• The Cabinet

Can Drink Drive Us back to the Office?

With consumers now used to endless, sophisticated food and drink options at home, the bog-standard office coffee machine isn’t going to fly any more. Is it time offices incentivised workers to return with more sophisticated and differentiated food and beverage options, that meet changing lifestyles?


While some learned a new language, or organised their books into alphabetical order during 2020/1’s arduous lockdowns, others took to the kitchen. Learning new skills, trying new recipes, and educating oneself about different wine varietals, or ways to produce the perfect sushi roll became a form of entertainment in its own right.


According to insurer Aviva, one in 10 now regret their lockdown purchases, with out-of-the norm spending having occurred most on a plethora of kitchen gadgets, including kitchen appliances such as bread makers, garden furniture, and pizza ovens.


And according to Mintel, some of the biggest food and drink trends to have occurred as a result of lockdown focus on a desire from consumers to replicate foodservice experiences at home. Trends also centred on their intricate recipe or methodology, and included Dalgona coffee, or ‘Gardenscape Focaccia’. Google it. People had time on their hands.


Better habits


There was also a marked shift towards healthier eating, whereby consumers sought out functional ingredients that offered both mental and physical benefits. Daily smoothie making, for example became part of the routine for many, with fruit and vegetables selected alongside other functional ingredients that claim to boost mood and immunity, among other things.


In short, consumers are now used to having infinite variety at home, replicating sophisticated food and drink options, and have settled into health-boosting routines that, quite frankly, many don’t want to give up. Office catering of old then, just isn’t going to do it.


Championing causes


So what to do, for offices desperate to get their workers back through the door? The drinks options many office buildings/ employers provide staff with is indisputably dated. Simple coffee filters, instant coffee, or coffee vending machines churning out cups of mud, for example, are no longer going to cut it. People’s expectations are now far greater, and their choice of what they consume, much more considered.

From environmental to social causes, consumers are also now more conscious of the impact of their spending and consumption habits, selecting brands that reflect their values. Numerous surveys abound showing that as a result of the pandemic, many are now choosing to shop local to support businesses and economies close to home. Over half of consumers globally (53%) believe it is more important to shop with local businesses now than it was before the pandemic, according to SME banking partner, Pollinate. Can workers take this behaviour with them back to the office too?


A golden carrot


From free breakfasts, to well stocked drinks carts, many large employers have already begun to provide their staff with ever more sophisticated office services to lure them back through their doors.


Key to the start of the workday for many is good coffee. KPMG is targeting both post-lockdown trends – for better, more sophisticated options, that also support local or social causes – with its push to bring workers back. It is working alongside UK coffee roaster and supplier, Ernie. Based in Elephant and Castle, it sources speciality coffee, including microlot, direct from farmers or established trading companies that ensure fair practice and high quality beans. Roasted to requirements, the coffee is strictly only available withing the M25 to ensure it never travels too far. The company delivers – emission free – using its repurposed 1960’s milk float, alongside a fleet of cargo bikes. And the company is working towards becoming carbon neutral, recycling coffee packing to create its delivery boxes, and planting trees in the UK for every delivery made.


By working alongside demonstrably local, ethical businesses, that deliver a product way beyond the standard chain coffee shops can offer, companies such as KPMG are tapping into causes workers have come to increasingly care about, as well as offering something high quality.


Feel-good perks


The accounting giant is not the only one hoping to attract staff back with a feel-good perk. In the UK Goldman Sachs, is providing free breakfast and lunch, and again is working with small, local producers it is calling out by name. It is currently offering free ice-cream from Hackney Gelato. The independent and award-winning start-up produces carefully crafted, slow churned gelato and sorbetto. Law firm Slaughter and May is giving staff breakfast credits to buy high quality coffee and food. And in the US, Bank of America, Credit Suisse and Cowen, are subsidizing or providing meals to employees.


What’s clear is that employers are going to have to make heading to the office an ‘experience’, far enhanced from what was on offer pre-pandemic, if they are to draw workers away from the working from home lifestyles they have created for themselves. Offering artisan food and drink that supports local businesses is one step employers can take to help match behaviours developed during home working. Decent coffee may just be a good starting point.