Manufacturers were warned that, despite being an attractive offshoot for retailers whose margins are being squeezed, the nature of the foodservice supply chain meant it could not be treated as an extension of retail.
Chris Hales, sales director, chain accounts at Unilever Foodsolutions, said: “It’s true that the border between foodservice and retail is blurring at the consumer end, but from the supplier’s perspective they are still very different animals.”
Products branded identically in retail and foodservice could often differ in formulation, he said. Foodservice suppliers had to deliver to hundreds of depots and C&Cs around the country, compared with retail’s handful of kingsize distribution centres.
Ian Crabtree, head of consultancy The Foodservice Partnership, warned of a dearth of research. “There is a serious lack of insight. People try to shoehorn retail research into foodservice, but it doesn’t work.”
There was also a problem with personnel. Foodservice account managers were either young graduates or older workers, who failed to drive businesses adequately, Crabtree claimed.
Although delegates agreed that foodservice would soon represent 50% of consumers’ food spend, they believed it was about 10 years behind retail in terms of the business model.