There is a quiet revolution occurring in Australia’s shopping centres, and the result is mouth-watering. This revolution has been underway for some time, perhaps in the past more in the form of evolution, but is now gathering momentum at a very rapid rate.
Most recently, I noticed this only a week or so ago while walking through the freshly expanded and redeveloped Westfield Garden City at Mt Gravatt in Brisbane. I was struck by a combination of food and beverage outlets that included:
- a new ‘town square’ restaurant precinct, which offers more than a dozen restaurants, built around a resort style water feature;
- more than 50 foodcourt/take-away food outlets throughout the centre, including two substantial foodcourt precincts; and
- numerous other cafés strategically positioned throughout the malls.
In total, I counted more than 75 food and beverage outlets at the redeveloped centre, including a recently added, and very busy, Asian style hawker centre (8 Street) which itself contains about 15 small, authentic hawker food stalls.
It is no exaggeration to describe the provision of food and beverage options at Westfield Garden City as quite staggering.
But Westfield Garden City is not alone. The very recently expanded Westfield Miranda in southern Sydney similarly provides a hugely extended range of food and beverage options, including a new, street facing restaurant precinct, while redevelopments of other major regional centres, including Macquarie Centre in Sydney, just recently opened, and Eastland in Melbourne, which is underway, will also deliver vastly improved and extended F&B offers.
Other major centre redevelopments, imminent but yet to get underway, will also provide broadly similar numbers of F&B alternatives, i.e. in the order of 70 – 80, and in some instances, even more.
Chadstone Shopping Centre in Melbourne has long been at the forefront, with more than 80 food and beverage outlets available within the centre at last count, and with the next round of redevelopment at the centre, now underway, set to push the envelope further.
These new provisions are almost double the levels which were generally provided at Australia’s major regional centres only a few years back, and span an enormously wide range of eating and drinking establishments. No longer is it just one substantial foodcourt, with 8 – 12 small outlets and communal seating, plus a dozen or so other cafés and the occasional restaurant scattered throughout the centre.
Now, we can expect to choose from a much larger foodcourt, sometimes two, with popular new offers including Mexican, Vietnamese, Malaysian, street food, dude food and an ever expanding range of Asian alternatives such as Korean and Taiwanese. Often, a more upmarket café court with a similarly wide range of options, plus, increasingly, a restaurant precinct, round out the total offer. The restaurant precinct can provide casual family style options such as Grill’d, Pancake Parlour, yum cha, Groove Train and dumplings galore, as well as more smart/upmarket options, such as the Mediterranean Bar & Grill at Westfield Garden City.
And let’s not forget chocolate – who would want to forget chocolate – where the pioneering Max Brenner now also has as companions San Churro, Koko Black, Theobrama, Ganache, Chokolait, Lindt Café, and many smaller groups/independents. The coffee options are similarly broad, and continually expanding.
Clearly, something is afoot. The chart below, showing how Australians have changed their retail spending habits over the past two decades, is a useful pointer to what is happening, and why.
Since 1994, supermarkets have continued on their merry way, dominating the fresh food category, pushing ahead with ever better offers, and winning more and more customers. That is the most obvious trend in Australian retail expenditure over the past 20 years, and has become even more pronounced in the post-GFC period. The redevelopments of Australia’s major centres are also tuned into this factor, and recent fresh food hall openings, such as at Macquarie Centre in Sydney a few months ago, provide the latest in large, beautifully presented new supermarket offers, with an extensive range of supporting specialty fresh food plus some F&B options dispersed throughout the mix, all in an attractive, convenient environment. Customers are able, and encouraged, to both have a meal or a snack as well as buying all the food, groceries and packaged liquor that they could possibly need.
Food and beverage sales, including all take-away food plus cafés and restaurants, have not increased at quite the same rates as fresh food sales, but have certainly increased very rapidly, and again, particularly in the post-GFC period.
Against that, the two key non-food categories – department stores/discount department stores and apparel/footwear retailers – have had to scrap hard for every little bit of growth. Whereas both of those categories were almost as important in total sales terms as the F&B category in 1994, they are each now worth roughly half the value of that category.
The retail food and beverage market is now worth close to $40 billion (not including pubs and clubs, which are not classified as retail), compared with around $18 billion for the department stores and discount department stores category in combination, and about $21 billion for other apparel and footwear retailers. So, it should be no surprise that our major centres have woken up to the potential which lies in keeping customers well fed and spoilt with dining options.
The trends that we are seeing are therefore both soundly based and to be expected, indeed arguably a little late in coming. In the past, when the F&B category was much less important, the traditional foodcourt tended to be a place of respite for harried parents looking to pacify the kids, for a short period of time, before either heading home or continuing the shopping. It was unusual for customers to think of a major shopping centre destination when considering a meal out, particularly of an evening.
However, the current and imminent redevelopments are seeking to turn that kind of thinking on its head. To some degree, we are seeing some parallels with the transformation in fashion shopping which occurred in the early 1990s, when the focus of serious fashion shopping largely transferred from the CBDs and ‘posh’ high streets (Double Bay, Oxford Street, Burke Road Camberwell, Chapel Street Prahran, etc) to the major regional centres.
While the numbers alone provide good enough reasons for this renewed focus on F&B, there are other, softer but also very important benefits which will flow from the strategy. One is increased dwell time within the centre, particularly outside traditional shopping hours, as the new restaurant precincts become dining and leisure destinations in their own right. A second is the additional excitement which naturally attaches to great dining offers, driven by the rapidly increasing interest in food generally throughout Australian society.
How far the success which regional shopping centres enjoyed in winning the fashion business can translate to the food and beverage business remains to be seen, and there have been some stumbles in the past. No doubt there will be more learnings over the next few years about what does or does not work in a shopping centre environment, or indeed how to shape that environment, and the approaches will be fine-tuned as a result.
However, early signs are very positive, and really there is no reason why the environment which can be created at Australia’s best shopping centres, and the levels of amenity and convenience which can be provided for those seeking a meal out and related entertainment, cannot meet the challenge. In any case, there is already a very willing and hungry market to be served, since these major centres are typically attracting in excess of 15 million customers annually.
There is a renewed enthusiasm around the next wave of redevelopments in Australia’s major centres, and new environments are being created which are once again successfully piquing the interest of a consumer who had become somewhat jaded with the perceived sameness of many shopping centre offers and bruised by the financial battering of the GFC.
Recent developments once again serve to demonstrate both the need to regularly inject excitement into our shopping centre environments, and the ability of Australian shopping centres to meet this need.