Contract caterers’ sales in the third quarter of 2023 were 15% ahead of the same period in 2022, the latest Contract Catering Tracker from CGA by NIQ and Bidfood reveals.
It continues catering’s strong recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, when sales were decimated by lockdowns and widespread working from home. However, it marks a slowing of growth from the year-on-year figures of 30% and 18% in the first two quarters of this year.
Comparisons also softened in the private sector, from 20% growth in the second quarter to 13% in the third. The number of outlets served by contract caterers slipped by 4% and remains well below pre-COVID levels.
The Contract Catering Tracker from CGA and Bidfood aggregates sales from leading operators to provide monthly 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, director – hospitality operators and food, EMEA at CGA by NIQ, said, “After the disruption of lockdowns and a drawn-out return of staff to workplaces, contract caterers’ trading is settling down into new post-COVID patterns.
“While the third quarter saw a slowdown in growth and a small drop in venues, underlying demand for contract caterers’ services in both the private and sector remains strong. However, with high inflation still impacting both businesses and consumers, trading conditions are likely to remain challenging well into 2024.”
Debra Morrell, business development controller for B&I at Bidfood, said: “The resurgence we’ve seen in September is welcome news, after a more challenging August period, and follows the underlying positive direction the sector has been taking in getting closer to ‘business as usual’ pre-pandemic levels.
“The data points to strength across both public and private sector elements, no doubt fuelled in part by ‘back to school’ and ‘back to uni’ mobilisations.
Although the pace of growth year-on-year is slowing, growth is still growth and we are heartened to see it continue, despite the tightening of consumer purse strings and trading conditions. It is also testimony to contract caterers’ ability to deliver great value offers, which is so important to consumers right now.”
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, said: “It’s encouraging that contract catering sales continue to remain strong and continue to climb. This is a good indication that demand for the sector has returned positively as the economy settles into new working patterns.
“The slowdown in growth demonstrates the challenges the sector faces, with business costs remaining incredibly high and sales not keeping up with inflation. We’re continuing to call for Government to tackle the root causes of inflation, namely energy, as a way to mitigate these challenges.”