Mapic review: leisure and food & beverage to the rescue
Shopping centres are having a very tough time at the moment as their retail tenants deal with the shift to online sales and efforts involved in the creation of more immersive experiences in physical shops. But there remains a bright spot with food & beverage and leisure operators playing an ever greater role in malls and on the high street.
As the retail property industry came together for its annual MAPIC event in Cannes this week the topic of these non-retail elements was very much at the forefront of their thinking. Highlighting this was the addition of a Leisure Day conference on to the regular two-day programme.
F&B now finally taken seriously
Speaking at MAPIC Jonathan Doughty, global head of foodservice, leisure & placemaking at ECE, picked up on how the situation is changing within the shopping landscape: “The shopping centre world is growing up now. From when I got involved in 1988 nobody listened to us about food in shopping centres but now they do listen. Food and beverage is creating a new story for shopping malls.”
Maybe part of the reason is that food and drink is outperforming retail – with eight per cent growth seen in the UK over the last 10 years. This has coincided with 22% growth in the number of restaurant brands between 2014 and 2018, according to Food Service Vision.
Such an increase highlights the changing demand among consumers whose appetite has become much more broadly spread. They are no longer solely interested in the same big brands. Doughty says that life is “not about having 150 of the same brands anymore, it will be 10 or 20 of lots of different brands”.
Keeping it fresh and consistent
Rachel Belam, head of food & beverage leasing at Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield (URW) – whose responsibility includes the two Westfield shopping centres in London, agrees that things have changed and as URW reached the 10-year lease cycle on its West London site it began engineering a refurbishment and refresh of its food court component.
“It was a game-changer when we opened and we estimate we’ve served 23 million meals through the food court so the question is how does it evolve? The ethos has not shifted, it’s still fresh food served fast by entrepreneurial brands. The ideal is cool concept brands serving from a compact version,” she explains.
Although Belam recognises the moves towards short-term, constantly evolving food offers such as those found in food halls and food markets she says Westfield typically deals in five-year leases in order to justify the high fit-out costs of the bespoke kitchens for each brand and to ensure consistency of the offer.
Of the 29 restaurants in the centre some will have a changed space while others will be replaced. There has also been an increase in seats in the food court to 1,200. The other changes include a growing level of sales derived from food delivery and a concerted effort to drive greater evening sales.
Bringing it the leisure component
With these initiatives in place she is confident of a bright future: “Food and beverage [as well as retail] has its challenges but at URW it’s looking good.” But it is not just the food and drinks that are differentiating the Westfield offer because it has also been integrating a leisure aspect into its mix, in addition to its cinema, which Belam says is a “growing phenomenon”.
Its leisure elements now include All Star Lanes and Puttshack. Hugh Knowles, chief development officer for UK & Europe at Puttshack, says that just like the perception of food and drink has changed, the view of leisure components within retail developments has also changed significantly.
“The conversations today are very different to before. I was laughed out of meeting rooms. They said come back in five years’ time. We have come back and now the conversation is very different. This change has happened over the past 18 months,” he suggests.
Leisure needs to be seen strategically
However, Knowles cautions that there is still a big difference between those landlords of shopping centres and high streets who regard leisure as part of their broader strategy and those who simply have a space and are looking to leisure operators to fill it.
A key attraction of leisure is that it is a great driver of footfall into malls, with a hefty 40% of Puttshack customers at its site in Westfield admitting that they had not visited the shopping centre in the past year and as many as 20% had never been before.
Such statistics are further evidence to support the argument that leisure, along with food and drink, will absolutely play an increasingly important role in the wider retail landscape.
Words by Glynn Davis.
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