There’s always plenty of buzz in the industry about how vibrant the London market is – busy pubs right through the week, long queues for restaurants and a seemingly endless choice of new flavours and food styles.
So, in the interests of balance, it’s always great to see activity thriving outside the capital, and that was certainly the case at the recent Northern Restaurant and Bar Show in Manchester. Despite being kept very busy on our own stand with enquiries from many operators looking for help with managing their purchasing costs, we made sure we took the time to have a good look around. Among the interesting trends we saw were:
· Gourmet Black Puddings – that may seem like a northern stereotype to kick off with, but there were several exhibitors offering black pudding in a range of flavours and recipes. We know that breakfast is a huge opportunity for operators to build sales, and whether you run a bed-and-breakfast or a five star hotel, adding a classic British delicacy, particularly if you can find a local supplier, will make the menu stand out.
· Take home packaging – the challenge of tackling food waste is only going to rise further up the political agenda, and operators need to address it before politicians do it for them, in the form of stricter legislation. Take-home boxes designed to help cafes and restaurants encourage diners to take their leftovers home to enjoy later if they can’t finish them are a great idea. It’s also an upselling opportunity – if the customer can’t quite manage that slice of cheesecake after their meal, offer them the chance to take it home.
· Snacks innovation – with consumers interested in healthier options and looking for food with provenance, the snack market is adapting. Along with crisps and nuts, popcorn is definitely stepping up as a mainstream snack, thanks to the perception that it’s a lighter option. Among the flavours available to sample at the show were Fennel and Lemon, Wasabi, and Lime and Sea Salt. How well they pair with a pint is something we’ll have to report back on.
· New branding opportunities – changing consumer tastes have encouraged lateral thinking by the merchandising specialists. With sales of barbecue dishes booming, we were impressed to see a new range of branded disposable bibs on offer. These can be personalised with a restaurant slogan or menu, and are a great way to ensure that the sticky sauce on all those ribs, burgers and wings doesn’t leave the premises with the customer.
· Hot drinks – the once-humble cuppa is now the star of the show for many operators as hot drinks sales grow and all-day trading creates new customer demand. Among the more interesting new varieties of tea on offer was a lightlotus and rose tea, described as ideal for the afternoon tea market. On the coffee from, one supplier was featuring an Ethiopian Guji single origin coffee said to have aromas of warm marzipan and bright orange, flavour notes of red grape and zesty orange, and a marmalade bitter finish. Milk and two sugars for us, please.
· Premium meat – we know from our experience of purchasing that however efficient your buying, meat is one of the biggest costs faced by hospitality and catering operators face. Most consumers are willing to pay a premium price if they know they are getting a premium product, and there were some interesting suppliers at the show. Among those that caught our eye were a third generation family farm that supplies beef from its own traditionally-reared cattle, and a British charcuterie specialist proving that from salami to proscuttio, anything the Italians can do, we can do just as well.
· Craft beer – consumers’ thirst for interesting and unusual beers shows no sign of abating. There were some great new brewers from across the north west showcasing their stouts, saisons and sours, but it’s always good to see the old guard innovating. Veteran family brewery JW Lees launched a keg version of its Manchester Pale Ale cask beer at the show, as well as spotlighting an imported Czech lager, Bohemia Regent. As more restaurant operators start to recognise the potential of investing in their beer lists as they do to their wine, the opportunities for brewers old and new abound. .
London might get all the publicity – but the Northern Powerhouse is definitely pulling its weight as the hospitality sector booms.