Alan Todd, head of food
Number of sites and employees:
104 managed houses, 60 leased and tenanted pubs; approx. 1,600 employees
Major trends this year and implementation:
The biggie’s obviously veganism; everything to do with plant-based products, there has been a massive shift for that. Our percentage of vegan/vegetarian products has increased certainly to a higher extent than we would have done had this trend not been around. What we actually have seen is even manufacturers and producers have been producing a lot more on that basis, therefore the job is actually becoming a lot easier to find really good quality products.
Biggest selling menu item(s) this year:
Your typical top 10 which is the same for most public businesses in some shape or form – fish and chips, steak, etcetera. People still go out to the pub for an indulgent treat or to have something they don’t necessarily have themselves every night at home. So a nice hand-battered piece of fish will always sell really well; similarly, a 28-day matured British steak will always go down a treat.
We use a lot of research and we also keep an eye on the retail sector, i.e. M&S and Waitrose, because they spend an awful lot more on their trends and research than we would, so they’re always a good source to keep an eye on. We’re working six months ahead of ourselves in terms of next menu cycles; what goes onto those menus will be dependent on the consumer, the operator, the time of year, what’s sold well in the past, what’s not sold well etcetera. We run consumer groups, we have operational expert panels, so we’ll talk to chefs and pub managers; we’ve got area support chefs that we use that are out and about in the businesses. We are continually talking to everyone that is involved because ultimately they’re all customers and the customer is key. We have certainly increased the number of vegan products and there’s a lot more thought around what products we can put a twist on to make them vegan – for example, a noodle bowl which is vegan but add spiced chicken or some fish crumbled over the top for the meat-eaters. So we’re looking a lot at how we can implement more plant-based products that can be modified. Regarding pricing, we look at what customers are prepared to pay, but also what our competition are up to. Value is obviously a big drive – even in the premium end of the market, they’re still looking for value for money during the week – so it’s how do you actually balance that and still ensure that you’re keeping in-line with consumer expectation of what they’re prepared to pay.
We have a fairly robust allergen reporting system; I’ve got a central database that any new ingredient gets logged in to – we take information from a system called Erudus which is an industry renowned allergen database. Any manufacturers that want to trade with me and want me to buy their products have to input that information, so their responsibility is to provide me that information for the ingredient through Erudus. Erudus is then built into our recipe-building system which helps build menus, and therefore every menu has a comprehensive allergen guide for every single ingredient and dish. We then transpose that information onto our till system, so our team members when asked can identify every ingredient in every product and recipe that’s on our menus. We also use an iAuditor system – this is an internal audit process that we use to do our own food safety auditing. All our operations managers, food skills and food safety teams audit our houses on a periodic basis, and that’s all built into a cloud-based iAuditor system. We’re trialling a paperless due diligence system so, where lots of pubs have to fill out lots of temperature records on a daily basis, we’re looking to do that as an online system, again cloud-based so they can log straight onto a smartphone or a tablet. I’m trying to take paper out of our business wherever we can so things like where chefs would have a spec manual for all the dishes and recipes etcetera, we can put them onto tablets that we could have in kitchens.
Takeaways and deliveries:
Sporadic – some sites do it, but it’s not something that we would drive. I want to get more people through the door, keep them in the pub longer and make them spend more money – that’s the three golden rules of running a business. I’m about selling food but actually that food is about getting that incremental spend as well – the extra pint or another glass of wine – so I want them to have a dwell time experience.
Next year’s trends:
Veganism’s not going to go away! It’s more of a lifestyle choice now for a lot of people, so we’re seeing a lot of flexitarians; they’ll be vegan during the week but still go out for a nice big, juicy steak on Saturday. There are lots of other bits and pieces; there’s certainly a shift towards more pan-Asian products. As Asian taste trends become Europeanised, we’re becoming a lot more adventurous with world foods.
Hear from all of the industry leaders we spoke to for 2019 Menu Development Initiatives in the December issue of Pub & Bar.