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THE END OF NORMAL There are no longer mass groups of normal consumers, only millions of individuals, millions of small factions that share some commonality with each other, yet think differently, act differently and consume differently. An opinion piece for GRIF Society

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he number of restaurant chains either slowing down growth, reducing their footprint or simply going bust doesn’t seem to be abating. Jamie Oliver is back in the news, because last September he had to stick 13 million pounds of his personal savings into his Italian restaurant chain. I know exactly how he feels, as September is when Dubai annual school fees have to be paid, which are approximately the same cost. John Knight, chief executive of the Jamie Oliver Restaurant Group, said, “We were opening too many restaurants, too quickly, in the wrong places.” Industry reports lay the blame of poor restaurant performance at the feet of rising costs, oversaturation of the market and increased competition. However, it’s worth exploring the idea that restaurants are also underperforming because average products for average people are just not good enough anymore. I believe our current culture is to actively search out like-minded people, and connect with tribes that resonate with our beliefs and pleasures. Normal is defined as the usual, the typical or expected, but what is normal anymore?

It’s called “Cord Cutting” and people are cutting cords everywhere. Conformity is out and the kaleidoscope is in. 02 >>> FoodSheikh - GRIF Society

There are no longer mass groups of normal consumers, only millions of individuals, millions of small factions that share some commonality with each other, yet think differently, act differently and consume differently. Certainly, in the world of consumerism, things were easier when we were all lumped together, right there in the middle of the bell curve. It was easier to reach us all that way, so there we remained. It was easy to sell us burgers, and bread and soft drinks when we were all in the centre of the curve. But, things are changing, and have been changing fast. Conformity is out, and

the kaleidoscope is in. The middle of that bell curve is splintering and then re-splintering again. Cable TV is for the masses; Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime are for the niche. The fringes. Total cable subscriber numbers declined 3.4% over the course of 2017, a bigger decline than in the previous two years, whereas streaming services are showing gains that are even more remarkable. Netflix, the 700-pound gorilla in the sector, reported earlier this month that it had added a net 1.96 million subscribers in the first quarter of 2018. This shift even has a name – it’s called ‘Cord Cutting’ and people are cord cutting everywhere.


THE FUTURE BELONGS TO THOSE THAT CAN CREATE A PORTFOLIO OF FOCUSED BRANDS THAT CATER TO THE MANY DIFFERENT TRIBES OF F&B CONSUMERS.

Let’s take a look at the fitness industry, as another example. It used to be that gyms across the globe were mostly the same. There was a cardio section, some lifting machines and if you were lucky, a free weights section. However, the fitness world of today is full of microtribes from CrossFit to MMA from power lifting to Zumba and from spin class to boxercise. The list goes on and on.

all of these disciplines are being catered for by the industry.

Gyms that understand and cater to these specific tribes, are popping up across the country. There is a movement gym in Alserkal Avenue in Dubai, and UFC have launched their MMA style gyms in multiple locations across the city. CrossFit, American Ninja, Olympic lifting,

The fitness industry has figured out that another mass market ‘globogym’ is not what the communities need and has realized that the bell curve is shifting, and micro communities are key.

Even the dietary micro-tribes are gaining traction and have moved away from being labelled as simply trends or fads. Vegan, Keto, Vegetarian, Pescatarian, Flexitarian, Fruitarian, Lactovegetarianism, Gluten Free, High Protein, Low Carbs, the list is almost endless.

Hotels are also figuring it out – brands

Clearly, the idea of smaller and smaller

03 >>>FoodSheikh - GRIF Society

However, what’s important to note here, is that although the products and services are being fine-tuned to reflect these new tribes, someone who does CrossFit will probably also do some Olympic lifting and other disciplines as part of their overall programme.

are being created for really specific groups and they aren’t targeting traditional demographics, but mindsets instead. Marriott now has 30 hotel brands, catering for anything from Upper Upscale Wellness in St Regis to select service business in Four Points by Sheraton and everything in between.


interest groups has a huge impact on the role of marketing, of mass communication and society at large. We see it every day online, but ultimately, the product and service need to support the messaging. Sure, you might be using the right language and visuals and platforms, but is your actual product keeping up its end of the bargain? The signs have been there for the restaurant industry for quite some time, and it is worth considering that this ‘onesize-fits-all’ mentality is not working anymore and has become a contributing reason for all the closures over the last few years. The one-size-fits-all approach of big legacy chains is giving way to more diversified, regionalized methods of restaurant development, even for concepts with growth plans. To make inroads into new and existing markets, operators need to tailor their design, their menu and their concept and story to fit their new micro-tribe audiences. As malls and high streets work with restaurant partners to develop sustainable, engaging communities, consider the strategy of the area of Seven Dials in London. The eclectic mix found here is home to 200 businesses, 2/3rds of which are independently owned, including theatres, offices, restaurants, bars and a plethora of shops. Shaftesbury, the property investment company that manages Seven Dials seems to have it right. Donna Lambert of Shaftesbury explains, “We don’t want any mainstream brands. We want more kooky brands, something that offers the consumers a unique product that they are not going to get anywhere else, so the retail strategy is quite intense.”

“We don’t want any mainstream brands. We want more kooky brands, something that offers the consumers a unique product that they are not getting anywhere else.”

Seven Dials evidences the importance of moving away from mass and focusing in on community tribes. The only place in Dubai that can compare to Seven Dials at the moment, is perhaps, Dubai Design District. I don’t know of anywhere else in Dubai, community-wise, that is like D3. It’s got a very village feel to it, and it’s a great place to just wander around and discover new things. An eclectic mix of independent restaurants that are often unique to the region – Akiba Dori, The Lighthouse, Molecule, YUi and El Noctambulo, to name but a few, stand out above the masses. I believe that the restaurants that will succeed, are the ones that understand the importance of their communities and the role they play in them. Those operators that resonate with their neighbourhoods, identify with their tribes and connect with their customers on a deeply personal level, will win. That centre of the bell curve is getting harder to identify.

for left handed vegetarians. What this article is about is looking to understand that the traditional, mass market, cookie cutter approach to F&B is perhaps not the centre anymore. The bell curve has shifted, and there is no centre, no mass. Our culture is now a collection of tribes, and each tribe is a community of interests and subinterests. Our industry is rich with consumers that have forged unique identities and dining preferences based on attitudes, beliefs and personal values. Our industry is rich with consumers that have choices and we need to understand that and allow our establishments to mirror that. The future belongs those that can create a portfolio of focused brands that cater to the many different tribes of F&B consumers.

Does your local high-street really need another Byron Burger or Costa Coffee? Does an Emaar community center need another Pauls or Starbucks? There will always be a place for strong brands, but I believe that there is also a growing place for diversity and difference, even if that diversity is a caffeine-free single-origin coffee shop FoodSheikh - GRIF Society <<< 04

The End Of Normal  

FoodSheikh explores the end of normal and the changing of a guard for the restaurant industry.

The End Of Normal  

FoodSheikh explores the end of normal and the changing of a guard for the restaurant industry.