A Sooper Future: An Interview with Simon Stenning
Eighteen months ago who could have predicted the success of letterbox cocktails or home-finished meals from Michelin starred restaurants? The global pandemic has altered lives and businesses on every level, disrupting the food industry on a scale not seen in more than 80 years.
“Sadly, this has been a period of devastation for some operators dealing with high fixed-costs and a trade that disappeared almost overnight. For others, a time of reinvention and growth,” says Simon Stenning, one of the UK’s most highly regarded and experienced commentators in the hotel, hospitality, and wider food service sectors for over 30 years.
Managing Director, FutureFoodService.com, Simon is a much sought after Strategic Advisor and Futurist, currently collaborating with Galmere. He is producer of industry leading reports ‘The Immediate Future for Hospitality/Foodservice 2020/2021,’ and ‘Rebuilding of Hospitality 2021-2025.’
Simon Stenning, Managing Director, FutureFoodService
“Nobody saw Covid coming, but I predicted rolling lockdowns and the most challenging time would be Q1 2021. Rebuilding began in Q2 this year and will continue, helped by the vaccination campaign,” he claims.
“There have been significant shifts in consumer behaviour in terms of location, safety and demand. These have been the drivers of change throughout 2020 and ‘21.”
Simon became interested in catering and hospitality in his final years of school when, drawn to its dynamism and creativity, he discovered more about the area through friends and family. Having left college and started in hotel management, he got a six-month stint as Assistant Manager in an 80 bedroom four star hotel in St. Ives and Carbis Bay, Cornwall.
Drive and Growth
“Assistant Manager as a title means nothing in a small hotel – I did everything. Changing role from hour to hour!” Indeed, Tregenna Castle Hotel hosted the June 2021 G7 Summit Meeting which illustrates the baptism of fire he faced.
“That experience fast tracked me into management in Trust House Forte, and I progressed through the Hotels. I moved from that to catering operations in the Hurlingham Club, in West London. Along with polo, cricket, swimming and tennis, the Club’s extensive facilities extended to hosting conferences.”
“I worked with Albert Roux, opening his restaurant there. This was the early to mid-‘90s and a time of immense change in food service was kicking off. I had noticed what Pret A Manger was doing in London and followed suit, introducing high quality snacks, such as sandwiches, salads, and sushi, as an alternative to the full sit-down restaurant offers available in the Club.”
Spotted by Pret A Manger, Simon moved to the company in 1994 and during his tenure saw the new organisation grow from 15 branches in London to 80, including other cities such as Manchester and Leeds.
“I knew it was the future. And nearly 30 years on, the Pret ethos, culture and modus operandi remain relevant. Fantastic quality and service, everything made fresh in-house. It created the quality the consumer would demand of on-the-go food. It was a magical environment, an exciting time.”
Five years on and a new challenge beckoned. Having considered an MBA, Simon decided on a post-graduate degree in Marketing and moved into strategic brand development with Compass, working with Upper Crust and Café Ritazza.
“This allowed me to extend the culture and systems of Pret to other brands. With Marks & Spencer I developed the Simply Food offer, bringing fresh sandwiches and snacks to train stations; which at the time was revolutionary.”
If you are of a certain age you will remember what ‘canteen’ used to mean. As Simon accurately describes it – “slopping out the gruel.” He can take the credit for transforming it, through developing offers “staff would want to pay for.” And, staff in Dell Ireland and the EU Campus here can thank Simon for introducing the concept.
Building on this, he created a new company Foo Go, supplying a complete range of fresh snack foods to third parties, such as WH Smith; ultimately selling that business to Greencore, before moving to data, market intelligence and insight.
“At the time there was very little in the way of accurate market data. I joined Allegra, which produced an excellent report on the coffee market. I thought why not bring this to the consumer eating out and food service markets as well as other areas of the food industry?”
(image:Jennifer Oppermann for Galmere Foods)
Tomato and Basil Pesto Soop
What Drives Change?
Simon focused on creating expert market intelligence, based on highly accurate data. As his career progressed through many additional highlights, his enduring interest remained steadfast. A natural next step was to expand market insight to forecasting.
“By 2018 I was ready to end the long-distance commute and base myself closer to home. I founded Forecasting Future. It was a leap of faith.
“Market intelligence and data was available, but nobody was joining the dots and providing insight as to what all this information meant on so many levels, that an accurate picture of future trends could be created.
“What drives change? This encompasses social, anthropological, economic, political, demographic, cultural and many more aspects. What I do is basically recognise the dots and then join them up. Even the most outlying ones. The breadth of my experience is what enables me to do this,” he says.
A New Normal
“March, April and May 2020 forced me to look at things on a granular level, to really drill down. What is going on?” says Simon.
“Look at consumer behaviour and see how operators need to respond. The central shifts were in location, safety and demand. The focus largely moved from the city or urban centre to local.
“Safety meant taking every precaution to ensure consumer and staff reassurance while demand became and remains divided between pent up need to go out and the desire to stay home and safe.
“The growth of interest in food and new taste experiences, which has been increasing over recent decades, morphed into interest in home baking, pasta-making and cooking in general. Of course we’ve seen an explosion of varieties of delivered food – Korean, Japanese, Fine Dining, Street Food – and its increase of 250% since 2019.”
So what does Simon predict over the longer term? “The overarching interest in food experience is not going away. People want more out of life, we are no longer prepared to live to work. This will be reflected in the balance between working from home and the return to the office. It will tend to be a blended solution. We want more choice in food delivery options, eating out and snacks.”
Adapting to Demand
“This will translate to the increase in shopping locally and more frequently, as well as the demand for healthy options for pick and go snacking – something that is neither lunch nor dinner but fills a gap” says Simon. “Research has shown that a cheeseburger is the most popular choice but this will be supplanted by healthier options. There is demand for healthy, sustainable and environmentally friendly food choices.”
Galmere has developed just such a choice – a brand new Soop Mug concept launching later this year. Simon has worked with the company on its strategy in the UK. Watch this space!
Get Curated Insights by Galmere
The newsletter, issued every few weeks, will contain interesting and entertaining news, articles, and interviews. As well as sharing our own news, we will be linking you with top Chefs, marketing specialists, and other leaders in the Irish and international food industries. Showcasing career journeys and focusing on issues like sustainability within both our dynamic industry and others we connect with.