If 1992 was annus horribilis, many will look back at 2016 as annus inexpectatus.

‘Unpredictable’, to some, would be an understatement.

A Trump presidency, a Brexit Britain and the rise and fall of Honey G – we’ve had it all.

It has been a year of much change and signalled another shift in the political and, consequently, economical, status quo in the UK and further afield.

Whilst division seems to be the word of the day, our sector has seen the opposite. Mergers and acquisitions have dominated the world of foodservice, whether its CH&Co’s acquisition of the Brookwood Partnership, Servest buying Catering Academy and other FM companies, or Elior Waterfall Group – it has been another year of consolidation.

We have seen margins become increasingly tighter, making it harder for smaller companies to grow, so many have and will continue to look for investment to enable them to develop. This suits the larger companies too who can ‘buy-in’ innovation and, to some extent, entrepreneurialism.

Whilst this is great for those involved, it could have an impact on wider innovation in the marketplace.

We are highly likely to see more mergers and acquisitions next year, but we will also need to see continued and increased support for smaller businesses in order to enable continuous market development. If all the smaller companies become part of the larger entities, we will struggle to improve and move as an industry.

In 2016, we have also seen the emergence of louder voices and discussion around wellbeing in the workplace. As an industry, we’ve known this for some time.

Better employee engagement isn’t just a soft phrase that has been sold to clients, it is a fundamental part of business growth. The recent ‘Stoddart Review’, which we contributed to, highlighted the role that FM and catering plays in the wellbeing, motivation and productivity of staff.

The report highlighted that happier people are 12% more productive, and whilst there are a number of external factors, a lot of this happiness is directly related to the immediate environment. Poor workplaces cause inevitably higher staff turnover, greater absence rates (>4%) and lower profits due to poor productivity.

As an industry, we’ve championed this for a while and, with a fair wind, we expect that these discussions and dialogue will be high on CEO’s agendas for the foreseeable future.

Another key issue we faced is around the cost impact of the Living Wage and how organisations have implemented this. This, coupled with the Government reducing budgets and increasing prices, has meant that we have had to lean on more tech, whilst tightening processes. This is likely to continue,

When Brexit takes shape, there will be some significant challenges around personnel and recruitment. Our industry does rely on drawing from a large EU labour pool. Currently, as discussed at a recent EP Roundtable discussion, 70 per cent of hospitality workers in London are from overseas.  If, as some expect, this avenue will be closed off along with our borders, we will face a major challenge in filling roles across the hospitality sector. This is and should be a major consideration for government moving forward.

Whilst some predict a tougher economic climate ahead of us, the more seasoned operators in our sector will tell you they’ve seen it all before, mostly.

We’ve faced some seismic shifts over the years and, the more prudent operators, have actually used the opportunity of change as a catalyst for growth.

The predicted cost pressures brought about by food inflation, oil price rises etc will also see the need for more efficiencies across the board.

Companies will need to realign their core business activity, which may mean opportunities for outsourcing firms as businesses will need support from external resources to focus on non-core services. In the public sector, there have, however, been some challenges around large Government contracts which will need to be addressed to restore some confidence.

The will be change across the board but this will provide an opportunity to refocus and reset where appropriate. The economic challenges will force the hand of businesses to look at their operational structures to ensure they are efficient and flexible. The Government will also need to take a close look at their estate and infrastructure and where further investment is required.

The industry as a whole is resilient. We have been here before and we are likely to be here again.

2017 is likely to be about change and transition, and a few surprises along the way. Companies will need to adapt, move and shift, but if there’s anything we are good at in this sector, its being flexible.

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