An annual roundup at the Arena Christmas Event

It’s that time of year again…our inboxes fill with trend predictions for the twelve months ahead as quickly as our glasses fill with fizz, and we get set for the frantic festive period and all that lies beyond that.

So where better to look back on 2018 than the annual Arena Christmas gathering, which took place at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel on the 3rd December. It struck me with little irony that we were the first event held at the iconic hotel since the devastating fire this summer – and made me reflect on the resilience and determination of the industry that I’m so proud to be a part of. But hold that thought…

Joined by friends, colleagues and peers, the crème de la crème of the foodservice sector came together to reflect on what has been a truly fascinating year for those of us working within hospitality.

The Hub were lucky enough to have a front row seat, in every sense of the word, as our client Nisbets, the UK’s leading provider of catering equipment, were invited to take part in an engaging panel discussion to kick start the session.

Presented by industry expert Peter Backman, Nisbets’ CEO Klaus Goldenbot along with with Rob Liddiard, co-founder of Yapster, explored both the rollercoaster of events that shaped the eating out industry in 2018, whilst delivering opinion and insight into what we can expect from the months ahead, and indeed how we tackle incoming head-winds that arise from the uncertainty the country is facing as it prepares to leave the EU.

Sticking with a theme here, there’s scarce else that gets us talking like the weather…and boy, did we get a chance to do that this year. From the Beast from the East that battered our shores in March, causing many of us to batten down the hatches, stockpile (my local convenience store credited me for keeping them in business during the snow – mostly due to sales of Sauvignon) and predictably, stay indoors, to the truly remarkable, and unrelenting heat wave in the months that followed – it’s fair to say the elements had a huge part to play in the overall narrative for operators and suppliers alike.

Who can forget, as the sun shone, and the nation was gripped by World Cup fever we faced what could have been a devastating blow in the form of the CO2 crisis. A vital part of food and drink production, three of the UK’s largest CO2 plants closed for maintenance this summer. Great timing eh…come on England indeed. Resilient as always, the industry didn’t suffer from an own goal - pubs experienced an increase in beer sales of 0.9% – the first time the sector has seen growth in Q3 trade in more than 15 years. Cheers to that.

As the nights drew in, we saw ‘single-use’ named word of the year by Collins dictionary in November – with plastic consumption a significant factor in climate change, it was a hard headline to ignore. Back in BBQ season, Brakes became the first major foodservice wholesaler to announce a plan to address the use of non-recyclable hard black plastics. Its ‘2 Zero 20’ campaign aims to eliminate the use of such plastics from all its own brand products by the end of 2020. Retailers, operators and brands followed suit.

Indeed plastic is becoming about as fashionable as smoking…the issue of the day in 2008. A major step-change for the industry, consumer interest in sustainability is here to stay, and quite rightly so.

When it comes to future forecasting…for many operating in the sector, there are dark clouds ahead. Inflated cost of ingredients, rising business rates, supply chain considerations and an industry wide skills shortage; just some of the topics of conversation that might have us all running for the tropics.

However, there’s something very special about our industry, which was perfectly demonstrated as we all clinked our glasses at the Arena Christmas event and bid farewell to 2018, and that is our mutual dedication and desire to deliver exceptional eating and drinking experiences out of home. So with the ever-cheery face of a weather reporter, I’m signing off with this (truly instagrammable) Oscar Wilde quote – when it rains, look for rainbows, and when it is dark, look for the stars, because our industry is full of them, and whatever conditions lay ahead, we’ll weather the storm together.

Charlotte Huggett

Account Director – The Hub

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