Regional Export Director – Europe, Middle East, Africa & AsiaEmail me
Let me take you back to the deep, dark distant past of… January! It was just four months ago but feels like another lifetime.
Kobe had just left us while Australia was still dealing with unprecedented wildfires, so 2020 didn’t feel very “normal” even before WHO declared COVID-19 to be a global emergency.
But there was no way we could predict just how far things would change in the coming weeks and months, and we still can’t. These are indeed “unprecedented times”, as everyone keeps saying, and every day comes with new predictions of what the “new normal” will contain.
So I thought I’d throw my hat in the ring!
But before you roll your eyes, I’d like to state my case because my thoughts on “the new normal” aren’t based on the unexpected. In fact, I’d like to talk about something some of us in the foodservice equipment industry have been expecting – and planning for – for some time.
And that is the end of the throw-away culture in foodservice equipment – the end of key equipment being considered a highly disposable commodity.
As I’ll explain, this has a potentially huge impact on foodservice businesses that may not be immediately obvious right now.
Before COVID-19, most foodservice businesses selected equipment almost entirely based on price.
The few large players in various industries like accommodation and supermarkets make their decisions based on long-standing supplier agreements or tenders built around a manufacturer’s ability to deliver quality or customisation.
But the vast majority of smaller restaurants, cafes, and bars in the challenging, slim-margin hospitality sectors bought on price.
With cash in short supply, the owner would enter into a somewhat vicious cycle with cheap machinery that would fail often but would be just as cheap (if not cheaper) to replace than repair.
This obviously had some downstream costs to the business in terms of service delivery interruption, but as this wasn’t being measured it wasn’t noticed either. After all, in a small, hot, cramped, chaotic commercial kitchen, who has the time to conduct a time/cost analysis on machine repair?
However, this dynamic always increased the risks of having a food safety incident.
And it’s not as if all fridges fail loudly and suddenly due to mechanical failure, either. Sometimes, temperature consistency quietly wobbles and fails over time, further increasing risk if the asset isn’t regularly checked and maintained.
This is important because no matter how you cut it, food safety, health, and personal well-being are going to be the top concern for foodservice customers of every persuasion for a very long time to come.
No matter where they go, restaurant diners are going to be walking into establishments with strategically placed hand sanitizers on every corner and staff disinfecting tabletops after each sitting.
It is a whole new world for restaurant owners, and one that could be upended overnight by just one case of food poisoning.
Before COVID-19, a public food safety incident could do long-term reputational damage to a foodservice business. Now? Even a minor incident could utterly destroy the market’s confidence in dining with you.
"It is a whole new world for restaurant owners, and one that could be upended overnight by just one case of food poisoning."
As much as restaurant customers will now be second-guessing their dining decisions, and will need to feel confident in their actions, so will restaurant owners.
When achieving and projecting a reputation for excellent food safety becomes a critical baseline action, you must make sure the pillars propping it up are as solid as possible.
Which will put that cheap, disposable food storage fridge in an entirely different light.
At the same time, the foodservice markets are being massively disrupted. What was once a scene attracting a high number of newcomers and a high turnover of businesses, could now consolidate around a smaller number of experienced, resilient players. Meanwhile, the new perception of risk associated with starting a foodservice business could raise the barriers of entry for new players.
That kind of market experiences less turnover and more longevity, which will further encourage investing in long-term, quality machinery as “new normal” behaviour.
But as I said at the beginning, this isn’t an unexpected turn of events - just one we didn’t expect to see so soon.
And that’s because of climate change. As consumers become more conscious of the dangers, they will influence the businesses they frequent to follow suit – ultimately changing business behaviour to become more sustainable and less intensive on resources.
That was always going to be the case. It’s just that COVID-19 has accelerated that pace of change in ways no one expected.