The MBS Group
is Europe’s leading executive search boutique operating exclusively in consumer facing industries.
Is Food the New Rock ‘n’ Roll?
At the end of November, Moira Benigson Executive Search hosts another of its trademark controversial panel debates. The Fine Art Society is populated by well-known faces from the food industry who have come to hear a panel of experts discuss the latest trends in food innovation in retail, restaurants and brands. The audience comprises representatives from businesses both established and up-and-coming, mass-market and super-premium.
The line-up of the panel is similarly diverse: Adam Balon, Co-Founder of Innocent; Jonathan Rutherfurd-Best of caterers, Urban Productions; Andy Bond, Chief Operating Officer of ASDA; Roger Whiteside, CEO of Thresher; and Alan Yau, founder of Wagamama, Hakkasan and, now, Yauatcha. Chaired by Tyler Brûlé, Founder of Wallpaper and all-round culture junkie, the evening certainly promises to whet the appetite.
With industry leaders from both ends of the scale on the panel, the question of size is an obvious topic but, thankfully, all agree that scale is not the governing factor when it comes to innovation. Jonathan points out that “imagination, and the consumer, lie at the heart of innovation”, something which is certainly borne out by the success of Adam’s business: “All Innocent is is a very simple proposition – we make drinks that taste good and do you good, and people want that”, he says. “We are tapping into what people want and, as a result, the company grows”.
It becomes clear that identifying the consumer’s needs and desires is critical, even when you have thousands of customers passing through your door every day, as is the case with ASDA. “We get a huge demand from our own consumers for innovation, so we are definitely pushing that”, Andy says. “Everyone is looking for a point of difference, and this year alone ASDA has launched approximately 4,000 new food lines”, he asserts.
Roger, who ran the online retailer, Ocado, before Thresher, claims that nothing in any business should be sacrosanct, and at the end of the day, the customer should be given what he, or she, wants. He also highlights that making a difference can be deceptively simple: “Recently I was in Bath and bought fudge from this guy who just made fudge. I travelled back there two months later just to buy some more! I think you can pick off individual things, do them brilliantly well and get yourself a great reputation – people come back again and again”.
Beyond the diversity of the panel’s working practices and end product, certain universals do connect them: a passion for product, honesty and authenticity all provide the foundation of any business seeking success. Alan says: “Product is the key and authenticity is part of the product attribute that drives the brand.” Jonathan believes that the UK has really moved on in terms of provenance. “Years ago we only had M&S, now we have much more choice… Now my butcher can say his Suffolk lamb is from sheep driven to the farm by a man who says: ‘I hug those sheep before I kill them!’, and they’re delicious!”.
The panel agree that while the UK in general, and London in particular, was once only a destination for fashion and design inspiration, it has now become far more cutting-edge for food. Those who are cited as being at the forefront of innovation include: The Providores, The Grocer on Elgin, The River Café, Jamie Oliver, The Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Zuma and Gordon Ramsay.
Travel, equally, is cited as a huge influence on the UK food market and, by the end of the evening, we have heard about the delights of small-space, convenience retailing in Japan; the in-store merchandising standards of fresh-food merchandising in the USA; Bill’s in Sydney for restaurant innovation; and Emery’s in Denmark for being a world-class traiteur. Jonathan and Tyler make the point, though, that travel has proliferated to such a degree that it is no longer possible to dupe consumers’ tastebuds on their return to the UK, consumers who have tasted tapas in Andalucia and lasagne in Tuscany.
As a final challenge to the panel, a wag from the audience asks: “If food is the new rock ‘n’ roll, who is Top of the Pops?” “I guess that the Westlife are Tesco” says Andy, somewhat begrudgingly. “Every time it launches something it seems to go to the top of the charts”. Alan sums things up: I don’t know who’s number one, but the line-up’s certainly got a lot sexier…”Category: Event: Panel debate
Click here for more inspiration.