Food for the buds: A glance at the food park business trend in the metro

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PATRICK ADRIEL H. AURE

“Where do we eat? #Saantayokakain?”

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It is amusing how a very innocent question has evolved into one that is most difficult to answer, especially when it is directed at a big group of people. Given the Filipinos’ love affair with food, it is no wonder that food entrepreneurs have offered us a wide variety of taste-bud-pleasing and tummy-filling choices. From fast food to fine dining; from kiosks to bazaars; from deliveries to eat-all-you-can buffets—there is always a most appropriate format for every occasion, in any place, at any time!

Building on the ever-growing food categories, one format is what people may classify as #trending, especially in metropolitan areas: food parks. In my personal experience, food parks have been sprouting left and right in Quezon City, specifically on Maginhawa and Congressional Avenue Extension. Even industry experts have noted the impact of the food park trend. In a Euromonitor category briefing released on May 10, entitled “Street stalls/kiosks in the Philippines,” the reporters noted how food parks recorded a surge in popularity.

This format appeals to both foodies and foodpreneurs. Customers looking to try new food concepts and bond with a group of family, friends and loved ones appreciate the ambience and variety offered by the format, while starting entrepreneurs appreciate the incubator-like nature of the food parks in terms of testing novel concepts with minimal capital. Euromonitor forecasts that food parks will continue to increase in number in major urban cities. Although consumers continue to enjoy innovative offerings and the unique ambience, it is important for food park operators to provide consistent quality and affordability.

However, the rise of food parks should not undermine the risks and challenges operators and foodpreneurs need to consider. As a frequent visitor of the Congressional Avenue Extension area, I have noticed that although there is a big increase in operators and willing foodpreneurs, not all of the food parks are consistently filled with customers. I have witnessed one operator shutting down the business, while there are others who are still in the construction stage. Make no mistake—the food park category is becoming more competitive. Aside from the pressure of direct competition, operators and foodpreneurs should also consider the impact of more traditional formats such as restaurants and malls in addressing the ever-fickle needs of food enthusiasts.
Do operators and foodpreneurs need to offer food for the gods to succeed in this increasingly competitive category? I cannot say. Instead, at the risk of garnishing this paragraph with too much pun, I offer food for thought summarized by the phrase “food for the buds,” which can be viewed in two dimensions.

Food for the (taste) buds

The food park concept itself is novel and the variety of selection can encourage customers to try it at least once. However, operators and foodpreneurs must be compelled to deliver innovative value that not only encourages first trial, but rather repeated consumption and visits. Food parks and their tenants should not fall into the trap of thinking that novelty can sustain customers, or else we run the risk of food parks becoming similar to food fads that rise exponentially fast yet fall harder. For the sake of food enthusiasts and the benefits of increased entrepreneurship, we should not let this happen.

Food for the (group) buds

Aside from the novel food concepts, one unique offering of food parks is the creative ambience – making use of themes or other props that make the experience transcend flavors. However, my friends and I have personally experienced many barriers that ruin the food park experience: traffic jams around the vicinity, very limited parking (even for some newly-opened parks), and the discomfort of rising summer temperature even during nighttime. To increase the odds of attaining success, food parks and foodpreneurs should collaborate on offering not only food for the taste buds but the total quality experience for groups of buddies and communities. Some operators are already inviting live bands and hosting events that could contribute to a better food-park experience.

In conclusion, food parks have the potential to make a huge impact on the industry. Perhaps the key is for food park operators and foodpreneurs to have not just a transactional relationship similar to malls and their tenants; there should be utmost collaboration that leads to offering innovative food for the taste buds and experience for groups of buddies.

If you may again pardon the pun, they need to succeed in offering a two-dimensional ‘food for the buds!’

Patrick Adriel H. Aure is currently a faculty member of the Management and Organization Department of the Ramon V. del Rosario College of business, and is a junior research fellow of the DLSU Center for Business Research and Development. Having recently earned his MBA from De La Salle University, he is excited about exploring cases featuring social enterprises, sustainability, innovation, and new business models. You can reach him at aure.patrick@gmail.com.

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