Getting ahead in the food industry means staying aware of the latest developments in the sector and making efforts to get a step ahead of them. The most successful businesses are proactive, rather than reactive, and that's particularly true in trend-driven sectors such as food and drink.
In 2018, food service providers will naturally need to learn about the latest consumption patterns and recipe trends, but it's also vital that they pay attention to the more fundamental shifts in the way companies are expected to operate, with new technologies emerging and legislative responsibilities changing.
Businesses that invest in the right learning and development will be able to anticipate these changes and differentiate themselves from their competitors; those that don't, run the risk of getting left behind.
Sales and distribution models within the food sector are changing rapidly, as more and more businesses find their heads turned by the expanded commercial reach they can achieve through e-commerce.
Direct-to-consumer sites and third-party e-commerce platforms are starting to account for a growing proportion of food and drink sales, with consumers showing a strong interest in the tailored service and convenient home delivery options that such channels can offer. Whereas these services were previously only provided by the largest companies, the technology is now within the reach of smaller local businesses, meaning this represents an industry-wide shift.
For companies that have not yet made this transition, 2018 could be the year in which they embrace the potentially transformative impact that e-commerce can deliver.
In the last few years, customers have become a lot more savvy about food safety issues and there's no reason to think this trend won't continue to grow in importance in 2018.
Recent surveys have indicated that consumers now take the cleanliness and Food Standards Agency hygiene rating of a given establishment into consideration when looking for a place to eat – something that has never been easier to do, thanks to the proliferation of smart devices offering instant access to social media or rating and review websites.
In other words, an organisation's reputation can live or die based on its safety performance, meaning it's absolutely vital for businesses to invest significantly in food safety and prevention efforts. Training staff may require a commitment of time and resources, but the risks posed by failing to do so simply cannot be countenanced.
Safety isn't the only aspect of food standards that customers are becoming more educated about. Increasingly, sustainability is being seen by modern consumers as an important issue – and one to which they expect the companies they patronize to be visibly committed.
This is particularly true of the vital millennial demographic, many of whom have strong principles when it comes to ethical business practices and environmental protection. As such, businesses should expect to be held accountable for their green policies, water consumption, use of alternative energy sources and commitment to waste reduction – and for these customers to turn away from them if they fail to meet a certain standard.
For companies that have not yet overhauled their environmental and sustainability policies, it is essential to do so in 2018, and to provide the learning and development opportunities necessary to help staff get to grips with a better, more efficient way of working.
Many of the changes the food industry is undergoing are happening as a direct consequence of consumers gaining easier access to new technologies, so it's important for businesses to make sure they are also keeping their technical infrastructure up-to-date.
This is particularly vital in light of the incoming European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which will impose stringent new consent laws on any company that is processing personal data and harsh penalties for those that fail to comply. With more and more food service providers handling large quantities of digital data, there is a great deal of pressure to get this right ahead of the May 25th implementation date.
However, businesses should also be thinking about the opportunities that new technology can provide, as well as the challenges it poses. As 2018 continues, companies in the food sector have an opportunity to enhance their efficiency, expand their customer base, revolutionise their service offering and deliver tailored, personalised training to staff.
Virtual College offers a wide variety of e-learning courses to help food service companies improve their performance on key topics such as nutrition, safety, hygiene and allergy awareness. By taking advantage of these resources, you'll be able to get ahead of the curve and mark your organisation out as a top performer in a competitive field.