Let’s restart. Actually, let’s continue.

Michele Caprini
06/07/2021
In brief
The gloomy trend in the catering sector caused by the pandemic must be conceptually overcome by the precise determination of operators. The recovery has in recent months gathered pace and created important spaces, which will be taken up by those who have already clearly understood the needs and opportunity for change.

Retex The dismal figures of the catering industry are an indisputable evidence: in a year and a half of health upheavals, the consumption cycle has inverted from away-from-home to in-home consumption, leaving 45 billion Euros behind, almost half of the sector revenues. Shall we restart?

LV We are at the turning point. It is important to learn from the damages sustained, inevitable in whole or in part, but now let’s focus only on the recovery. The COVID emergency, however, highlighted the correctness of the general guidelines of our innovation proposal. We do not need to invent technologies and models for the emergency, we already have them for development innovation and they are constantly evolving. More than restarting, let’s continue.

Retex And turning point it is. What do you expect from Italian catering now?

LV Demand will accelerate sharply, of course, and fortunately some data already confirm this: booking a table will not be so easy. There will be, I believe, a tendency towards concentration and specialization. Those who had broad shoulders held up, but for small- and medium-sized chains and, in general, smaller enterprises the rude awakening is, in some cases, already a reality. There are those among them who have not given up but have objective difficulties in restarting, and acquisitions by stronger brands are a distinct possibility.

Retex Consumption, models, leaders of the immediate future?

LV Large-scale retail trade will play a key role, no doubt. Grocerant is a format that sums up in itself the strength of the distribution chain, the investment capacity and economies of scale, the size of the potential target, the territorial network. The success of Iper Maestoso is a clear proof of this. The phenomenon will need to be consolidated with experience and adequate management of change at all operational levels, but the road is now mapped out.

Retex Hybridization is a complex and ambitious practice. Those who have always been used to rolling carts between the shelves will not be able to make the switch overnight.

LV No, for sure. But the determination of large-scale retail trade is high and with good reason, and will achieve the goal by compensating for the inevitable delays in the process. Many brands have realized that commercial traffic, customer satisfaction and loyalty benefit from catering. I do not hide from you that, when we started these projects, to many they seemed like a bet. But in order to compete, we sometimes need to look ahead farther and anticipate trends, and the facts have proved us right.

Retex And many others will be explored. It is difficult to trace back the broad and structural phenomenon of digital transformation to the simple replica of some successful cases in more advanced markets than ours.

LV More than difficult, impossible. And I would not underestimate the capacity for local innovation that, when it exists, must be valued. We collaborate on projects of certain value as, for instance, a tradename that allows the unified management of the order, online and in the physical place, of more consumptions from different brands. The restaurant will evolve in many of its parts, starting with the harmonization between work in the kitchen and service in the dining room.

Retex With technology dictating timing and mode, I presume.

LV The automation of kitchens, for example, with the adoption of terminals useful for accurately transmitting the orders actually received, with no more paper orders, and adapting the food preparation times. The benefits, in terms of quality of work and customer satisfaction, are obvious. Before the health emergency, sensitivity in this regard was not very high, as indeed it was for other aspects of digitalization, but now sensitivities and times are changing.

Retex The dark kitchen topic is always on the agenda. Italy, however, still seems very far from the levels of diffusion achieved in other markets.

LV Yes, that’s right. In our country its diffusion is marginal, and this shows how strong still is the delay with regard to the new forms created by digitalization. This regardless of the suitability of the models and the concrete possibilities of application in different contexts. In the case of dark kitchens, in fact, the decisive start-up factor is a strong investment in an area that, today, is not yet familiar to many actors in the industry.

Retex You’re talking about digital marketing, I guess.

LV This is important and will be crucial for catering. Traditional advertising no longer pays as it is necessary to aim at specific targets, with effective content and great speed of communication. Social media are the typical and unavoidable context in which it is necessary to know how to move.

Retex A practice that is not always followed. The purposes are clear: get closer to the customer, trace his preferences, and evolve the own offer. But certain skills are essential.

LV To be acquired or to be found in a partner who habitually practices it. It is on social media that the battle for visibility is fought, brand awareness is created, customers are found and retained. You can sell great dishes, prepared in a dark kitchen and delivered home in less than half an hour, but if no one knows and trusts you, your battle is lost before you even start. A story well told and addressed to the right target, instead, makes the difference

Retex Reluctance to change: has the scene changed with COVID?

LV Necessity is the mother of all inventions. For catering, prejudice and mistrust towards innovation have decreased because, at last, it has been more easily accepted as a possible remedy for difficulties. The fact remains that the decisive factor in guiding and implementing it must be an appropriate culture of change, and, in this sense, there is no shortage of misunderstandings.

Retex Such as?

LV Briefly said, technological choices depend on the processes that need to be innovated, they cannot precede them. And these processes must in turn be designed for the diversity of the desired target and the experience required. If this and the offer necessary to meet it are not clearly understood, any choice may turn out to be insufficient, inadequate or worse.

Retex The technology partner can do a lot, though.

LV Yes, but it cannot dictate the strategies of those who chooses it. After all, technology is always a means, not an end.