By Jerome Saulet, Noble Foods commercial director, consumer foods division
The past 12 months in foodservice has really challenged both manufacturers and service providers – whether that be wholesale distribution or end user independents and groups.
It is down to the strength of Noble Foods’ portfolio, deep consumer insight, customer partnerships and an agile manufacturing base that has meant it has quickly adapted to extraordinary demand challenges.
Noble Foods has a diversified portfolio – from liquid egg to added value egg products – that has allowed it to meet the needs of both retail and foodservice, which pre COVID-19 saw volumes split 50/50 across the two channels.
When the first lockdown hit back in March 2020, we experienced a 70% drop connected to the foodservice market that closed almost immediately. The team worked extremely hard to partially offset this, by growing share within the retail sector. More recently, through the varying return of foodservice providers, we have rebuilt sales to 65% of pre COVID-19 normality. This has allowed the manufacturing units to remain utilised, importantly protecting the jobs of our valued colleagues.
While Noble Foods has successfully grown the supply of liquid egg products to the retail sector, foodservice is still in recovery mode and is currently only trading at 25% of 2019 levels. One of the key reasons for this, is that social distancing measures are still in place, not allowing our end user clients to operate full menus or eat in facilities within their sites. This has particularly impacted QSR, where drive throughs and take-away services are still in place and eat in restaurants are not expected to open until mid-June.
Noble Foods is fortunate to partner with some major UK out of home operators, and our flexible collaborative approach means we have strong plans around the expected return to eating out of home.
Many believe that starts now, with the good weather of recent weeks allowing the pubs to open outside with food and wet led products. This has led to a gradual increase in sales, along with an additional upturn over the past week or so with the return of education and more people visiting the office and picking up food when on the move again.
The key date for hospitality is Monday, 17th May – when pubs, restaurants and hotels can return to a socially distanced service. This will give the industry a critical boost, which has been substantiated by the large bookings noted on Open Table and major restaurant operators. We also expect to see a substantial increase in sales during the holiday season, as the “stay-cation” effect really kicks in, again evidenced by the significant upturn in bookings noted by the “lettings” industry and online hotel providers.
Overall , Noble Foods expects demand to return to 2019 levels by the end of the summer, as long as we continue to follow the government roadmap. The future does look to be much brighter, and we are ready to listen to our customers and consumers to meet what undoubtedly will be a new set of needs as we progress to our new found freedoms.