Pub Food Trends - how's the food?

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Food spend went up in pubs in December - but not as much as in previous years. That's one of the key statistics to emerge from the latest quarterly...

Food spend went up in pubs in December - but not as much as in previous years.

That's one of the key statistics to emerge from the latest quarterly QuickBite survey from pub food research specialist Horizons.

Based on a regular survey of more than 1,000 consumers, the quarterly survey offers a fascinating barometer of the foodservice trends, and where people are choosing to eat out.

Unsurprisingly, the foodservice sector as a whole saw consumers tighten their belts this Christmas.

Over the festive period, on average, pub consumers spend 63p more per meal than they do during September. In 2007 the pub market saw an uplift in meal spending during December of nearly 14 per cent. By the following year consumers were spending only 6.5 per cent more on pub meals during December than they did earlier in the year.

Last December that figure was just 0.9 per cent, as pub diners spent an average of £12.23 on a pub meal (including alcohol) - a figure that has been falling slowly since 2007, when the average diner would spend over £13.35. It's worth noting, however, that this still compares favourably with general average spend per head on eating out at £11.69 per meal.

Paul Backman, director of Horizons, says it's clear that all foodservice sectors suffered in the period, not just pubs. "Economic uncertainty, especially unemployment rises and continuing corporate failures, meant December's uplift was less than trends from previous years would have predicted," he says. "As families spent precious extra pounds on presents or travelling to visit relatives, foodservice spend, especially in pubs, seemed less essential than in earlier years."

Backman also suggests that widespread snow in the days before Christmas also had a clear negative effect on out-of-home eating spend.

Better quality for less money

More worrying is the fact that when asked where they last ate out, only 16 per cent of people said they had eaten out in a pub, compared with 39 per cent of consumers who said they'd eaten at a fast-food outlet, and 32 per cent who had dined at a restaurant.

Horizons says pubs' share of the eating-out sector has been falling since 2007, when the industry captured 21 per cent of the market and served 1.2 billion meals a year.

Pubs now serve one billion meals a year or 19 million a week, while the restaurant and fast-food sector serves a combined 2.7 billion meals a year, or 52 million a week.

Backman believes tenanted and leased pubs have been particularly slow to react to the downturn, and have struggled to compete with managed pubs, restaurants, fast-food outlets and takeaways in a market which at the best of times is oversupplied, and right now is hugely competitive. "Independent operators in all sectors have been finding conditions extremely tough - and tenanted and leased pubs especially so," he says. "It is not enough just to lower prices and adjust quality accordingly, which is what lots of these pubs have been doing. Customers want better quality for less money - and that's what the likes of Gourmet Burger Kitchen, McDonald's and Wetherspoons have been offering."

Backman also believes the 2007 smoking ban is still having a residual effect on pub food spend. He suggests the following strategies, based on the research, to increase consumer food spend in the months ahead:

• focus on your core offer by providing affordable meals in social settings, with amenities other outlets struggle to provide, such as satellite TV or games consoles

• develop your food offer intelligently to focus customers' spending on high-margin lines, such as starters and desserts

• continue to improve customer service, engendering loyalty and repeat business

• target promotional offers to their demographics - take advantage of the internet and social media to target advertising to customers.

At a glance

  • 16% of consumers had eaten in a pub the last time they ate out
  • £12.23 average spend per head on a pub meal, including alcohol, in December
  • £11.69 general average spend per head on eating out in December
  • 19 million meals served by pubs every week

Data on types of foodservice outlet visited, spend per head and frequency of visit is based on the two weeks preceding December 12.

Related topics Food trends

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