Elliott

Running the Plan B speed-mentoring sessions for women who want to reach board level (or set up their own business in the sector) has been a joy since I started the initiative with Holly Addison, Emma Causer and Kate Nicholls in autumn 2018. This calendar year we have taken 100-plus mentees through the programme with the help of more than 70 mentors, who have given their time and experience for free. In fact the whole programme cost nothing as Rob Pitcher let us use Revolution Bars Group’s Leadenhall venue for free throughout the year, including food and drink.

It has been humbling and inspiring. The feedback from mentors and mentees has been amazing and so rewarding – it feels like both sides have got a lot out of it and enjoyed the whole experience. Some mentors have even volunteered to attend more than one session. We have learned a lot throughout the year but the principles have remained the same – free, informal, flexible, easy to participate, with minimum amounts of admin and process. Ultimately everyone is mentored in a way that suits them and brings out the best in them without the formality of a coaching template, which has its own role to play in career development.

Each mentee has seen four to six mentors in a speed-mentoring session giving them access to a range of brilliant mentors, all with their own ways of questioning and their own thoughts and suggestions. We don’t provide rules for mentoring so they have all approached it in their own style, which has been refreshing and exciting. Mentees have enjoyed receiving such varied feedback.

After the initial speed-mentoring session, each mentor decided who they wanted to work with and we worked hard to match the right mentor with the right mentees. After that it was up to the two individuals to decide how they wanted to work – for instance one call a month for a year, a one-off face-to-face meeting or a weekly Skype session. We don’t dictate how it works and we don’t follow up on the process (although we do like to know it’s going well).

There have been some common themes. Everyone wants someone to talk to. Our mentees have worked in an enormous range of roles even though everyone, generally, has been one to two steps away from board level. Even women at the most senior level, who could be mentors in their own right, have welcomed the opportunity to talk to board-level mentors. The latter were objective, brought no baggage or pre-conceived ideas and genuinely wanted to listen and help, which proved invaluable.

Many lacked confidence when they should have had all the confidence in the world. Talk of imposter syndrome sounds simplistic but some of the most brilliant women we saw wondered how they had the jobs they had, never mind the skills for the next big role. They dismissed their skills and experience too easily. Some thought anyone could carry out their role as they didn’t do anything special. Mentors often had to point out a mentee’s obvious talents to get them back on track.

Many had put their own career development at the bottom of their list of priorities. They thought about the impact it would have on their teams if they left or didn’t want their own business to suffer if a replacement couldn’t be found. They rarely thought about their own needs, wants and expectations. They would be the last to put on their breathing mask in a burning aircraft as they’d be too busy helping others. They had to be convinced that if they didn’t put their own career development first, no-one else would. If they didn’t believe in themselves, how could they expect others to?

Plan B has been fascinating and fulfilling. We’ve all loved it and can’t wait for next year’s session. If you are a board member and would like to mentor or want the help of a mentee to help you achieve your career ambitions, email ann@elliottsagency.com or PlanB@odgersberndtson.com. If you want to get an idea of how it worked or its impact, I have uploaded two videos from the October speed-mentoring sessions to LinkedIn.
Ann Elliott is chief executive of Elliotts, the leading integrated marketing agency in the hospitality and leisure sector – www.elliottsagency.com

Dishing up a sustainable future by Helen McMillan

The issue of climate change and the call for action is making unprecedented headlines around the world. The hospitality sector isn’t immune to the pressure to cut its waste footprint, from energy and packaging to food and deliveries.

Sustainability isn’t simply about swapping plastic straws for paper ones, it needs to run through the DNA of the whole business. The changes don’t have to be big to have an impact, it’s the incremental changes that, when added together, have a positive effect.

Taking food waste as an example, the total amount of avoidable food wasted in the UK every year from the hospitality sector is one million tonnes (source: WRAP). In total, businesses throw away food worth about £5bn – a significant sum of money to literally throw in the dustbin.

Let’s not forget the influential Generation Z, aged up to 24, is leading the sustainability march. That’s the same Gen Z that makes up a large proportion of the hospitality industry’s front-line workforce. By giving them the right tools, you empower them to deliver the company’s sustainability targets while winning their hearts and minds. Highly engaged employees are 87% less likely to leave their companies than less engaged counterparts (source: Corporate Leadership Council).

Stock, recipe and menu management is the simplest – and arguably best – way to reduce food waste, food miles and food packaging and this is where technology comes into its own. Through a complete stock and menu management system, operators can produce creative, comprehensive and accurately costed menus as well as store, manipulate and utilise critical information including ingredients, allergens, prices, recipes and supplier details.

Using a menu management tool to control the portion size, ingredients and cost of a dish doesn’t only make sense from a commercial perspective but also makes an invaluable contribution to sustainability objectives. Menu composition analysis based on historical sales data to forecast the volumes, revenue and profitability of a planned menu becomes easy but, best of all, when this information is hooked up to your purchasing platform you can move from ordering “just in case” to “just in time”. Optimising stock-holding and automatically avoiding costly and, more importantly, wasteful over-ordering becomes a piece of cake.

Put simply, the more accurately you plan and forecast your menu performance, the more accurately you can order. Not ending up with superfluous perishable goods is a sure way to avoid waste.

A truly integrated system also saves hours, with a single point of data entry flowing through recipes, menus, stocks and EPOS to purchasing and invoice reconciliation. Change data once and it updates everywhere, giving everyone the real-time, accurate information they need to optimise their operation and minimise their waste – instantly.

This gives the power and confidence to adapt and react rapidly to market conditions and changing consumer demands. Switching an ingredient or dish on a menu to make use of seasonal or locally sourced ingredients, for example, becomes an operational reality, not an ambition. In a few clicks of a mouse it moves from the “nice to have but too difficult” pile to “no brainer” and, once again, the commercial needs of the business and sustainability expectations of customers and staff are fulfilled.

I recently saw this in action where a high-street casual dining brand’s menu offered smaller plates for smaller appetites. There wasn’t much of a cost incentive so the margins were going to be good, wastage reduced, and customer needs better met.

For hospitality it has never been easier to contribute meaningfully to sustainability targets by using readily available technology with common sense and commitment to make a difference on every level.

This kind of smart approach will not only contribute to financial targets but will also enhance ethical credentials – essential for building brand loyalty and earning confidence, respect and credibility with employees, customers and investors.
Helen McMillan is director of online commerce at Zonal

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