Corporate catering industry rebounding post-shutdown after pivoting to new services
Corporate catering in Australia is a $4.2 billion market. A survey of corporate caterers ran by Australia’s largest corporate catering platform reveals that caterers on its platform reported a 63 per cent revenue decrease at the peak of COVID-19 in April. Since then, catering orders have been steadily picking up, with a particular increase in June, as staff started returning to the offices. Demand has been picking up both in basic drop-off style catering, as well as staff meals, as companies have been looking for ways to welcome their staff back to the offices and reduce employees’ exposure to crowded lifts and food courts. These services grew 35 per cent and 40 per cent respectively in June compared with May. Outside of Victoria, and in the absence of a major COVID-19 spike nationally, the growth is expected to continue in July, as staff increasingly return to workplaces.
The findings were derived from order data by Australia’s largest online platform for corporate catering, staff meals and kitchen supplies, Order-In (orderin.com.au), which has delivered more than 1.3 million orders to date. Order-In merchants comprise more than 1100 specialised corporate caterers, and cafes and restaurants that offer catering options. Order-In also conducted a survey of 180 of merchants on its platform in May to understand how they were impacted by the COVID-19 shutdowns, and their business outlook post-pandemic.
Catering evolution in post-COVID world
The drop-off in catering volume grew in June, compared with May, by 82 per cent among WA caterers, 89 per cent in QLD and 69 per cent in NSW. Only in Victoria, drop-off catering in June, compared with May, decreased by 31 per cent.
During the pandemic, companies have been looking to maintain company culture, staff connectivity and show care while employees worked from home. As a result, home delivery contributed up to 40 per cent of revenue of caterers on the platform during the height of the pandemic in April and May – with DIY baking kits and Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea among the popular orders companies placed for staff, in addition to virtual company events such as pizza nights and Friday night drinks. Pivoting to home delivery helped to partially offset the corporate catering revenue loss for those caterers that remained open during the pandemic.
Markus Albert, Order-In Managing Director, believes the pandemic will lead to a rethinking of corporate catering, and an emergence of new services and business models. “We have seen that many companies were searching for new ways to safely feed their staff, and industry has been quickly evolving to offer new services.
“While demand for our once-bestselling services such as catering for buffet lunches and grazing platters is going to be lower in the near term, we have seen that the new offerings are picking up. This includes new products in drop-off style catering, for example individually packaged meals such as bento boxes and poke bowls, as well as evolution of a regular staff meals service. For instance, in June, Order-In’s new staff lunch service, Smart Meals, has seen more than 50 enquiries and demos. Smart Meals enables employees to limit their exposure to busy elevators and crowded public food-service outlets, which we know is a big challenge for many of our customers. The service enables staff to choose from a variety of meals that are delivered directly by Order-In’s caterers. Users can manage their individual preferences and dietary needs online, reducing daily admin for office support staff; and skip meals if not in the office – thus reducing food waste, which we know is on agenda of many companies.
“During the shutdowns, Order-In has also introduced home delivery of food and snack for companies’ staff and this service has picked up, we believe it will be in demand for some time. Overall, as more staff are coming back to offices, we expect the numbers to further grow in July, especially in the staff meals category.”
Pen Catering, a Sydney-based caterer, reported a decrease in office catering volumes of more than 80% through the height of pandemic. With 25 staff, including casuals and international students that were not eligible for government support, the company made a commitment to its staff to provide them with enough work to cover their basic living expenses. General Manager Tass Vatalidis said the solution was to rotate available shifts amongst staff, which led to a 50 per cent reduction in the total number of hours worked per week by operational staff.
“At the height of COVID-19, we repurposed our resources to service residential demand and transitioned towards home delivered fresh, chef-made meals that filled a gap in the residential meal delivery market. We supplemented this offering with fruit and vegetable boxes, pantry items, speciality sweet boxes and cookie decorating boxes, delivered seven days a week using our fleet of vehicles. The extension of our product range and introduction to households softened the financial blow and helped sustain our corporate catering business until offices started to re-open.”
Pen Catering reported a 29 per cent increase in revenue in June, compared with May, with demand led by single-serve individually packaged corporate meals, as well as staff meal plans. “Companies are looking for tailored solutions to create safer COVID-19 workplaces, as well as new ways to engage and energise staff in the office. We definitely see the demand re-bounding as staff are coming back to the offices. We hope this trend will continue.”
The Catering Department
This Sydney-based corporate and private caterer saw more than a 90 per cent drop in office catering orders in April. Catering Manager Brendan Lloyd says the company had to re-build from scratch after the outbreak. “Our catering offering was built around sharing, which is obviously not where catering is now headed. We took the time during the outbreak to completely re-build our operations, from developing a new menu focusing on individual meals to change our supply chain, kitchen layout, processes and equipment – for example, new equipment to vacuum-seal individual meals. Our numbers have been slow in May and part of June. However In July, we have seen a 70 per cent increase, largely driven by staff meals.”