Sales in the contract catering sector are still lagging pre-pandemic levels despite sharp growth over the last 12 months, according to the latest Contract Catering Tracker from CGA by NielsenIQ and Bidfood.
The exclusive tracker shows sales from July to September 2022 were 41% higher than in the same quarter of 2021, when contract caterers faced the lingering effects of COVID-19 restrictions.
However, sales in the third quarter of 2022 were 9% below the equivalent three-month period in 2019, when businesses were trading as normal. With inflation now exceeding 10%, sales are significantly further behind pre-COVID levels in real terms.
The Tracker also shows the number of units served by contract caterers has increased by just over 500 since September 2021—but it remains more than 800 sites short of the total market at September 2019.
While trading remains difficult, the Tracker indicates that sales have steadily built momentum this year. The 2022-on-2019 comparison of -9% in the third quarter of 2022 represents a steady improvement on the figures of -20% and -12% in the first and second quarters of the year respectively.
CGA’s Contract Catering Tracker aggregates sales from leading operators to provide quarterly reports with year-on-year analysis. It offers businesses a valuable benchmarking tool to measure performance across various metrics and market groupings, and participants in the Tracker receive additional analysis in return for their contributions.
Karl Chessell, CGA’s director – hospitality operators and food, EMEA, said: “After more than two years of COVID upheaval, contract caterers are now besieged by soaring costs that are impacting spending by their clients and consumers alike. Considering the seismic challenges, it is encouraging to see that sales are substantially up year-on-year and are approaching pre-COVID levels. Contract catering is a resilient and innovative sector, but with business and consumer confidence so fragile there are some tough months ahead.”
Debra Morrell, business development controller for B&I at Bidfood, commented: “Whilst it’s great that we are still seeing that momentum build, with more people returning to the office, we can’t underestimate the challenges ahead to trading and how important it will be to continue to work closely together as a sector to adapt, innovate and mitigate. Food inflation is impacting employees, caterers and the entire supply chain, and we want to nurture that year-on-year growth, whilst balancing affordability and availability over the coming months – we can only do that if we put our resources and heads together.”
UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “It’s clear from this data that the record levels of inflation we’re experiencing is hitting contract catering businesses hard; whether that’s soaring costs impacting demand and sales, or the extreme food price inflation we’re seeing impact caterers in their own costs.
“It’s encouraging that sales are up year-on-year in the last quarter, and I hope that momentum continues, but the fact the sector still remains below pre-COVID levels shows the scale of the recovery required. Contract catering is an incredibly important part of our sector and what it delivers for the economy, which is why I have every faith they will continue building on last quarter’s success and ensure they continue to deliver for their customers.”