The British Sandwich and Food to Go Association has published it's response to the recent Migration Advisory Committee.

This response covers three key sectors of the UK foodservice economy, the sandwich and food to go sector – estimated to be currently worth around £9.6 billion (source Kantar) – pizza, pasta and Italian Foods – estimated to be worth around £5.3 billion (source the Pizza Pasta & Italian Food Association) – and the café/coffee bar market – estimated to be worth around £7 billion (source Allegra Strategies).

Research by the British Sandwich Association estimates that more than 330,000 people work in the UK sandwich industry.   There is no equivalent research for the other sectors of the market but they are recognised as being significant employers.

Research by Fourth Analytics, a major provider of human resources and payroll software to the restaurant sector, found:

  • More than two-fifths (43%) of workers in the restaurant, quick service sector, hotels and pubs are foreign nationals.
  • The numbers spike dramatically for restaurants, with 57% of workers originating from outside the UK – split 51% for front of house and 71% for kitchen and back house roles.
  • The average length of tenure hospitality workers spend at a business is 12 months.
  • The average age of workers in quick service restaurants is 30 years of age.

This research was based on a sample of 25,000 employees.

Freedom of Information Act

We have asked our members for case studies to include in this response but a large number have declined to provide these because of the implications that MAC will publish them under the Freedom of Information Act.    Some have been concerned about the potential media consequences having already suffered from distorted stories being published that have been damaging to them, their employees and their customer relations; some quote concerns about customers and investors being worried by the potential consequences of Brexit; and others that their reputations as successful businesses could be damaged.

This is a situation where the Freedom of Information Act seriously undermines and stifles freedom of speech as well as the integrity of the responses to a Government survey and this should be taken into consideration when analysing the results of this Call for Evidence.

Where we have been asked to do so we have anonymised responses from businesses.

Migration Facts and Statistics

  • Unemployment in the UK is currently running at 1.46 million – that’s people seeking work or available for work – this is the lowest level since 1975 and a level considered by many economists to equate to full employment.
  • Net migration is down to 246,000 in the year to March 2017 – a 81,000 drop compared to the previous year – a 24.7% reduction (Migration Statistics Quarterly Report August 2017);
  • Of those who immigrated to work (275,000) in the year to March 2017, the majority (188,000) had a definite job clearly indicating the need for immigrant workers in the UK given the current employment levels.
  • Two-thirds of this figure was due to EU migration and an increase in emigration.
  • There are already too few people to support the demand for back-of-house jobs in the foodservice sector.
  • According to The Global Future Report, despite a later retirement age, Britain could find itself in the grip of demographic devastation. Global Future asserts that the UK requires a minimum of 130,000 workers annually to maintain the working population at its current level.
  • The conditions for allowing non-EU workers into the UK specifically focuses on skills and excludes fast food, takeaways etc.   Consequently, the industry relies predominantly on workers coming from EU countries.
  • The average non-British workforce across this sector in the UK is 54%

Other Industry Facts and Statistics

  • The takeaway industry in the UK has created 41,000 new jobs since 2009 (Just Eat Survey of Just Eat Restaurants).  The industry now employs over 231,000 people.
  • Average non-British workforce in this sector across the UK is 54%
  • The foodservice sector is the 4th largest contributor to the economy.
  • There are already too few people to support the demand for back-of-house jobs in the foodservice sector.
  • There is insufficient housing available in London to enable low paid/low skill workers to move there from other parts of the country. 
  • Our research suggests that between 70% and 75% working in foodservice outlets in London are from outside the UK, most of them from within the EU.   Outside London it is around 40%.
  • The sandwich and food-to-go sectors of the industry are growing quickly and are providing inspiration for the development of similar sectors in other countries around the world, thus generating potential export opportunities for the UK industry.
  • There is still considerable growth potential for sandwich and food-to-go businesses in the UK.  The Institute of Grocery Distribution says that the industry is set to increase in size to £23.5 billion by 2022.    Subway, one of the leading chains, aims to open a further 500 stores in the UK by 2020, creating 5,000 new jobs.
  • The Italian food and pizza restaurant and takeaway sectors are also in growth.   Domino’s Pizza, which has just opened its 1,000th store in the UK, plans to open a further 600 new stores, creating 21,000 more jobs.
  • Our members report that workers coming in to work in the UK from EU countries generally come with a good attitude towards working and are prepared to do jobs that many of our home workforce baulk at.  
  • Members also report that there are underlying issues, particularly that the UK native workforce are not prepared to do certain jobs.   This is compounded by the benefits system which does not encourage people to take any job.
  • A number of businesses in our sector have considered alternative sources of people to work in their operations, including the employment of part-time workers (e.g. mothers seeking to return to work part of the day) and those with handicaps.   However, a large number of the job requirements in the sector do not lend themselves to these groups because of the unsocial hours (e.g. pizza delivery) and work conditions, such as in factories.

