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Business Putting the retail


Signature Dining, part of the Genuine Dining Co group, is a new care catering company that wants to do it differently. Founder Paul Robottom talks to Janie Manzoori- Stamford about why older people deserve five-star care service and offering apprenticeships to the over-60s


Paul Robottom T


he launch of a new caterer on the food- service block is something of a rarity these days. Recent years have instead seen headlines dominated by mergers and acquisitions as catering companies are consolidated rather than created. So it is refreshing to see the launch of


Signature Dining, a new business within the Luke Johnson-backed Genuine Dining Co group, run by managing director Chris Mitch- ell, particularly as it will specialise in the niche but growing care catering market. And the business itself is a consequence of an active M&A market. Founder Paul Robot- tom’s last role was managing director of Caterplus, until he stepped down when parent company Waterfall Catering Group was bought by Elior last year. “I didn’t want to work for the big boys,” he admits. But the care catering sector is a complicated


beast with an image problem. So how does Sig- nature Dining aim to disrupt the market? What does Robottom believe his new venture can


24 | The Caterer | 28 April 2017


bring to the table? How has he bucked the trend by pioneering a new start-up in an industry of stalwarts? And what does its position within Genuine Dining Co mean for business?


Retail into retirement “Care catering is the non-sexy side of our indus- try. It has had a stereotypical image of slop and sawdust, but it’s not that now,” says Robottom. “The care market is changing massively; people are living longer and retiring earlier.” Having been at the helm of Caterplus for seven years, taking it from £6m to £26m in annual turnover, he knows what he’s talking about. Britain’s care industry is worth around £17b, and the value of catering to it is estimated to be in the region of £250m and growing. It’s the changing face of the care catering consumer that Signature Dining aims to appeal to in its core target markets: assisted living; retirement villages and gated communities. “The common perception is that you’re catering to old dears sitting in a lounge that


smells of pee, and it’s not that any more. These are five-star establishments and they want a service and catering to match,” he says. “Using the Genuine Dining whizz of retail and the influence of Luke Johnson, we’ll be taking retail into retirement. Genuine Dining has a fantastic B&I mantra on merchandising and presentation, that type of thing. The care market doesn’t have that, but we’ll take it there. Just because you’re in your 70s it doesn’t mean you stop being brand aware.” But that awareness, as well an increasingly


mobile older population, brings with it competition: “The high street and outside influences are a real threat,” he adds. While this savvy consumer end of the market is undoubtedly growing, the broad reality is that palliative care and end of life care is as much a part of the spectrum, and care caterers need to be equipped to deal with all of it. Dementia, Robottom says, is one of the biggest killers. “I’m a registered Dementia Friend,” he says, referring to the Alzheimer’s Society initiative


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