Eating as part of culture
Eating has been critical to human survival since the dawn of time. Over centuries of societal development, this activity has assumed new meanings, and food, culinary and eating practices have become a starting point for analyses of the complexity of contemporary social and cultural processes. This has led to an emergence of anthropology of food, a rapidly developing sub-discipline of science.
In primeval times the ability to obtain food was fundamental to human existence: a successful hunt meant survival, a failure - hunger and death. Today, eating is not only about satisfying existential needs – its impact on various spheres of life is now being recognized. The form, style and symbolism of dishes, and a table setting, reflect traditions and customs, and can also be a subtle communication technique.
In the world of politics, table manners, ingredients of a dish, ways of preparing and serving and even the place of eating it communicate an informal meaning, albeit understood by most participants and commentators. This issue is a focal point in diplomatic protocol and any departures from it – intentional or otherwise – are always thoroughly scrutinised and commented on.
Decision-makers and local communities are increasingly becoming aware of the enormous impact of food in marketing, particularly in promotion of a region or city. The Champagne province in France is unequivocally associated a unique sparkling wine, Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano - with Italian regions, but there’s more. Through advertising, associations and brand protection (also at an international level), many products coming from less famous regions are likely to become their ambassadors with examples such as the Polish oscypek cheese, Koryciński cheese, Złotnicka pork or regional fruit liqueurs.
Ways and places of eating meals have changed radically over centuries: from caves of primitive people through peasant cottages, urban inns, manor houses and castles of the Polish nobility, to rooftops, mixed-use and street food concepts. Today’s society (particularly the younger generation) is willing to embrace all novelties and is thirsty for new experiences and sensations. Therefore, to provide a more diverse offer, old customs and ways of eating are frequently used as a source of inspiration. All sorts of unorthodox or even extreme concepts attract strong interest: eating in the dark, up in a tree, on a suspended platform, in a village barn or an old or even run-down venue but offering a tasty, original, local cuisine. In the past, a joint feast after a hunt was an opportunity to rejoice at the prey, today it serves as an opportunity to bring employees together, meet friends, celebrate family occasions or have fun.
Recently, there has been a rapid growth in F&B offers and concepts which cater for a variety of tastes and needs, particularly in large cities. In addition, relatively inexpensive and easy travelling enables consumers to discover new, exotic tastes and dishes, experiment with ingredients and forms. Vegetarian, vegan or molecular cuisine, food deconstruction, combining contrasting flavours and organic products are all the norm today about, though unheard of about a decade ago.
Generational and mentality changes, changing lifestyles and technology developments
Given the pace of changes in the realm of eating and consumer expectations, it is difficult to predict what the market will look like in the next ten to twenty years from now. There are many scenarios of how the F&B industry will grow and how eating habits will evolve.
By impacting on virtually every sphere of life (in existential, religious, political, developmental, cultural or societal dimensions), eating meals is a rich set of data illustrating the development of mankind and a source of information about societies. Therefore, the emergence of sciences dealing with anthropology of food, nutrition and food studies comes as no surprise.
Considering potential scenarios and directions of further development of the F&B sector in Poland, several aspects that are bound to affect this retail market segment should be taken into account. These include in particular generational and mentality changes, changing lifestyles, technology developments enabling more effective communication, climate change, changing fashion and new trends, including recent promotion of environmental sustainability and work-life balance.
The traditional division between earning a living and running a household has already become practically blurred. Both spouses are usually in gainful employment and share household chores. Today, it is the amount of salary rather than tradition that is central to determining the division of household duties (according a report on reconciling family and occupational roles prepared by Rzeczpospolita daily). In addition, there is a growing number of people engaging in informal relationships or choosing to be single, and the need for professional fulfilment and the increasing life expectancy are of substantial importance in deciding when to start a family. Due to living constantly in a hurry and being short of time on the one hand, and desire for comfort and rising affluence on the other hand, there is a growing demand for food deliveries and eating out.
All new buildings are now normally designed to house retail and services, including a number of F&B outlets, on the ground floor. Amid a growing number of orders for meal deliveries, there has also been a marked increase in the number of online portals and apps providing access to hundreds or thousands of restaurants from which meals can be ordered for delivery within about a quarter of an hour. Preparing a dedicated menu for diabetics, vegetarians or those on a special diet is no longer a challenge. Food delivery firms and operators serving corporate office hubs are flourishing. With the multitude of offers, improving availability and falling costs of F&B operators, it no longer pays to cook on your own if you value convenience and time.
The expansion of food delivery services is impacting on the growth of multiple market sectors. Traditional restaurants do not always have the logistical capacity to both serve guests eating in and fulfil delivery orders efficiently. This has led to the rise of dark kitchens, a trend that is rapidly growing. Dark kitchens are restaurants that have no seating areas and are exclusively focused on food delivery. They are usually situated in non-central locations with no need for an expensive fit-out, but they guarantee efficient transport logistics. Low rents and spending on adaptation and operations help reduce business running costs substantially, enabling proprietors of dark kitchens to offer competitive prices, which in turn is leading to a rapid growth of this market segment. This format has already been adopted by most firms delivering meals such as breakfast sandwiches, wraps, salads and set lunches to firms. Meals are prepared overnight to be available to office workers in the morning; there is no need for a typical restaurant – cost-effective dark kitchens are very successful models.
