Two Worlds Collide: Exploring the relationship between affordability and extravagance in UK foodservice

In our recent event in London with brand experience agency, I-AM, we discussed the emerging relationship between affordability and extravagance in UK foodservice, driven by the ongoing cost-of-living crisis
Two Worlds Collide
In times of economic difficulty due to the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, the relationship between affordability and extravagance is becoming more intense as consumers become more protective about where they spend and what they receive in exchange.

For example, champagne sales are seen to be dropping, yet lipstick sales are on the rise, with consumers looking for small luxuries to bring them pleasure within the concept of affordability.

A tension comes into play when consumers want the extravagance and indulgence they have become used to, but have less money – leading to more careful spending choices that balance virtue with treats and self-reward.

Finding a balance between restraint and indulgence (with health considerations certainly part of the equation) is now a norm for consumers across the board. And, with food traditionally a powerhouse when it comes to indulgence; that balance is now a key challenge for UK foodservice operators as the cost-of-living crisis bites.

Last month, we teamed up with brand experience agency, I-AM, to showcase how the accessible, informal and lower-cost end of the market can effectively combine with the expectations of 'specialness', quality and high design values.

Delivered live in London's Shoreditch to a brilliant crowd of attendees; our 'Two Worlds Collide' event was a meeting of the two worlds of food and experience design, with the team touching on a range of rising consumer trends and motivations, from micro-dosing extravagance to convenience-led indulgent experiences.

For those who missed out on the event, here's a breakdown of the key topics covered and a rundown of the Egg Soldiers team's delicious dish examples that highlight how affordability and extravagance can combine to spectacular effect.

Micro-dosing extravagance
When it comes to food and extravagance, the ‘pleasure hit’ can come from many places, such as the exclusive feel of a unique menu full of unheard-of skill, or the rush of happy hormones when the food taps into your soul, evoking memories of childhood while delivering an elevated experience.

SHIOK! in London’s Devonshire House is a great example of the former. Named after the Singaporean word for ‘pure pleasure’, the pâtisserie specialises in hand-crafted small delicacies that the majority of consumers wouldn’t have a hope of recreating at home.

Paying a premium for a skilfully-made dish is a foundational principle of foodservice, with bite-sized iterations naturally bringing the price down. And so, taking the concept of small pieces of extravagance as our starting point, we created our ‘Jaffa Cakes’ – an altogether-approachable, decadent slice of sweet indulgence.
Egg Soldiers' Jaffa Cake
Comprising dark chocolate and cornflake crisp, blood orange gel and chocolate crémeux on a sponge base with orange sugar shards and gold leaf; our Jaffa Cakes bridge the gap between high-end specialist creations and memory-evoking food favourites.

A micro-dose of nostalgia, created by an artisan, delivered in a beautiful cake box.

Nostalgia is now a key driver for consumers seeking memorable experiences across food. And growing demand is seeing the rise of a new wave of comfort food innovators who expertly balancing both affordability and extravagance.
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Comfort, indulgence, and memory-making nostalgia
Norman's Cafe is an example of how extravagance can also be beautifully simple.

Found at the top of Junction Road in Archway (North London), this unassuming 'caff' serves classic greasy spoon comfort food staples, from ham, egg and chips and bubble and squeak to full English fry-ups (which are fairly extravagant in terms of calories and nostalgic value for UK consumers).

It's walk-in only, the kitchen closes at 2:30pm, and the most expensive item on the menu is £11. And yet, this little slice of British nostalgia has become the stuff of legend in North London. Queues spill out onto the road every day; their Instagram boasts over 100k followers; and its owners have even modelled lines for Puma in the no-frills dining area.

Norman's Cafe has a simple yet extremely effective strategy: take nostalgic British café classics and give them an authentic revamp using quality ingredients, with affordability and a sense of community both priorities.

So, taking on Norman's Cafe principles, we decided to elevate the humble minestrone soup – a tinned classic enjoyed by millions during childhood.
Named ‘Best F****** Minestrone Soup Ever’, ours contained tomato consommé, soffritto, heritage tomato crisps, rigatoni, olive oil ‘soil’ and micro basil.

Extravagant experience, affordable model
Image: @vdtla
During the event, we also highlighted the Italian-inspired restaurant chain, V-DTLA. Found in Europe, the US and Saudi Arabia; V-DTLA is a pioneer of the ‘fast-fine-social’ restaurant concept, namely tech-forward, experience-driven operations that eschew big price tags yet deliver on indulgent, maximalist dining room aesthetics and designs.

It’s outpost in LA, for example, is housed in a converted 1920s jewellery shop bathed in deep greens and gold, with marble tiling and high, ornate ceilings. And yet, it is a QSR restaurant at heart, offering ‘delicious, progressive takes on pizza, plates and salads’.

With its 11-strong pizza menu averaging at $17 each (the highest $21, and lowest $14); this is affordable extravagance, certainly from a design perspective.
Our riff? Meet the Pizza Party Doughnut, stuffed with hot cheese sauce, ground Frazzles 'party poppers', basil emulsion and tomato chutney, and topped with a Parmesan crumb and frozen pecorino 'snow'. Affordable, extravagant, Italian-inspired.
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