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Contract caterers' sales climb 30% year-on-year to continue post-COVID revival

Contract caterers’ sales in the first quarter of 2023 finished 30% above the same period in 2022, the latest Contract Catering Tracker from CGA by NIQ and Bidfood reveals.

The strong quarter extends the sector’s recovery from the COVID crisis and reflects consumers’ steady return to workplaces and other locations served by contract caterers. It represents a small improvement on the 27% growth recorded by the Tracker in the fourth quarter of 2022.

However, the latest year-on-year comparison benefits from a challenging first quarter of 2022, when the Omicron variant of COVID-19 kept some consumers away from public spaces. With inflation running above 10%, growth is also more modest in real terms.

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: “These figures show contract caterers have made a strong recovery in the last 12 months from the turmoil created by COVID restrictions. Demand for the sector remains high, and we can expect the positive trends to continue through the spring and summer. However, with soaring costs putting caterers and their clients they serve under strain, trading conditions will remain challenging for some time to come.”

Debra Morrell, business development controller for B&I at Bidfood, said: “Although there are some variations by month and the trend for March looks to be a little down on the months of January and February, the latest quarterly growth vs last year remains encouraging, sitting at 29.6%, which is ahead of the previous quarter which was 26.8%. We are heartened to see that positive upward trend across contract catering continues, particularly in the private sector, despite the three major challenges impacting the sector: rising food inflation, the cost of living crisis and staff shortages. Businesses are showing strong resilience, agility, and resourcefulness when it comes to encouraging footfall and spend at a time when consumers are counting every penny.”

UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “Contract catering plays such an important role in keeping the nation fed in our workplaces, schools, hospitals and armed forces, to name a few, and I’m pleased that it has continued its strong performance and is able to take advantage of increased demand.

“Of course, food and drink inflation remains stubbornly high and that continues to be a significant challenge that prohibits the sector growing at the speed it could be. We’ve seen incremental decreases in the rate of food and drink inflation and I hope this continues to ease pressure for contract caterers.”


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