Local hospitality operators are facing pressures due to inflation and staff shortages, but the industry is feeling confident in a pre-covid landscape.

Foodservice professionals gathered together last week at SGK’s new HQ in Sydney’s Macquarie Park to attend the AFAB Market Update, which saw five panelists weigh in on the overall state of the industry.

Former R&CA CEO Wes Lambert (OpenTable) took to the stage alongside Benjamin Udy (KPMG); Sissel Rosengren (Food Industry Insight; AFAB); Phil Hwang (SGK) and Shaun Mangan (Bega Foodservice).

The speakers discussed everything from macro economics to the importance of effective messaging, the findings from the State of Play report as well as AFAB’s policy priorities for the coming months.

While operators are grappling with rising costs, Udy predicted food inflation will “come down sharply over the next 12 months”, with operators beginning to see food prices temper this year largely due to better weather conditions experienced in recent months.

Electricity and wage costs will remain high for the coming two years, but migration into Australia is slated to pick up this year, with a growing population offsetting a potential recession.

Lambert outlined AFAB’s hit list for the coming year, which largely revolves around wages as the minimum wage is expected to increase sharply. Lambert said AFAB will lobby the government for a balanced and “temperate rise”.

While 13 per cent of Australia’s overall employees work in foodservice, just 46 per cent of students studying hospitality complete their TAFE courses.

The former R&CA CEO said secondary hospitality courses need to be modernised and given the same attention as other booming industries such as IT and tech to futureproof our industry.

Rosengren spoke on the findings of AFAB’s State of Play report, which revealed data on how much Australians spend on eating out as well as how operators are feeling about their businesses in a pre-covid world.

The confidence index “takes the pulse of the market”, with the most recent figure sitting at 84/100 compared to 71/00 mid-last year.

Australians have steadily returned to eating outside the home, now spending 24.8 cents of every dollar dedicated of their food and beverage budgets at foodservice outlets compared to 37.2 cents pre-pandemic.

Retail including supermarkets and other food outlets, have continued to experience strong growth, with the sector up 12 per cent.

All in all, the data confirms the industry is in a promising position when it comes to consumer confidence, but business owners will need to remain on the ball to balance profitability with cost-of-living pressures.