Mimmo Lubrano, the chief of Sandhurst Foods, comments on the changing trends in foodservice over 22 years in business.
Coffee has become the new “must have fix” of the current overworked professionals. Along with improvement in coffee expectations comes an improvement in food, leaning toward healthy, low fat, low carb, low GI options that the large chains cannot provide. Home meals have always been looked at as the “reaction” to what is seen in restaurants. Masterchef has taught us that the “elite” meals that we once could ONLY get in fine dining restaurants can be “approximated” at home. Not to say that the home cook can replace a trained Cordon Bleu Chef; however, people believe that they can experience some aspect of “fine dining” by doing some of the prep themselves and by sourcing some part-made ingredients already (e.g. stock bases, prepared chicken, gourmet ingredients etc.)
Cafés that are ahead of the game will always serve a good signature dish – even a good quality Chicken Parma can be a point of difference if done tastefully. Trends that are present in other categories will eventually work their way into café menus. Look out for Mexican inspired café foods and some quick easy solutions for cafés involving pizza, Arancini and thaw-and-serve Italian desserts
Time-poor café owners know the value of consistency and portion control. Julienne cut products such as grilled eggplant, char grilled capsicum and semi dried tomatoes provide efficiency and perfect portion control. Products such as pesto and olive paste give a huge flavour hit with a small application – providing real flavour with consistency and control. These days, labour is a prohibitive cost, so the concept of outsourcing most of the prep-costs is a good idea, as the actual cost of the meal or dish can be known prior to serving.
Wastage is reduced and the advantage of most portion controlled products is that you can use exactly what you need and store the rest for later use. It also has implications for franchising opportunities, as the portion-controlled products can be used in multiple locations, with visibility on how much raw material was used vs the output of the operation. The proliferation of salads involving simple basic ingredients such as chick peas, semi dried tomatoes, char grilled capsicum etc. provides the operator with a high profit, low labour dish that gives consumers exactly what they want – high protein, low fat, low carb good tasting foods for a busy lunch crowd!
The fact that the average café draws from cuisines that are so varied means that the variety is the differentiating factor causing long term customer loyalty. Where a chain only caters for one style (Mexican, pizza, salad), the independent can cover all these and even cater for local tastes – e.g. where there is a high percentage of female consumers, they can range “up” on chicken, avocado, pesto. Where the male population is higher and more value driven – they can focus on more meat based dishes and more convenience style foods. For the first time we are seeing classics that are “dressed up” – Pieface has given us a reinvented meat pie, Crust has redefined pizza, and Mad Mex has challenged what we thought was Mexican food or “tex-mex”
low-fat, low carb, low GI, gluten free, high protein, low salt – these are all driving factors that most café owners must be aware of. More prevalent in female consumers, but nonetheless we are also looking at sodium reduction, as well as less use of sugars. The trend will continue, although we always speak of people as “talking thin but eating fat!” So you cannot ignore taste, nor should you stray away from the ubiquitous fried chips – these are essential items that have good returns for café operators and can provide some good solutions if done in a more healthy way – baked, wedges, portion controlled etc
So where is the industry heading? QSR concepts will always grow – we will see a lot of chains doing lots of different specialised product, but don’t expect them to grow to over 1,000 outlets, as we saw with Subway. There will be some watershed in this area as well. Good cafés are good businesses who listen to their customers and provide a solution for the clients that want a more “personal” touch. We see literally dozens of great CBD-style cafés that are run professionally, where the owners know good food and good coffee.