Catering towards change

Humdingers founder Robert Hunningher shares his insight on the industry landscape and its latest developments

Humdingers Catering began with a vision to bring unpretentious but delicious food to as many people as possible. Based on Hoxton Street, the business consists of Humdingers Catering and Humdingers Bakery and Soup Kitchen. The latter venture was launched as a social enterprise during the pandemic.

Despite the negative effects the pandemic had on their business, Humdingers used the profits of their catering business to open a soup kitchen to feed the local community and donated £120k worth of food to NHS workers, providing 200 meals for staff at the Royal London Hospital during the wave of the pandemic, serving over 100,000 meals in 2020.

The business has a goal to expand its event catering operation primarily within the corporate events market, targeting businesses with a purpose-driven mindset.

What was the industry landscape like pre- and post-pandemic?

Pre-pandemic there were a lot of clients, events and bookings which enabled our small business to thrive. However, there were looming concerns of the impact of Brexit, and how it was going to impact the industry workforce and the supply chain. The key challenge however was standing out in a competitive market.

Post-pandemic we are slowly beginning to resurface from a difficult year or so, and we can see that event and catering bookings are increasing in fantastic amounts. Although there was an initial struggle as we awaited restrictions to lift and better clarity on government advice for us to be able to really feel our way back in action again.

However, with the pandemic and Brexit really hitting the hospitality workforce, we find ourselves struggling to find chefs and FOH staff. We now not only have to continue to try and stand out within the catering industry, but also to prospective staff – as a small business it is hard to compete with the bigger companies who can afford to offer more competitive packages which are a lot higher than pre-pandemic. We are still able to fulfil our orders to a high standard, but it is a great deal of hard work for the current team.

Are there any new windows of opportunity?

We believe now is the time for businesses to focus on being kinder. The pandemic was a real leveller on society in some ways. Everyone was put under the same restrictions, and everyone was faced with challenges. However, it also really highlighted some huge disparities. While some were fortunate enough to work from home or have a reasonable furlough pay out each month, others lost jobs or struggled with the cut to their pay, so they were really hit financially, and Humdingers Catering felt a duty to step in and do what we could to help feed those struggling to make ends meet. Businesses need to be kinder and more considerate of the community that surrounds them.

What has the pandemic highlighted about the industry landscape?

It highlighted that the hospitality industry needs to change, that staff need to be made to feel valued and welcome, with hours and conditions fairer. The pandemic really gave people time to reflect, and many have turned away from the industry or relocated. It’s crucial that we make the industry somewhere people want to be rather than move away from.

Having a solid foundation is important. It has allowed hospitality businesses to remain anchored to some degree amidst the pandemic madness. However, we opened a new bakery in a very unpredictable climate and it has done very well. It really is down to determination to make it work as the proceeds were funding our soup kitchen and foodbank, so it gave us extra drive. We also were able to collaborate with some great like minded individuals who wanted to take a new, kinder approach to life.

What does it take to be successful in this industry now?

To be successful in the industry in this day and age, you must not only have resilience and determination to ride out the difficult periods, but the initiative and courage to explore other avenues of revenue. It is all about identifying what will always remain a constant demand within the changing landscape – and for us this is the desire for social contact and gatherings, the staple loaf of bread and of course coffee! It’s important to measure success by the strength and skills of the team, how much of an impact the community incentives are having and whether the purpose of your company is being fulfilled.

On the catering side, it is about creating a memorable experience and on our social incentives side ensuring that no one goes hungry in our community. Being purpose-driven and motivated beyond profit is crucial.

What is the most important piece of advice you would give to those working in the industry?

Bring purpose to your company and find fulfilment beyond profit. This in turn will attract the kind of clients and staff who share your core philosophy and are ultimately the people you want involved in your business.

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