An important matter is development of new technologies and improvement of existing ones. Not only autonomous vehicles but also drones will soon become a norm. First deliveries by such machines have already been piloted in several countries worldwide. Changes to legislation must, however, keep up with technological advancements.
Home cooking is very likely to go out of date within the next 15-20 years and most people will choose to order meals for home delivery or eating in. This scenario will also have a substantial effect on developers and the construction industry – why allocate a large space for a kitchen in an apartment if that space is not going to be used? Will home kitchens disappear for ever? Probably not, but the trend of downsizing kitchens has been around for over a decade. Kitchenettes with living rooms instead of separate premises are becoming increasingly common. A home kitchen of the future may be limited to a small space with a fridge and a microwave (or any other new appliance for heating pre-cooked meals) with more space allocated to living rooms.
Environmental sustainability, climate and fashions
Eating, which has been inextricably linked with the development of mankind, is experiencing a renaissance. Changing habits, willingness to discover new tastes and to embrace innovations are a catalyst for change in the F&B sector, whose growth opportunities are practically unlimited with the steady deployment of new technologies and the growing product availability globally. The development of the F&B sector is largely being driven by the needs and lifestyles of new generations.
Climate and environmental sustainability
Climate change is an important issue. Disrupted seasonal cycles, unforeseeable weather conditions, floods, droughts, monsoons or temperature surges have a huge effect on food production - changing weather patterns are already leading to some agricultural changes. For example, last year’s exceptionally long spell of warm and sunny weather in France caused increased sugar levels in grapes, leading to lower wine acidity. As a result, a reassessment of grape varieties and cultivation places seems very likely. The entire winemaking industry may soon be affected - there will be both losers and winners, the latter enjoying new growth opportunities. Winemaking is likely to see a further increase in the quality and number of wine brands from Central and Eastern Europe, including Poland, where this sector began to develop slowly about a decade ago and is now gaining momentum.
Development of laboratory cultivation is also associated with climate change. In addition to pest- and weather-resistant crops, there is now cultured meat produced by in vitro cultivation. This is still an area of scientific experiments rather than a brand new method of meat production on an industrial scale, but looking ahead this technology may have to be deployed in a few decades due to the growing consumer demand and changing weather conditions. Climate change may also lead to an emergence of a whole range of new crops that will certainly have an effect on our eating and nutritional patterns, thereby impacting on the entire F&B sector.
The increasingly well-educated, savvy and responsible society pays ever more attention to environmental protection. Biodegradable packaging, organic food farming, zero waste and plastic-out are gaining significance in the F&B industry. There is clear evidence for a growing consumer interest not only in food taste and price, but also in the quality and origin of ingredients. The policy on recycling of single-use packaging and cutlery is also of significant importance. The European Commission is currently working on reducing and ultimately banning the use of single-use plastics. This combination of legal regulations and a policy of conscious, sustainable growth will also have a huge impact on the development of the F&B sector. The development direction appears to be clearly-defined: enjoyment of delicious foods with no adverse impact on the world and natural environment.
Trends and fashions
What restaurateurs and F&B investors need most of all is an insight into consumer needs, habits and evolving interests. Ability to respond to new and changing trends and fashions in tastes, foods, fit-out, climate or location is critical to success on the F&B market. Plastic interior fit-out and gaudy colours are giving way to wood and subdued pastels; lavish and richly decorated premises have been turned into industrial and street-food venues; alongside the unwavering love for the Italian cuisine, the market is seeing a growing popularity of Balkan, Scandinavian, South American and Asian cuisines. Sushi and burgers are out, while steakhouses and vegetarian cuisine are in. Hot-dogs may soon be rediscovered with a countless variety of rolls, condiments, sauces, sausages and frankfurters, including vegetarian options. Food on a stick is another notable culinary trend on the other side of the Atlantic: simple, tasty and convenient. However, all changes and concepts are being introduced in line with global trends: ingredients must be local and organic, contain no flavour enhancers, and dishes made from them must look good enough to show them off on Instagram.
Going forward, dishes are very likely to be made solely from fresh, healthy and wholesome ingredients, and their nutritional values will be tailored to one’s physical and mental state and current needs monitored using a dedicated smartphone app or a smartwatch chip. Drone-based food deliveries will become common, packaging will be suitable for reuse at home and you will be able to share your culinary enjoyment with friends using holograms and transmitting flavours. Restaurants will enable us to experience new flavours and - thanks to Virtual Reality - to visually experience any place in the world. Enjoying food in myriad restaurants, food halls or street-food venues will become a daily experience. But one thing will not change: passionate and talented cooks and chefs will remain the key success factor as no technology can replace love for cooking.
The exponential growth of technology, the ongoing automation and robotization of industrial and analytical processes, and rising life expectancy are bound to transform the labour market. Some firms, albeit few for the time being, are already switching to five five-hour working days or four-day working weeks. Once these concepts have gained traction, massive numbers of people will have more time for themselves, which will give a strong boost to the F&B and entertainment industry. The correlation between these variables is evident as the Sunday trading ban has, among other things, led to a considerable increase in capital spending on F&B, Entertainment & Leisure. Entertainment and dining are becoming an equally important market segment as retail on the whole. Within the next ten years, F&B and entertainment options may account for up to 30% of space in shopping centres and, in a favourable macroeconomic environment, the dynamics of change will certainly accelerate in this sector.
Marek Dąbrowski, Food & Beverage consultant, Retail Agency, Cushman & Wakefield