Peach Report

No time to stand still

26 August, 2011

Comment by Peter Martin

The month’s events on the streets of Britain and on stock markets around the globe only go to emphasise the real difficulties we all have trying to forecast future events with any degree of certainty, writes Peter Martin

Expecting things to stay the same and continue happily ever after is looking a fool’s choice. Not that we shouldn’t plan, or be optimistic, but the need to be nimble, flexible and ready to adapt to changing circumstances in whatever we do is all the more valuable.

Our corner of the business world has proved largely resilient in what have been turbulent and testing times over recent years. The UK eating and drinking-out market may not be seeing much growth, but at least there’s some – and more importantly when the economic crash came we weren’t among those falling off the cliff.

Perhaps it has everything to do with the entrepreneurial spirit that pervades much of the market, and because it is, as market sage Ian Neill pointed out the other day, one of the last unconsolidated retail markets.

It is competitive and there are no really dominant players, not even McDonald’s. It may be no coincidence that the one area that has come most unstuck, namely the leased pub market, is the one where a handful of companies have tried to impose themselves?

The out-of-home market has been remarkably creative and innovative in recent times – and that is probably at the root of its ability to survive and stay relevant to its customers. Staying close to customers has quite rightly become something of a market obsession.

We’ve witnessed the growth in casual dining, a resurgence in the pub market and now we are seeing casual dining chains coming back again with a new raft of innovative ideas to tempt out the public.

In the last issue of Peach Report we highlighted the re-energising of Pizza Hut; this issue we spotlight the new-looks for both Café Rouge and La Tasca – as well as the niche that a small, dynamic company like Loungers is creating for itself out of London bar market. We’re also seeing the global ambition of a brand like Jamie’s Italian to give a British-born brand a worldwide presence.

Companies of all sizes are trying new things – even the biggest like M&B, which as well as putting a clutch of its brands on TV, test-marketing takeaways, putting suburban concepts into retail environments and even a dual-site with a Harvester and a Toby operating in the same building.

In what we are loosely dubbing our “Innovation Issue,” we’ve also gone back to the foundations of the business to discover how operators from all parts of the market find their inspiration.

Diversity and a willingness to try new things are fundamentals – and to look beyond just the hospitality market too. Although retail may be having a tougher time, the way that a company like Majestic Wines is bringing people into its stores to learn about wine must have implications for this market as well.

Many of the first wave of business failures in the recession were down to long-term business problems, the next were often characterised by a failure by enterprises to step up to a quickening pace of change.

Adapting to the quickly changing environment and customer demand is the biggest challenge of all.  As restaurant guru Jim Sullivan, who is back in London in September for his annual UK workshop, is prone to say paraphrasing Darwin: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, not the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”