Food on the Go Conference

Joining the crowds at the inaugural Food on The Go conference at the Soho Hotel's screening rooms, I was struck by two things. The first was a powerful sense of deja vu as the room was the exact venue for a – riveting, I might add... - presentation I gave on light bulbs about 15 years ago. The second was that there really were crowds there, in fact, there was hardly a spare seat in the house...a really tangible sign of the interest in the food-to-go market and the rude health in which it currently finds itself.

However, a theme returned to many times over by the days' speakers was that no matter the speed and volume of current success, the challenges and constraints are many and it is absolutely a case of sprinting to stand still.

There was all the usual, and legitimate, noise about consumers, quality, choice and ingredients BUT the biggest words in the imaginary word cloud of the day would have been 'rent', 'property' and 'landlords', including a quote from one bold brand director of a leading fast casual chain who stated "...the landlords are the lucky ones..."

The talk was of excitable new market entrants, paying huge premiums on prime locations, thus making it difficult for other participants to acquire the right sites at the right price, and naturally those rents don't tend to come back down again, certainly not in central London!

And therein lies the rub. The effect of the London bubble was very noticeable in this issue. The small, yet extremely influential chains, delivering the amazing dynamism and vitality to the channel were those most keenly feeling the rental pinch. The flipside of the coin was the story of a major chain with a substantial number of outlets outside the capital. There, the story was different, rents were absolutely sustainable, in fact, some were reducing, and this simply wasn't causing the business issues. This has meant that they are able to focus on getting the offer right for the consumer, whilst those in London had to juggle these issues along with increasing rental concerns.

As so often, the inevitable conclusion is that different businesses face different challenges. Focus on your own consumers, and what matters to them, as well as making sure you can do it sustainably whilst being commercially viable ensures that you can continue to do a good job. And continue to be lucky to work in this vibrant and dynamic industry. Well, that and the fact that they aren't making any more land, so the landlords potentially are the luckiest ones...

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