A source of news, food and comfort, cafés are the lifeblood of our local neighbourhood, offering an inviting place to meet friends and treat ourselves in the process. Over the years, cafés have faced significant pressure, so this month’s Category Focus shines a spotlight on this special sector and the trends set to shape it.

2024 Food And Beverage Trends

More of an ongoing movement than a trend, veganism is driving more plant-based offerings. Rather than cater for this target market with standard fare, add some creative flare to your menu and think about filling sandwiches featuring pulled BBQ jackfruit or beetroot hummus and Indian spiced crispy chickpeas. For a hot option, try a vegan meatball sub or roast aubergine with garlic potatoes, nutmeg and sundried tomatoes. We expect to see plant-based milks evolve, oat milk will still lead the charge, but newer entries like potato and hemp milk will start making waves.

Linked to the increase of plant-based options is a continued consumer focus on wellness. “Consumers are showing a heightened awareness regarding overall wellbeing, with greater interest in better quality food options, attention to premium quality ingredients and clean label products.” says Charlotte Perkins, Commercial Manager, Pan’Artisan Ltd. These items are designed to offer health benefits beyond basic nutrition and include probiotic-rich kombuchas, adaptogenic herbal teas, and CBD-infused coffees. Superfoods like turmeric, matcha, and spirulina can also boost the nutritional profile of smoothies, lattés, and baked goods.

This diversity of ingredients, with origins from India, Japan and Korea are reflective of an overarching desire to explore new cultures and flavours. The trend not only satisfies the adventurous palate of the modern consumer, but also celebrates the multicultural fabric of the UK and Ireland. As fusion cuisine continues to explode, menus featuring items like kimchi grilled cheese toasties, matcha croissants and sandwiches made with artisan bread will become more prevalent. “Our product range is influenced by authentic Italian bakery following regular trips to Italy. We often utilise traditional Italian production methods in our dough” comments Charlotte.

Offering artisan, home-grown or items made with local produce can also be a strong competitive differentiator, adding depth to your communications and attracting consumers with sustainability at heart. “Café customers appreciate their traditional dishes, but it’s equally important to elevate their experience with twists and innovative redesigns of these classics. At BaxterStorey, we’ve bolstered our fish and chips offering by sourcing only the most local and fresh fish, triple cooking our chips for extra crispiness, and infusing our peas with mint for zingy taste.” comments Rob Mitchell, General Manager, Winchester Cathedral Café.

This appreciation for quality and craftsmanship will continue to grow as cafés complement their food offering with a curated selection of speciality coffee, tea, and artisanal drinks. Single-origin coffees, cold brews, and nitro-infused teas will cater to connoisseurs and homemade syrups, date or agave sweeteners will elevate café beverage menus beyond the standard fare.

The sharp growth in non-alcoholic beverages has been a boon to cafés, offering greater variety, innovation, and high-margin options over and above market leading brands such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Manufacturers are increasingly producing beverages featuring natural ingredients and flavourings. One such company is the Cracker Drinks Co who have recently launched a new brand of lemonade inspired by the traditional flavour of homemade recipes. “Lemon Grove represents what we describe as real lemonade, with some exciting variations for an on-trend twist made with all-natural flavour ingredients” comments Chris Banks, MD, Cracker Drinks Co.

Weathering The Economic Storm

There is no doubt that the current economic slowdown is hitting the whole of the hospitality sector hard. Rising prices and increasing business demands are a heady mix for any organisation, but there are many ways in which cafés can adapt to secure their place on the high street. Transforming your café from a place where people go for a cup of coffee, to a community hub where customers want to hang out will increase repetitive business and average spend. “Creating a cozy and comfortable space can turn your café into a go-to spot. Consider adding some cozy nooks, maybe host events or live music. Don’t underestimate the power of marketing. Social media is your friend – share behind-the-scenes glimpses, customer stories, or even run promotions. Engaging content can create a buzz and draw more people through your doors.” says Gabrielle Yap, Culinary Entrepreneur, CarnivoreStyle.

Whether you are creating a snug for book lovers or a trendy tech-friendly spot for nomadic workers, the key is to make it an experience and tap into your target audience on a personal level. “We host regular car meetups for supercar enthusiasts, taking advantage of our ample parking space” says Ben Southall, Co-Founder at Seven Districts Coffee. “These events not only serve as a unique draw for a specific audience but also create a community around shared interests. Beyond our daily café operations, we also host quarterly wine tasting evenings, leveraging the similarities between coffee and wine tasting notes to offer our customers a unique and sophisticated experience.”

Partnerships with other local businesses such as yoga studios or artists who might like to use your venue for an exhibition forges community connections and enhances trade. “Get to know your customers and their preferences. If you notice a group of students studying every weekend, consider introducing student-friendly deals or study-friendly environments. It’s all about making people feel seen and appreciated” says Gabrielle.

Accommodating different dietary needs is another way to increase turnover. When customers feel heard, they become loyal champions, and as consumers today suffer from more allergies than ever before, delivering enticing menus that are inclusive will be rewarded. “By crafting dishes that deliver the same mouthwatering taste and texture as non-alternative favourites, you’ll not only cater to a wider audience but also earn a reputation for culinary innovation and inclusivity. Every dish on our Winchester Cathedral Café menu can be adapted to each dietary need, from buttermilk pancakes to our avocado on toast!” says Rob.

Over the years, much has changed – and will continue to change – but what has remained constant, is the love for a place where people can meet, eat and take a few precious moments to watch the world go by. They are the heart of our communities, the caffeine boost when we need it most, and the gentle social interaction that eases isolation – they are our cafés.