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Contract caterers' first-quarter sales rise despite drop in units served

Britain’s top contract caterers have begun 2024 strongly with like-for-like sales growth of 7% in the first quarter, the Contract Catering Tracker from CGA by NIQ and Bidfood reveals.

 It continues the sector’s recovery from the upheaval of the COVID-19 pandemic and is the Tracker’s 12th quarter of growth in a row. However, the rate of increase is well below the figure of 13% recorded in the last quarter of 2023. Growth in MAT sales—for the last 12 months compared to the previous 12 months—now stands at 13%.

Contract caterers have achieved their sales increases despite a drop in the number of outlets they serve. The Tracker shows that units open in the first quarter of 2024 were 3% fewer than in the first quarter of 2023.

 The Contract Catering Tracker 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, business unit director at CGA by NIQ, said: “Contract caterers have made a very impressive recovery from the seismic impacts of COVID and it’s encouraging to see more above-inflation growth in the first quarter. As inflation eases and the confidence of businesses and consumers improves, we can be optimistic about a strong 2024 for the sector. However, a slowdown of growth and a contraction in venues show there is no room for complacency, and caterers will have to stay resolutely focused on quality and value in the months ahead.”

Debra Morrell, business development controller for B&I at Bidfood, said: “Although like-for-like sales growth is still positive for the first quarter of 2024, we have seen a soft March figure compared with previous months this year, and a slowing in growth compared to previous quarter. Undoubtedly this has been due to the pressure that public sector budgets have been put under, a slight shrinking of the number of sites year on year, and the cost of living crisis still affecting consumer confidence and spend. So, cautious optimism will be the name of the game as we look ahead this year. Tapping into those choice drivers that consumers will look for will be key: value for money, healthier and sustainable options, as well as authenticity, innovation and quality.“

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, said: “Contract caterers continue to perform strongly, demonstrating the value held in the high-quality, consistent product the sector delivers day in, day out.

“The slight decrease in growth rate and units open in the first quarter shows the challenges that inflation and high costs continue to impose on the sector, reinforcing the need for hospitality’s cost burden to be rebalanced and reduced.”



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