Catering sales lag pre-covid peak

Contract caterers continue to deal with the after-shocks of the pandemic despite a recent recovery in UK sales.

Sales from January to March 2022 were 69% higher than the first quarter of 2021 when the country was under lockdown restrictions but still 20% below the figure recorded in the first three months of 2019, according to the latest contract caterer tracker from consultancy CGA.

Caterers are now serving around 1,250 fewer units than they did three years ago reflecting the closure of many contract catering venues and lower footfall in others. The impact of high inflation on consumer spending and business costs is also restricting real-term growth, according to CGA whose tracker aggregates sales from the UK’s leading contract caterers including Compass, CH&CO and Sodexo.

There are, however, signs that businesses are building momentum: the three-year sales comparison of -20% marks a steady improvement on the figure of -36% in the third quarter of 2021, and of -26% in the fourth quarter.

“These figures show the contract catering sector will be dealing with the after-shocks of covid-19 for some time to come,” said Karl Chessell, CGA’s director - hospitality operators and food, EMEA. “Offices and other venues served by caterers remain well short of pre-pandemic usage, and the soaring costs facing all businesses and consumers are adding to the challenges. Our tracker indicates that sales momentum is starting to build, but we can expect fierce competition for sales and share throughout 2022.”

Earlier this week, Compass Group announced that underlying global revenues in the second quarter had reached parity with pre-covid levels thanks to strong growth across all sectors and volume recovery in the business & industry and education segments.

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