With a lift in lockdown measures drawing closer, the seafood industry vows to support the hospitality sector as together we prepare for a new reality
The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted us in ways we never thought possible, bringing with it a multitude of consumer restrictions and undeniable behavioural shifts, many of which will stick, lockdown or not. The Norwegian seafood industry – the second largest seafood exporter in the world – has remained operational throughout the lockdown, being classified a critical function of society. But as the globe starts to emerge from the heavy clouds of the viral outbreak, we are faced with a very different marketplace from only a few months ago.
What the future holds
Coronavirus has devastated the hospitality industry and meddled with the diner's relationship towards eating out and food in general. We now find ourselves in a critical period to carefully navigate with agility and innovation. We talked to our chef ambassador, Michel Roux Jr, chef-patron at London's Le Gavroche.
"This has been a truly testing time for the whole industry and we are praying there won't be a long-term effect. When we can safely reopen our doors, we'll be looking to offer a pared-down menu at Le Gavroche to save costs. This is not going to be a lesser menu by any means; we need to make the restaurant experience as exceptional as possible for our guests, and that's where fish and seafood – seen as very special ingredients – come in," says Roux.
Trends for reopening
With eating out temporarily off the cards, lowered disposable incomes and a significant increase in down time, home cooking and meals around the table are enjoying a resurgence. Consumers are also opting for healthier and more environmentally conscious options as lockdown becomes a part of everyday life. Satisfying these trends will be key to reopening menus.
Ingredients with functional benefits are increasingly coming into play as links between health and immunity become clear – take superfoods such as seafood, seeds, spices and nutrient-rich vegetables. But it's not all about health kicks – consumers are also turning to hearty, indulgent dishes for comfort and wellbeing.
Roux explains: "In challenging times, I believe people look to comfort food, and for our style of cooking, this means great classic dishes and techniques. We want a big metaphorical hug from our food, and the type of hearty, home cooking that makes you feel good. We are looking forward to serving the kind of food you would associate with French country cooking, for example bouillabaisse, but using prime ingredients, presented in a very beautiful way."
It is not only the public's values on nutrition and dining culture that have been challenged by the pandemic; there has also been a radical shift in consumer attitudes towards food wastage, with decreased access to shops, more meal planning and better budgeting awareness with tightened purse strings. The issue is, of course, already on the agenda across the hospitality sector, but it will become increasingly salient upon reopening.
Roux continues: "The pandemic has had an effect at every level. We have all had a knock to our disposable income, and that must be taken into account with future menus. We will be looking to include better value fish like haddock and hake. We will also be buying whole fish rather than prepped to cut costs and, more importantly, have so much more raw material to use in the kitchen; from the head to the tail fin, everything is edible and can be used to combat wastage and boost margins.
"Whether high end or more affordable, our ingredients will continue to be of the highest quality. Harnessing our strong relationships with suppliers will be key to navigating reopening and pivoting to the numerous changes that this will entail.
"As important as offering the right menus is, we must be able to reassure our guests that, despite social distancing measures and keeping safety paramount, coming into Le Gavroche is as special an experience as it's always been – that's going to be crucial."
To those deep in the midst of diversifying offerings, to those keeping doors closed waiting for lockdown to lift and to those simply longing to get back in the kitchen – we stand by you in complete solidarity and look forward to sharing a meal together when we reach the other side.