Community Food Hubs a recipe for post-pandemic success

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Community Food Hubs a recipe for post-pandemic success

On Monday afternoon came the news we had all been waiting for: UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, unveiled his plan for exiting the national lockdown. According to the four-step plan, which is subject to continual review, non-essential retail will be allowed to reopen from 12 April, together with outdoor serving in pubs and restaurants – with food and beverage venues and leisure facilities reopening for indoor service from 17 May. Whilst this is still some time away, establishing an end date is no doubt welcome news for an industry that is amongst the hardest-hit by Covid-19.

Of course, when reopening finally happens, high streets, retail and leisure destinations will look vastly different than just a year ago. Food and beverage has long been hailed as the industry equivalent of a knight in shining armour, and this concept might well be tested in the years to come. But what will food and beverage look like in a post-pandemic world?

In a recent thought leadership piece in ACROSS Magazine, Ian Hanlon, Director at Coverpoint Foodservice Consulting, wrote about the future of F&B destinations post-Covid and how food projects are adapting to changing trends and requirements. Unibai-Rodamco-Westfield, for example, has joined forced with Kitchen United for its Valley Fair asset in Santa Clara to develop a vertical conveyor belt which will take delivery and “to go” orders from the second-floor dining terrace to a ground-floor ‘ghost kitchen’ pick up station, allowing guests to order from multiple outlets in one transaction, and restaurants to generate incremental sales from their bricks and mortar stores. Hanlon posits that, in the long term, functional foodservice will just not cut it, and landlords need to create reasons for customers to visit in order to attract and retain footfall. “Elements of experiential dining”, he writes, “will become more sought after whether it be through unit design, entertainment or ambience – guests need to know that their spend goes beyond simply the meal on their plate”.

A major consequence of Covid-19 is there is a heightened awareness of local communities and a people-focused approach to regenerating and redeveloping places. Expanding the discussion, our friends at P-Three released an interesting report this week – F-Hubs Insights 2021 – in which it argues that, beyond pure food destinations, we could witness the advent of new types of food-led community hubs once the pandemic subsides. While these new kinds of food halls will principally be focussed on food, they will also have the flexibility to meet local demand for other uses, such as arts, culture, sport and education. P-Three calculates that there is potential for around 173 of these F-Hubs – F for food and flexible use – across the UK, totalling around 2.9 million square feet.

In comments to React News, Co-Founder of P-Three, Thomas Rose, expressed a staunch belief that high streets offer investors great opportunities for future growth and M&A activity, as people will spend more time closer to home rather than travelling to places – a trend that is not least underpinned by increased flexible working. F-Hubs have the potential to serve as local community centres, benefitting from high footfall from both tourists and locals, offering high profile, high footfall and high revenue, and are particularly attractive to private equity and other growth-focussed funds – as long as the model for the ‘hub’ elements, such as events, leisure and culture, is right.

The Guardian’s Zoe Wood also picked up on this new trend, noting that while food halls were springing up in town and city centres before the pandemic – there are currently around 40 food halls in the UK, ranging from flagship venues such as Seven Dials Market in central London to smaller ones in market towns – new community versions, with additional features such as cinema screens or co-working space, will be a key trend to watch out for. Recent examples include a former Poundland store in Lewisham, south London, which was transformed into Catford Mews, a place where locals can both eat and watch a film or comedy gig, Cutlery Works in Sheffield where a food hall now fills a former cutlery factory and Storyhouse, and a former Blockbuster shop in south-east London that now houses a café, cinema and library.

While we aren’t able to enjoy these venues quite yet, one thing is certain: when the time comes, there will be a lot of pent-up collective energy to go out and be sociable, creating the perfect conditions for these community and leisure focused hubs – and the investors who get behind them – to thrive.

Astrid Svensson. Account Manager. Innesco.

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