The worldwide nature of the COVID crisis and its impact on the on-premise market was laid out at the latest CGA and Atlantic Club webinar. But despite differing local trading restrictions, there is a core of consumers that still want to go out, are happy with what they find and are willing to spend more.

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Here are the top ten messages from this week’s ‘The Future for Global Brands in a Local Market’ online event:

1 New restrictions are hurting—but consumers will return

CGA’s latest research shows the rapid impact of new restrictions on sales in the UK, with daily sales falling sharply in ‘High’ or ‘Very High’ alert areas. Patterns are similar in the US and Australia, where states under restrictions are struggling for sales, while those where measures have eased are in recovery. It shows that consumers want to get back to pubs, bars and restaurants as soon as they can, said Alexandra Martin, US retail services director at Nielsen CGA. “No-one can deny that currently trading conditions are incredibly tough, but consumers will return.”

2 City centres are tough around the world

CGA’s data also highlight major challenges for operators in city centres, where working-from-home and anxiety about crowds have led many consumers to go out locally instead. London, New York and Melbourne are just three examples of cities where sales remain well short of levels in suburban and rural areas.

It highlights that the plight of cities is the same globally—the shift towards local is happening across all markets, so retailers and suppliers will have to adapt,” said Alexandra Martin.

3 Brands need to tell their story

The pandemic has changed the way consumers engage with brands, and shows the need for all businesses to tell a story across every stage of a customer’s journey, said Sarah Jenkinson, design director at Harrison US. “Storytelling sells—it really resonates with people. Every touchpoint has to have a memory associated with it… you’ll tell those memories and experiences to your friends, and that creates a load of brand currency.” Personalisation, social responsibility and sustainability are other increasingly important focal points for marketing, she added.

4 US restaurants are flexing

With eat-in dining still heavily restricted in many places, US restaurants are pushing deeper into takeaways and deliveries, and refining drive-through operations, said Terry Varner, president of US-based construction business Herman/Stewart. There have also been some creative approaches to outside tables before the coldest part of winter arrives. “If restaurants have the ability to have outdoor dining they’re focusing on that, because it’s going to be their best avenue moving forward.”

5 Good leadership is crucial

The pandemic has emphasised the need for first-class leadership and care if staff, said renowned international restaurant leadership expert Jim Sullivan, founder and CEO of Sullivision. Leaders have had to think on their feet and respond nimbly.

In this business, if you’re standing still you’re walking backwards. Being flexible and adapting has been key—every day there’s been a new lesson.” He pointed to various US brands that have sustained sales well, including Texas Roadhouse, Chipotle, Wendy’s and Panera. “What they have in common is a people-first mentality—they don’t just give lip service to it”

6 The pandemic has some silver linings

Jim Sullivan also noted upsides to the coronavirus crisis, like the freedom it has given brands to pivot. “We’ve learned the importance of strategic clarity and making decisions quickly,” he said. It has also provided businesses with a deeper pool of labour, and speeded up the adoption of technology.

Covid has laid bare a lot of our inefficiencies… this industry has not been an early adopter of technology, but we’ve accelerated through ten years [of progress] in six months.”

7 Now’s a good time to bring on talent

With so many venues closed, some hospitality workers have left cities for home—often, in the case of the UK, back to Europe. “There’s significant structural damage done to labour supply in the business… it’s going to be a problem for some time,” said Luke Fryer, founder of people management platform Harri. But it’s also a good time to recruit and nurture new talent, he added.

There’s a big opportunity for strategically minded employers to get the best talent in.” The pandemic has forced businesses to deepen their engagement with employees, he added. “We’re coming up with a much more systematic communication with employees, beyond just putting a piece of paper on a noticeboard.”

8 Health checks reassure teams and guests

Harri’s tool to help employers check for COVID symptoms has just had its millionth completion, and Luke Fryer said it had helped to reassure team members about their safety. Jim Sullivan pointed out that it gave guests confidence too, at a time when they are eager to connect with people again. “People are craving that interaction... I think we’re going to see a renaissance in what hospitality means.”

9 People want to treat themselves

Consumers are desperate to get back to their pre-COVID eating-out habits, said Barry McGowan, CEO of 54-site Brazilian steakhouse brand Fogo de Chao. Sales of Wagyu steaks there have gone from 300 a week before the pandemic to 1,600 a week now—a sure sign that they want to indulge.

People really want to enjoy their time when they’re out… We’re allowing them to indulge and enjoy, and I really think that’s the path back.” And while city centres are struggling at the moment, they too will be on their feet again, he predicted. “It’s going to be challenging… but New York and London are going to come back.”

10 We’re all in it together

CGA’s webinar made clear that while some issues are local, the macro challenge of the pandemic is global—and it’s important to learn from other markets, said Alexandra Martin. “We’re all in this together… we’re an innovative industry that is going to continue to fight on.” CGA vice president, Atlantic Club founder and webinar host Peter Martin added: “It’s a challenging time, but we will get through this.”

The Future for Global Brands in a Local Market’ webinar was hosted by CGA and Peter Martin’s Atlantic Club in partnership with Harrison, Harri and Herman/Stewart. You can download the presentation slides here or watch the recording of the live webinar here

     

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