Nicola Arrow, head of food
Number of sites and employees:
Circa 650+ pubs
Major trends this year and implementation:
Consumers are becoming more mindful of their health, their families’ wellbeing and the effect we have on the planet. The health of our customers is a key priority to us – few go out with the intention to be unhealthy – so if we can reduce the calorie, sugar and salt content across our most popular dishes, we can help facilitate our customers to leading healthier lifestyles, yet still offer tasty treats when they wish to indulge. We align our consumer health strategies with Public Health England reformulation programmes which set to tackle rising childhood obesity and reduce the calorific value of products sold to consumers.
35% of the population are cutting down on meat consumption and adopting a casual vegetarian diet – ‘Meat-Free Monday’ has become an ever-popular phrase and Veganuary has become more popular year on year, fuelling demand. Plant-based dishes are becoming more popular on our menus, so to understand further, we ran a survey with over 750 pub-goers about their thoughts and preferences on vegetarian and vegan food. We found that the majority of our customers do still eat meat, with beef burgers and steaks being very much expected on pub menus, yet one in three are cutting back the amount they eat, mainly for health and weight loss reasons. Consumers are more aware of food authenticity and its journey from field to fork.
In September, we launched our NOMEAT campaign across 400+ pubs, a dedicated plant-based menu aimed at those wishing to reduce their meat intake and we led with the hashtag ‘not just for vegans’. Burgers is the fastest growing category across the majority of our menus, so it felt right that a plant-based burger was our hero dish. We liked the story behind a company called Moving Mountains, a UK-based company led by one man on a mission to create a burger that emulated meat but didn’t harm animals, named the B12 burger. Other dishes on the menu included tikka masala, cauliflower wing tacos and jam donut pudding – familiar favourites developed to be meat-free.
Biggest selling menu item(s) this year:
Pub classics always feature in our top selling lines, fish/scampi and chips, steaks, pies and puddings. To bring innovation and weave trending flavours into classic favourites, we aim to innovate and push boundaries but not alienate our customers – if a name is hard to pronounce, a customer is unlikely to embarrass themselves by trying to order it. Our carvery meat wrap, fresh rotisserie chicken tacos, homemade stone-baked tikka-tastic pizza and our ‘create your own salads’ have all been popular across menus this year. Customers visit our pubs with the expectation that we provide good quality pub food wrapped up with a great experience.
It’s key to stay true to your core values and longer-term vision and not try to broaden your offer so wide you dilute what you are known for. Bringing back ‘pubbiness’ is a focus for us – creating food that compliments the social occasion and enhances the customer experience. Our menu development team have launched ‘create a dish’ competition across many of our formats, where chefs and pub teams are invited to design a dish that would fit their menu. The shortlisted teams present their recipes and the winning dish makes it on to the menu. We have found that this is a great way to engage with our teams, create dishes our customers want and encourage pride in the food they produce. We hold our menu allergy information on our websites and also have copies to hand in pub, and every menu has a link to where the customer can find allergy information. It is a really great tool that is easy to use, enabling the customer to select their intolerance or dietary preference and suitable dishes are then listed. We always ask customers to notify staff when ordering food if they have an intolerance, so our chef teams can ensure they take the necessary steps to minimise any risk of cross-contamination in the kitchen.
While the sector is under pressure from declining volumes, rising costs and consumer confidence, increasing retails may seem the only option to claw back lost sales. When customers are dining out less, operators may feel the pressure to discount back to encourage frequency of visit; the discount strategy can then be a hard place to move away from. Driving cost savings through menu and operational efficiencies and replacing value discounting for value for experience is a more sustainable long-term strategy. With regard to Brexit, many of our suppliers are reviewing where they buy ingredients and their packaging from; at this time, it’s about future-proofing and minimising risk. Our suppliers are also finding people recruitment hard, with fewer Europeans seeking jobs in the UK.
We operate online table bookings in a number of formats which is really convenient for the customer. Many pubs have digital ordering devices for quick and easy ordering at the table, reducing customer wait times.
Takeaways and deliveries:
We offer customers the option in some formats to take meals and desserts home – the locations of some of our pubs don’t easily lend themselves to home delivery, but the delivery market is ever expanding so is something that should be considered.
Mealtimes are becoming blurred as non-stop hectic lifestyles dictate when we stop to eat or grab on the go. Extending the day through breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner into late night dining, every timeslot is up for grabs. Sunday lunch will see a resurgence – the week is busy and time is limited so Sunday is the day to celebrate good food and relax with loved ones. In a time of uncertainty, the great British roast gives us certainty and brings a sense of nostalgia and comfort – where better to go than your local pub?
Next year’s trends:
Our principal consumer trends are health, provenance, experience, premiumisation and convenience. These will continue to drive our agenda for the next 12 months. Health and consumer wellbeing will still be the over-arching trend continuing into 2019, with global cuisine playing into this. Taiwanese, North African and contemporary Indian are all emerging flavour profiles set to infiltrate NPD over the course of 2019-20.
Hear from all of the industry leaders we spoke to for 2019 Menu Development Initiatives in the December issue of Pub & Bar.