Industry expert: B&I

Ian Thomas, CEO of Bartlett Mitchell, tells us how B&I is bouncing back...

It is really encouraging that we have seen an up to 75% of volume return to pre-Covid levels, and this is improving gradually. However, it is important to note that both the model and working week in which the sector operates is now quite different.  

As has been widely recognised, the Tuesday to Thursday working pattern is common across most office-based organisations. That said, there are no guaranteed volumes on these days, so planning, ordering and prep can often be a challenge. Catering and facilities team relationships have proven to be vital in helping to understand true footfall patterns in our buildings.  

It is interesting to note that we are seeing an increasing proportion of free issue activity, and those who adopting this approach are definitely seeing a higher volume of their workforce present in their offices.  

Hospitality has also increased, with clients seeing real value in holding team events and celebrations within their own buildings. Many are now truly bought into the idea that teams need to get together outside of ‘work’ time to enable them to succeed. This, if there is one to be found, could be a silver lining from the pandemic. 

However, this positive demand from clients and customers has to be considered in the context of some wider significant challenges the sector is facing. Volatility in the supply chain, and unknown levels of future food inflation, are likely to be ongoing challenges for the foodservice and wider hospitality sector. We initially thought we’d be looking at 12 months, but it’s likely to be longer and could possibly begin to ease in 18 months’ time. 

It remains difficult to find staff. However, we are finding that we are attracting a good calibre of people either joining us for the first time or coming back to the sector, which is fantastic.  

There are, of course, still challenges around Covid-enforced absences, as team members tackle the latest waves to hit our cities. While availability of product hasn’t quite hit us yet (although we nearly ran out of salad in the UK this month), we do expect this to become a challenge as the year continues. 

Weather, UK port issues and industrial action in some countries is causing a backlog that is likely to take some time to pass through. Sales are buoyant, though, and the market is definitely moving, which is really positive. 

Businesses are getting on with it and making the decision to work as usual. Client retention has been incredible, for which we are grateful to our wonderful clients, and we are fortunate to see a lot more new opportunities also becoming available.  

Environmental, social and governance is climbing higher on the agenda and, as we have seen from the response to initiatives such as our low carbon menus, there is a real drive to push this conversation further. People want to know more now than they ever have about the impact our food is having on the climate, and what we can do together to achieve net zero targets.

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