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Food and Drink

Robert Kedzlie

Robert Kedzlie is the founder and Managing Director of Spalding based NPD Direct, a concept design agency working within the retail, food service and food manufacturing sectors across the UK, Europe and North America. Founded on January 1st 2000 the company works with multi-national household name retailers, food service operators and brands, designing the next generation food, packaging and processing concepts for consumers around the world. The business operates from their design studio in Spalding and additional office and kitchen space on 25th St. Manhattan, New York. Food design, food photography, packaging design and launch management are some of the key functions within the business.

One business success

  • We are still here!....based on a decision we made in 2010. The financial crash of 2008/9 had us with our backs against the wall. We had full time employees (around 20) that were specialists within their field – food technology, pack design, project management etc. We took a long hard look at our business model and decided to take a more flexible approach to the resource we were using with a reduced full or part-time employee base. Jump forward to March 2020. Our American and UK business was booming, with multiple clients, and multiple projects managed by industry specialists based on both sides of the pond. All of the USA business stopped overnight! However, because our fixed overhead base was at an all-time low, we could effectively turn off the resource requirement overnight and that’s made us a better business to move forward.

Two challenges for the sector

  • A part of our business is built on helping food manufacturers identify trends so they can innovate products and be early to market.  As we come out of the pandemic it will be more important than ever for businesses to keep an ear to the ground in terms of dietary changes – last year saw the opening of the UK’s first ‘permanent’ vegan butcher in North London for example.  Things happen faster now due to the ‘Instagram’ generation and unless businesses are monitoring what’s happening, they could find themselves very quickly behind the curve.
  • Businesses will also need to look at their offering and be prepared to adapt and develop new channels.  On our part, we opened a new photographic studio which added value to what we could and are now offering clients, we also made the decision to work (and invest) with our food service clients to support them on what the ‘new norm’ would look like. This was a high-risk decision on our part with no guarantee of future business for NPD Direct.

Three forecasts for the sector

  • I would not say we are out of the woods. It will be a slow steady burn as food producers, brands, retailers and food services providers start to raise their heads above the parapet. The media tells us that the economy and food service outlets are set for a booming revival. This may be so, but we will definitely see a lag in terms of the long-term strategic investment that will kick in from 2022 onwards.
  • Today is all about getting businesses that sell food open again. It’s not about investing for the future. These aren’t my words, these are the words from some of the largest food producers and food service providers across the country and it will be some time before food businesses re-energise their innovation streams. This in turn opens up the market to smaller more agile businesses, so be prepared for some fast-growing new entrants!
  • There is no doubt that plant-based diets are gaining more attention.  The news that Oatly are building their first UK ‘plant milk’ factory in Peterborough shows the size of the investment international businesses are making in the sector. The Oatly news is on the back of doubling year-on-year sales and a possible $10bn US stock market listing demonstrating the massive confidence the ‘money-men’ have in sector growth.

March 2021