The major catering players, whose basic model is to produce directly at their customers’ premises, in their facilities, have not waited for competition from connected fridges to adapt to new consumer needs. Some even test such fridges themselves. “Not to replace our offer, says Dirk Van den Steen, Marketing&Communication Manager at ISS, but in addition, for companies that work 24 hours a day, for example, or on weekends. Because the system only works if it is our teams on site who fill them. Having our fridges also allows us to know how it works, how profitable they are…”
“We have smart fridges in our offer, but the demand is not very high, says Hilde Eygemans, Brand&Communications Director Sodexo Belgium, who confirms that she is analyzing this type of service, but also the operational and logistical model needed to implement it. “We talk a lot about it in the press, both professional and general public, but in reality the demand is not so great, she adds. Over the past six months, only three prospects have asked us for an offer to finally decide to keep the traditional principle of catering.”
If the Sodexo group says it is ready to deploy in connected fridges, it still wonders: buzz or sustainable concept? In both senses of the term, by the way. “If these smart fridges have a future, we would like, for our part, to put ultra-fresh products in them, says Hilde Eygemans. But there is the risk that it creates a lot of food waste.”
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One solution among others
“Like other catering players, we consider that connected fridges are part of the company catering solution”, continues Dirk Van den Steen. A solution in the same way as others – such as the delivery of meals prepared in central kitchens, or purchased from external suppliers – which can help them adapt to the virtual impossibility, since the boom of telework, of know the number of people to whom they will be able to offer their menus. “The classic model with fresh cooking made on site is only more tenable in larger companies.” Whereas before 2020, ISS Group was part of companies with 250 or more people, it must now count on a minimum of 400 to 600 people. Because, depending on the day, only 150 to 200 are present, half of whom eat with them. “The trend was there, but the Covid forced companies to change their model, most certainly in the world of services (banks, telecommunications, etc.), he adds. To the point that the very existence of certain company restaurants is being undermined. “Because a kitchen is an investment but also a surface to be made available”agrees the spokesperson for ISS Group.
Unless you attract customers differently? “They are less present in their workplace, but when they are there, they spend more”, adds that of Sodexo Belgium. From the barista present on several of their sites or by buying takeaway meals to eat… at home.