Coffee shops 'at saturation point' in cities as Bord Bia report warns of staff shortages
Consumers are spending more money eating out this year with the largest growth coming in the hotels sector and cafés, according to a survey by Bord Bia which forecasts that spending in 2018 will hit €8.2bn this year.
Despite the strong growth numbers, Bord Bia said city centres had reached "saturation point" for cafés and quick- serve restaurants and that a tight labour market had led to staff shortages.
"While we expect to see continued positive activity in the next three years, going forward overall growth figures are likely to be lower than previous years," said Bord Bia chief executive Tara McCarthy.
The survey includes food consumed and prepared out of home in restaurants, pubs, hotels, coffee shops as well as workplace catering, hospitals, education and vending.
The industry is becoming increasingly split - while consumers are willing to spend for a unique dining experience, there is also a search for convenience.
The biggest challenge for the market is delivery services facilitated by smartphone apps. Delivery-only kitchens are starting to appear in other countries and will likely be an area of focus for delivery companies in Ireland, Bord Bia predicted.
"The growing on-demand food service culture is driving the popularity of cashless, click-and-collect and third-party delivery options," the report said.
"As more tech-enabled solutions enter the market, much of the 'front of house' experience between consumers and the operator could ultimately become automated."
Ireland is not immune to global changes, with vegetarianism and vegan dining on the rise, mirroring changes happening in Britain, where a recent study said that one in eight Britons were now vegetarian or vegan.
So too is concern for the environmental impact of packaging, which was highlighted in the most recent series of "Blue Planet II".
Non-meat diets are no longer fringe and while the percentage of consumers that are vegan or vegetarian remains small, consumers are increasing looking for options.
"Operating with a conscience is the expectation, not the exception and this includes reducing food waste and reducing packaging," Bord Bia said.
"While the focus has been on the coffee cup, the issue is likely to spread to plastics and broader packaging (both consumer-facing and back-of-house)."
Bord Bia is holding a foodservice seminar today at the RDS where 300 delegates are expected to attend.
While the industry is experience strong growth here, consumption in the North remains muted and the market is much smaller.
It is expected to grow by just 2.5pc this year to a value of €2bn.
Export markets are also a key part of the industry and there are risks from both Brexit, which could see hefty tariffs imposed on Irish exports and a trade war between the United States and China, which has placed agriculture on the front line.
Industry exports were worth €12.6bn in 2017, of which €4.4bn went to the UK.
The share of exports to Britain has fallen 2pc from 2016 to around 35pc of the total now, reflecting the uncertainty of the UK's exit talks from Europe and the fall in the value of the pound, which has made Irish goods more expensive there.
The food industry is a key employer, accounting for 8.4pc of jobs.
"As globalisation continues and Ireland remains an attractive location for expansion of multinational foodservice operators, Irish provenance and its sustainability credentials remains a strong differentiator and something that Irish consumers see as unique and important to their decision-making process," Ms McCarthy said in the report. She added that this "is encouraging for Irish food and drink suppliers".
Looking to the next three years, Bord Bia said that it expected industry growth to continue, albeit at a slower pace. In the State, spending growth is seen at 4.7pc a year and by 3.7pc in sterling terms in the North, where Brexit poses a more direct threat to the economy.