CaterEssence CEO Alex Tranter has remarked that operators in Malta’s catering industry need to be “agile enough” to withstand the challenges presented by the constantly changing environment and the sudden “overnight” shifts that come with it.
His comments came as part of an interview for Arkati, a publication by Vassallo Group, the wider group which includes CaterEssence, as well as Vassallo Builders Ltd, CareMalta and Vassallo Group Realty, among a number of other organisations.
CaterEssence is Vassallo Group’s subsidiary focused on the catering industry, particularly contract catering, food production, and retail foods. The company’s principal brands are The Cake Box, a chain of cafeterias first established in 2014, as well as Fresh Eats, a savoury brand that caters for vegetarian, vegan, gluten free and high protein diets.
Similar to many other catering companies, the past few years have been very turbulent for CaterEssence. From the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, all the way to the supply chain disruptions from the war in Ukraine, the years following 2019 were not easy on Malta’s catering sector.
However, the year started off on a positive note for CaterEssence, as it opened its third The Cake Box outlet at Campus Hub in January, marking what was described as a post-pandemic “rebirth” for the company.
“This outlet is our first new operation and expansion after the pandemic,” Ing. Tranter said. He remarked that The Cake Box has had a “very positive story”, with the growth in Malta’s economy over the past year having a positive effect on CareEssence’s retail food essence.
“People are going out again and are buying again,” he explained.
He explained that CaterEssence was Vassallo Group’s “most injured party” during the pandemic, given that catering and hospitality were the hardest hit sectors of the local economy. These two sectors were subject to repeated temporarily closures imposed by Government, hindering profitability and operations. However, Ing Tranter stated that given tourism is now slowly picking up, there seems to be a slow revival in terms of performance, despite challenges in sourcing staff. Prior to the pandemic, CaterEssence used to service seven hotels, yet it is now servicing two, as it seeks to “build up” and “find its feet again”.
Ing. Tranter expressed gratitude towards the people who remained in the sector and stayed loyal to the company after the pandemic.
Turning to the challenges presented by the war in Ukraine, especially when it comes to the increases in costs of raw materials and difficulties in securing adequate supplies of grain and other food, he said that it does not mean that catering establishments must “increase prices overnight”.
“We had to adjust all our pricing ranges to ensure we remain cost conscious and competitive. Despite all this, we still registered growth, which shows we have managed to ride the storm,” he continued.
However, he stated that CaterEssence, like many other local businesses, is still “not back to full normality”.
“We probably have to live with this situation for many years. We are operating in a very dynamic environment where the unexpected can happen overnight,” Ing. Tranter stressed.
He added that in such situations, it is “all about being agile enough” and having a loyal and capable team that can “adjust and help the whole company move on”.
Looking ahead, he remarked that he is only “cautiously optimistic” about the future, as price hikes on food are currently slowing down growth prospects.
“We are always driven to grow but we are being very selective. There could be changes in our sector which could give rise to opportunities. We would only look at opportunities which are close to our core competencies and strengths,” he concluded.
Ing. Tranter joined Vassallo Group in 1992, and over the years he has held various senior executive management and directorship roles within the group.
CaterEssence CEO Alex Tranter
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