The HRC team sat down with David Mulcahy, Food Development & Innovation Director, Sodexo UK & Ireland to discuss how consumer trends are impacting food service suppliers and how a company like Sodexo are keeping in touch with consumer demand to excel their business forward in 2020 and beyond.

Q: Please could you tell me a little bit about you, your company and your role.David Mulcahy

David Mulcahy, Food Development & Innovation Director, Sodexo UK & Ireland. Responsible for menu and food development team, dietitians and nutritional team. Driving innovation across UK&I business. Also, training and development of Sodexo chef teams and apprenticeship programme. Culinary ambassador for Sodexo to ensure recognition internally and externally as leading food service company.

Sodexo employs around 36,000 people and delivers services that improve the quality of life to clients at over 2,100 locations in the corporate, energy & resources, healthcare, education, leisure, justice and defence sectors. Services range from catering, cleaning, reception to asset management, security, laboratory and grounds maintenance services, enabling clients to focus on their core business.

Q: How do you research and plan what ingredients/dishes to put on your menus?

Working with leading insight providers, the Sodexo insight team, our global colleagues and ensuring we are aware of and engaged with current industry and consumer trends.

Q: Consumers demand fresher, healthier, convenient food so how do you meet this demand on such a large scale?

Detailed menu planning, ensuring menus are developed seasonally, refreshed continuously and a promotional programme in place to support special events and healthy eating initiatives. In addition, there are commitments to eg Food Foundation to increase the consumption of healthy vegetables, a surplus initiative Wasteful to Tasteful to divert surplus fruit and vegetable from landfill into our business and a change in cooking and service styles to reflect convenience and speed required.

Q: Changing consumer tastes can be challenging but how would you say it’s presented opportunities for your company?

It has allowed our chef development team to learn more and develop more innovative food. The increase in vegetarianism and veganism has been a key driver and has led to more flexible style of offers within the business. Working with SME businesses and start ups bring a fresh approach and excite customers with new ideas. 

Q: Consumers now want greater visibility around food safety and where their food comes from – how are you approaching this?

We have developed a more robust technical platform for end to end solutions. The menu management system ensures all recipes are fully tested, linked to allergens and any changes are immediately dealt with centrally to avoid consequences locally. Our teams are fully trained on food safety and allergens with clearer labelling, ownership by all responsible colleagues and working closely with government to support and challenge proposals for legislation. There are strong partnerships with suppliers and transparency across the supply chain to avoid any issues.

Q: Does the food-to-go sector present opportunities and challenges for your company?

Food to Go presents significant opportunities. This is part of consumers changing habits and needs. Meeting these needs in a more grab and go or convenient manner involves innovation. App based solutions, delivery options and more exciting food offers support this.

Q: How do you ensure standardisation is to the highest level from kitchen to consumer?

Menus are written to offer a greater deal of standardisation. Some segments require less flexibility around this and so choices can be standardised to both protect consumers and to manage costs. Where more flexibility is required this is done via a managed choice approach. As dishes, cuisines and styles change continually, there is little time for monotony and enough room for creativity at a local level.

Q: What are your top tips for businesses looking to tackle food waste?

‘If you can measure it you can manage it’ Be clear to your staff about why it is important, what the benefits are and make it tangible. If people know how much something costs and can relate it back to their own wallets they will feel the need to do something about it. Start with simple small ideas – clear plastic bin bags, cooking in small batches, daily updates on how the team is doing against targets. Better still sign up to a waste management system such as Leanpath to measure and monitor wastage where the reduction and value of this can be seen instantly. Reward good behaviours and improvements. Make everyone feel part of the solution and success.

Q: Have changing consumer demands meant a greater investment is needed in technology? Are there any technologies you think will be making an impact in the near future?

Absolutely. Customisation at the point of sale means technology plays a greater part. Apps and pre-ordering systems, technology that can determine peoples wellbeing (retina scanning etc) and can determine any food or beverage needs they have at that moment will be more available. Smart technology for cooking, maintaining temperatures and food quality are excellent for the fast convenient food offers needed. 

Q: How do you plan for 2020 and beyond to make sure you’re one step ahead of the competition?

Greater partnerships with our suppliers, even more use of insight to ensure we are in line with the market. A stronger focus on training, development and retention to ensure consistency and loyalty.

If you're a chef, distributor or in the food service industry, check out The Foodservice Show and join David Mulcahy, Chair of the Judging Committee, at the Skills Theatre at HRC 2020. Find out more and register for free here.