Elior sets sights on Compass’s market


French catering company Elior is gearing up to take on Compass in the European concession catering market. The caterer, which owns Avenance – the fourth-largest caterer in the UK – also operates in Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and is the third-biggest caterer in France.

Robert Zolande, co-chairman of Elior, said it was pinpointing growth in the UK and Italy in airports, motorways, railway stations and museums, a market that was dominated by one major player, Compass.He added that this was a good reason to challenge Compass: ‘There is a vacancy for competitors.’

Eliance, the concession catering division of Elior in the UK, has three motorway sites, two airports – Aberdeen and Blackpool – and a D‚liFrance outlet at Leeds railway station. Its operating company, Digby Trout Restaurants, has several museum and leisure site contracts, including the Tower of London and the British Museum. Elior bought Digby Trout Restaurants in autumn 2002.

Eliance recently won the food and beverage contract at Edinburgh Castle – the six-year contract which opens this year is expected to yield £10.4m in sales.Zolande doubted the UK motorway business offered as many opportunities for expansion as museums, airports and railway stations, because of the long leases on sites, but was excited about expanding in other areas.

He likened competing against multinational companies, such as Compass and Sodexho, to being ‘a small David against a large Goliath’.’We have to find the clever route’, he said.

But Zolande added that Elior’s path to growth would not mean rolling out the same concepts across all its sites. ‘Our business is focused in Europe and South American countries and we have developed a growth strategy based on tailoring services to our clients and customers.’

He said that replicating the same catering concepts wouldn’t work in many European and Spanish-speaking countries: ‘We will take an approach to catering that is specific to that country.’Gilles Cojan, Elior’s head of International strategy, expected the company to grow its sales by 4% this year and said it was on track to do so.

Cojan also said there would be growth in using central food production kitchens and that the company would look to cut the number of suppliers it used across Europe to be more efficient.Other innovations included providing fuel services at its motorway service areas in France and offering full facilities service management in healthcare, particularly hospitals.

However, Cojan said the company wouldn’t extend this to business and industry. ‘We don’t think it is a suitable environment. In B&I the client wants a good caterer – is it a good caterer who is also cleaning your toilets?’

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