We always look forward to Arena’s Christmas Event. Each year it’s a chance to kick off the festive season, as well as meet up with friends from across the whole foodservice industry. This year’s event at the spectacular Landmark London was no exception.

Peter Backman's annual industry overview had – by necessity – a few bleaker points, but overall painted a picture of reasonable hope heading into 2018. Consumers do have less cash, they do have higher expectations and they do expect more for the money they are spending…but, as ever, price it well and make it taste good and they WILL buy. Roger Whitehouse’s explanation of the success of the Greggs £2 meal deal was proof of that…more of him later.

Other highlights included burgers on the wane, pizza on the up, but above all, huge noise around delivery. Not the biggest sector of the market by any means, but hugely dynamic, newsworthy and seemingly growing well. Is it sustainable outside major metropolitan areas long-term? The panel seemed unsure, so the focus remains on the capital…for now. Guest speaker Joe Moore of London’s Crust Bros. Pizza also highlighted the continuing challenge regarding staff – even generating an audible intake of breath with the statement ‘English people don’t want to take up the slack and work in hospitality.’ A bold statement but one pretty much universally acknowledged, and certainly an area of concern across the industry.

A super lunch and great chat was pleasantly halted as we were called to order for the main event. Roger Whiteside’s CV speaks for itself, but it was the most recent years at Greggs that the room wanted to hear about. Now, you could argue that Greggs isn’t strictly foodservice, more food retail, but that would be churlish – and it is Christmas. And, after all, he was fascinating.

The £2 meal deal aims to bring quality and value to every day part – and seems to be doing so successfully, although the obvious white space is evenings. An area they are looking at in a big way. The overall estate is quickly expected to both meet and exceed its 2000 store expansion target as the business prepares itself for the challenges of the coming years. Coming full circle to Peter Backman’s earlier point about quality, Roger explained that getting great products into the hands of consumers was essential – as was getting them a great drink to go with it…he definitely amused the room with his observation that “Coffee was latin for margin.”

More insight, a few questions from the floor and that was it. Another year gone, another event concluded. Time to collect the business cards, queue for the cloakroom and head to the pub across the road! A great way to start the week…!

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