Ten Things We Learned At The CGA Peach 2020 Conference

CGA Peach’s sell-out 2020 Conference drew nearly 400 business leaders to the Brewery on Chiswell Street on Wednesday (23 November). Here are ten of our top takeaways:

1 Confidence is cautious

It’s tough out there, but top-class operators can still thrive. That was the message from CGA Peach’s Peter Martin in a Conference scene-setter, as he unveiled new research suggesting that 50% of business leaders are optimistic about prospects for the next six months—but only 36% for the next 12 months. That reflects uncertainty surrounding Brexit, plus rising costs from things like the National Living Wage and business rates. “There’s uncertainty going forward… [but] if you’ve got a well differentiated concept then you’ll keep people coming back to you,” said Martin.

2 Hospitality regenerates cities

A well-received Conference session from Urban Splash co-founder and chairman Tom Bloxham showed how smart redevelopment can breathe new life into neglected places, especially in northern England. It’s triggered by creating a sense of place and community and updating people’s perceptions, he argued—and restaurants, pubs and bars are at the heart of it. “I see eating and drinking out as being a vital part of the regeneration of our towns and cities,” Bloxham said.

3 Technology is transforming food

A panel session on food technology revealed some of the many recent innovations in eating and drinking out. Victoria Albrecht reflected on the recent Food Tech Week, showcasing some of the start-ups and innovators that are pushing the boundaries, and pointed to insect-based proteins as an example of efforts to reduce environmental impacts in particular. Jason Hirst of Evogro discussed how hydroponics is changing plant and salad production, and Marc Zornes suggested that technology can help operators to radically reduce waste in the supply chain. “It’s about looking at more sustainable sources of food… and doing the right thing as a business,” said Albrecht.

4 Drinks differentiate brands

At a time of so much competition in casual dining, the drinks offer can make the difference between a decent restaurant proposition and a great one, CGA Strategy’s Phil Tate told the Conference. Operators need to work with suppliers to decide what consumers really want, and respond to important trends like premiumisation and cocktails. Above all they need to give people a drinking experience that they can’t get anywhere else. “We have a more educated, fickle and discerning customer who has never been so demanding,” Tate said. “This is a marketplace where experience is king, because loyalty is obsolete.”

5 It’s all about people and product

In a head-to-head interview with Peter Martin, the hugely experienced Allan Leighton, now chair of Wagamama, emphasised the need for simplicity in business—and the importance of the two Ps. “Business is a very simple thing—your job is to stop it becoming over-complicated. There are only two things that count: people and your product. If you keep it simple around those two things, you don’t need to worry about much else.”

6 Growing brands need to protect their culture

Leighton said Wagamama could become a truly iconic brand over the next decade, but warned that operators who expand too quickly risk losing sight of the things that made them special in the first place. “Roll-out is the death of innovation… you need to have a one-restaurant-at-a-time mentality. If you think of it like that you can keep your culture embedded as you grow.”

7 Government is listening

After years of neglect, government is finally opening up to the eating and drinking out industry, said Kate Nicholls of the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers. Ministers and civil servants are starting to recognise the contribution of the hospitality sector—and the fact that it has generated more than half the jobs created since the financial crash. “The government is listening and talking our language… they’ve recognised the need to think about the food supply chain holistically,” Nicholls said.

8 Delivery is here to stay

In a panel session to wrap up the Conference, leaders acknowledged that deliveries are shaking things up for eating out operators. Pret a Manger is trialling it—“It’s an area we need to explore,” said Caroline Cromar—and the Azzurri group is investigating it too, said Steve Holmes. But delivery won’t take over from eating out, he suggested. “These [delivery] guys have shown there’s a demand for it… but there’s a social element to eating in restaurants that people aren’t ready to give up.”

9 Investors want differentiation and scale-up

Another guest panellist, Hill Capital’s Paul Campbell, said investors were looking for new concepts that are strong enough to stick out from the crowd—and the ability to grow, too. “It starts with the concept and the segment—and also the management,” he said. “There aren’t that many management teams equipped from day to one to cope with what’s ahead of them, and I always ask if the business has the ability to scale up.”

10 Consumers are demanding and sceptical

All three panellists confirmed a big theme of the Conference: that customers expect more from their restaurant and pub brands than ever before. “Today’s consumer is very different to when we started… adapting and innovating to stay relevant to them is hugely important,” said Holmes. Mel Marriott of Darwin & Wallace said the individual design of her group’s venues was part of the crucial efforts to stand out. And Cromar emphasised the importance of honesty in brand communication. “You have to be more transparent than ever… People want brands that tell the truth.”

A full round-up of CGA Peach’s 2020 Conference will appear in a special supplement soon. The Conference was supported by platinum partners Bookatable, Coca-Cola European Partners, Coffer Corporate Leisure, CPL Online, Crown Cellars, Diageo, Fourth, HGEM, NatWest and Zonal; and by event partners Asahi, Casual Dining Show, Fishbowl, Reynolds, RSM, Sky, Steelite, Travers Smith, Action Against Hunger and Springboard.