Within the UK's £3.865bn contract catering and foodservice market, business and industry (B&I) accounts for 41% of meals served and more than half (51%) of the outlets, according to the British Hospitality Association (BHA).
From a market share high of 74.7% back in 1991, the sector has been on a gradual decline, albeit with occasional blips up and down (for example it accounted for 49.8% in 2004), as staff canteens disappear.
Workplaces have also become smaller and more disparate and, amid increasing competition from retail and supermarket outlets for workers' stomachs, there are now fewer and smaller workplace outlets. .
Clear evidence of can be seen in the statistic that, while market share may have declined, the number of outlets (currently 8,973) is markedly more than the 7,775 reported in 1991 and, until 2002, was steadily rising.
The number of meals served by the sector has also been rising consistently, from 325 million in 1991 to 645 million last year.
Despite this decline, B&I remains by far the most important contract catering sector, and the biggest single market for contract caterers.
When it comes to operators, outlets run by food-and-service-management contractors account for 51% of the sector, yet serve 96% of the meals, reflecting the fact that contractors will generally be in charge of larger outlets than those that are self-operated.
With such names as Eurest, Restaurant Associates and Baxter & Platts within its stable it is no surprise that Compass is very much the daddy of the sector.
Other key players include Sodexho (which has, among other brands, the Anton Edelman-led Directors Table division), Elior (including Avenance) and Aramark (including Design Solutions).
Outside the big players, there is now a raft of significant smaller operators such as Charlton House Catering Services, Initial Catering Services and BaxterStorey.
There's no doubt that B&I is a tough industry in which to make a buck. "Companies have their own internal culture, and the catering will often reflect that. "People want fresh food and a high level of service, but they still want cheap food too, which makes it a very tough market to be in," says consultant Chris Stern.
While concerns about freshness, ethical sourcing and so on are continuing to make their presence felt, there is as yet little appetite for this to be passed on to the cost of a contract, making it very difficult for a contractor to achieve the margins they might once have hoped for.
But that's not to say there are not margins to be had and profits to be made. Compass, for instance, at its last full-year results reported B&I growth of 11% in North America and 9% in the UK, less than any of its other sectors but growth nevertheless.
B&I is one area where there are still also opportunities for the smaller players, with operators such as Baxter Storey or Charlton House in particular carving out a niche for themselves, argues Coverpoint managing director Jonathan Doughty.
Facilities managers are becoming more prepared to take risks because they now have a better knowledge of what B&I contract catering involves and what is wanted for their company.
"They are no longer totally reliant on the caterer and they are looking for caterers that deliver a high-value service. More and more companies, too, are focusing on value; what is the value of what they are getting and what are they paying for it?" says Doughty.
The decline of the large office canteen and the rise of the sandwich at the desk or on the street is leading, and has already led, to a fundamental change in B&I. Operators are offering a much wider range of facilities management add-ons.
Services becoming more popular include administrative and secretarial support, caretaking, maintenance and security, cleaning and domestic service, conference facilities and grounds maintenance. A snack or tuck shop has also become a common part of the catering contract.
But operators have also been examining what sorts of food services they offer, from mobile units that can deliver to workers at their desks, to healthier and lighter option available at different times of the day.
Operators have, too, had to take a close look at how they maximise usage of any canteen space, hence the increase in conference facilities and other uses for the "dead" time between meals.
Factors such as corporate social responsibility, and how employees (and even sometimes customers) perceive organisations through the food they offer, are increasingly coming into play when B&I contracts are being negotiated, argues Stern.
Similarly, retail and high-street operators are constantly upping the ante. "I think the next year will see the retail industry starting to have a real impact on foodservice, with concepts such as ‘grab ‘n' go'," argues Doughty. "You are also getting more people working in foodservice who have come in from a retail background."
On the employee side, as with so many other parts of the industry, B&I is continuing to see a "casualisation" of the workforce, with the number of full-time employees falling by 6% last year and part-timers increasing by 7.6%, according to the BHA.
Yet labour costs also rose by 2.8% last year, the BHA added.
Some, such as Geoffrey Harrison, managing director of Harrison Catering Services, argue the changing face of lunch hours needs to be seen as an opportunity by caterers prepared to work flexibly with organisations, while continuing to provide quality, "proper" food.
One key trend, argues John Dowman, director of international projects at Tricon, is a drift away from nil-subsidy to subsidised contracts, not because companies enjoy spending more but they see other, less direct, benefits accruing from such a move.
These include greater loyalty, productivity and morale and, coming back to the earlier point, the company catering becoming simply another element within the wider employer brand.
"Some have even gone to free issue foodservice because of the wider benefits they feel they accrue from that," says Dowman.
"The large contractors will be looking to provide a much simpler, user-friendly face. They want to present a face that is giving value to the client in some way," he adds.
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Source: BHA Food and Service Management Survey, 2006