“Food retail in search of authenticity and sustainability,” Interview with Francesco Pupillo
Mapic Food, renamed The Happetite, is one of the biggest international events for restaurant operators, and is an excellent vantage point for picking up the latest trends. We discussed this with Francesco Pupillo, Show Director of The Happetite and LeisurUp for Mapic events.
From Mapic Food to The Happetite, what decided you to change the name?
Our main experience is on the commercial property market, with Mapic in Cannes, but in the last few years we have also created regional satellites, including Mapic Italy, Russia, India and China. Studying the development of the property market, we identified a series of fast-growing trends. The restaurant sector was expanding rapidly, also in terms of the spaces used and the search for new concepts, within large retail developments; this decided us to create a specific event, which we called Mapic Food.
What's special about the Mapic platform is its ability to put owners in contact with the location operators, the chains. This was the initial purpose of Mapic Food, but we realised at once that there were many other players in the value chain interested in attending. This is what the change in name intended to signal: our desire to reach beyond the property aspect alone, and enable commercial restaurant brands to meet partners working on openings worldwide, as well as private equity funding partners interested in potential investments. This year we expanded the format with a series of specific events for the most widely varying types of business.
From your excellent vantage point, what values is the market looking for?
The big innovation is that trend lines are interconnected and don't apply just to the food market.
The first trend is the search for authenticity, the second wellbeing, the third sustainability and the fourth the sharing of experiences.
With regard to authenticity, freshness and local sourcing are more and more important. This is the case at all levels in the chain, not just high-end restaurants but also fast food businesses, which now describe themselves as “fast good”: the eating experience may be quick but products are of guaranteed origin and well prepared.
Today people think a great deal about what they eat, foods, wellbeing and health, as the rise in the number of vegetarians and vegans reflects. A concern for the planet and environmental impact is paramount, and it will be even more so after this health emergency. Catering brands are running a large number of campaigns on food waste and the need to be plastic free. In fact, one of the most widely used apps at the moment is “Too Good To Go”, the world leader, which lets people find out which restaurants and chains are offering unsold food at the end of the day: daily specials at low prices, or take-away foods at reduced cost. Then comes experience. In the digital age, food has maintained its great significance as a tool for social bonding. The focus is not just on eating the meal - with the delivery apps we can order food at home very easily; what has changed is the offering, which is experiential and no longer just product-based. Many chains are concentrating on the onsite lifestyle, making the product just one part of the offering. In response, we've seen the emergence of formats like Food Halls, where as well as enjoying a range of foods you can attend concerts and artistic performances, play board games, and much more.
What are investors looking for in terms of property?
Property investors are looking for concepts that can differentiate their commercial locations and increase customer traffic. This is triggering changes in business models. The food area used to be considered as just a way of filling empty spaces, since it was very intensive in terms of costs of both raw material and staff.
Landlords tended to prefer a more traditional retainer, which would be able to pay a higher rent and would be more “stable”.
With the growth of e-commerce, traffic in traditional commercial areas has dropped, and so the search is on for concepts capable of generating higher attendances. New, unique concepts, helping to rethink traditional food courts, transforming them into multi-functional spaces with small proximity stores and exclusive products (Le Cucine di Curno in Bergamo and City Life in Milan exemplify this trend). Internationally, a large number of projects are going in this direction, including Foodtopia in Germany, IP Village in France and Unibail Westfield Rodamco in London, which is investing on a new food court project in Paris.
Apart from concepts, what kind of location are investors looking for?
The trend is increasingly towards “mixed” projects, with a high proportion of leisure and food: areas which may include spas, offices, coworking areas and medical testing labs. Food plays a vital role in these heterogeneous contexts. The first successful food hall was Eataly: now Time Out is opening worldwide, combining an offering of local products with a cultural schedule of events, concerts and spaces where people can stop for an aperitif. In France, “La Felicità” has proved very popular. It's an Italian concept by the Big Mama Group, which constructs covered courts in large retail locations with pizzerias, pasta outlets, hamburger joints and bars, with food prepared in view of customers
Other successful examples include Ground Control, also in Paris, Italian Andrea Rasca's Mercato Metropolitano in London, which has already tripled the size of its first location, a large food hall near Victoria Station, and also in London Box Park, with the formula of street food combined with a pop-up retail mall. Chelsea Market and Little Spain are all very well known in New York. These are all concepts that are flourishing, with a large variety of cuisines and offering, and with a unique, original, authentic experience.
Which services are needed to support the development of these new catering locations?
Without a doubt digital booking and menu selection, as well as payment, all digitally managed, cuts queues and optimises spaces and times, which also improves the quality of the time spent in the location.
The use of new technologies for the whole back office and food preparation side also enables restaurants to increase their productivity. One extreme example is Dodo Pizza, a Russian franchising brand with about 700 points of sale, all of which contain TV cameras allowing customers registered on the platform to look inside them online and monitor everything: offering, waiting times, product delivery, etc.
This implies the resdesign of restaurants, with spaces not just for eating meals but also for waiting for take-aways, or for eating quick snacks.
These topics, the digitalisation of services and the differentiation of the offering, which were already evolving fast, have been accelerated even more by the recent emergency. Now we await the return to normality to find out how many new needs have arisen from this planetary shock.
Francesco Pupillo, holder of a degree in Economics from Università Cattolica in Milan, joined Reed MIDEM in 2009 as senior sales manager for the Mipim and Mapic markets, before being promoted in 2016 to deputy director of Mapic events, developing their brand in particular with the launch of regional events in Milan, Moscow, Shanghai and Mumbai. Francesco Pupillo was also involved in the creation of Mapic Food in 2018, and is show director of the new The Happetite & Leisure Up edition.