The Economics

  • Migrants from the EEA pay about six times more in tax and national insurance contributions than they take out in benefits and tax credits, according to HMRC figures.    They paid £13.6 billion more than they took out in 2014-15, up £1.4 billion on the previous year. Just over £2 billion is paid out in tax credits and about £800 million in child benefit.
  • Shortages of workers in the foodservice sector is already impacting in wages.  The average hourly pay rate in the hospitality industry reached £8.12 in April – 62 pence about the National Living Wage (Analysis by Fourth Analytics).
  • Wages are not generally the issue when it comes to recruitment as UK and EU nationals are usually paid the same.
  • Most of the immigrants working in cafes/sandwich bars and pizza delivery businesses are single and do not make a call on the State for benefits or services.   Typically they stay for one to two years and then return to their homelands.
  • Businesses in the food industry are already struggling with rising costs, in large part as a consequence of the weak pound.   A recent example of this is Southern Salads which went into administration in September 2017 after 30 years of trading.

Types of Work

Across these industries, migrants undertake a variety of jobs from skilled work as engineers to low skill jobs in the service sector and manufacturing.

In manufacturing the nature of ingredients, particularly in the sandwich industry, places a heavy reliance on manual labour.    Even in factories where the product is relatively uniform, there is currently no replacement for the human eye in making sure products are as they should be and equipment is operating efficiently.

This work involves low skilled workers who generally operate in shifts in difficult environments.   This work is not usually suitable for those that are not fit and well, particularly since food hygiene is paramount.

Training is generally provided on site and workers are required to have food hygiene training in addition to the on-site equipment/procedure training.   Training increases with the responsibilities taken on by individuals.  

These businesses will usually employ a hierarchy of skills, from low to high (e.g. engineers, food technicians etc.)

There are already signs of shortages of low skilled workers in this sector with reports from businesses of vacancies not being filled and increasing advertising for staff or the use of agency labour to fill gaps. 

In recent years many of these businesses have been seeking to reduce their reliance on agency workers because of their unreliability in some cases and the extra costs in efficiency, time etc. in the churn of staff that results.  Although agency workers are always likely to be needed to cover peaks in demand, businesses are seeking to use more and more sophisticated forecasting systems to manage and balance the requirements of supply and demand.

In order to address these issues, businesses in this sector have been looking closely at automation but there are, to date, limits to how far this can go.

In one factory, considerable investment has been made in automation but there remains a heavy reliance on people to keep lines operating efficiently.   Robotics are currently used on packaging lines but have yet to achieve the levels of mobility and efficiency needed in other areas.

In the sandwich industry, the complex combinations of ingredients and shift changes required to keep production lines running efficiently and at optimum is not yet possible to achieve using automated processes.   The fact that many of the ingredients are not of a uniform shape (e.g. lettuces, tomatoes etc.) makes it extremely difficult to fully automate.

While some processes – such as cutting and buttering – are already automated, it is likely to be a number of years before robotics becomes sufficiently sophisticated to replace the human production worker.

Indeed, one factory has recently taken out three automated lines which they had invested heavily in because of their inefficiencies, underlining the fact that technology is not yet at a stage where it can replace the human hand.

In the foodservice sector, there is also a heavy reliance on low skilled workers, particularly for front of house roles.    These staff are considered essential for providing the level of service that customers expect from these businesses, whether it is in quick service in a sandwich bar or the delivery of a hot pizza to someone’s home.

However, there is also an increasing shortage of skilled staff to operate back of house, particularly in the Italian and pizza sectors as a number of Italian chefs are reported to have returned home or sought alternative positions in other EU countries, partly due to exchange rates and partly because of the uncertainties of immigration policy.

Some restaurants have sought to address this through investment in more equipment but there are concerns over the quality impact this can have in some sectors (e.g. moving from the distinctive flavour of a pizza made in a wood burning oven to one made by conveyor oven).

One growing restaurant chain in London has had to delay opening two new restaurants and a bar because of staff recruitment difficulties.

There are serious concerns in the industry that any reduction in staffing levels will undermine the good reputation the UK food industry has gained both in the UK and abroad for its quality and service standards, damaging the work that has been done in recent years to enhance its once poor reputation.


Recruitment tends to start through word of mouth, then process through local markets, but the general dearth of available labour means that many businesses are forced to look further afield.

In the case of skilled workers, recruitment agencies are widely used in the UK.

The general lack of available low skilled workers in the UK means that many businesses have to seek employees from the EEA as it is generally difficult to find these staff from outside the EEA due to the priorities set out on the Shortages Occupation List, particularly as they exclude work in takeaways and fast food businesses.

Recruitment within the EEA has become much more difficult since the Brexit referendum as potential work immigrants feel that they are not wanted in the UK.   Indeed, there is a similar concern amongst some EEA workers already in the UK which is resulting in some returning home or moving to other EEA countries.

The Euro-Sterling exchange rate is another a major influence.


Those working in these businesses tend to be trained to the same level whether they are UK or EEA workers as this is necessary in order to achieve the standards the businesses demand and to meet legal requirements such as food hygiene safety.


Our members understand the concerns over immigration that were highlighted during the Brexit referendum debates.    They also believe that the current control systems are out of date and much too complicated, which makes it difficult for businesses to safely assess the Right to Work of employees.

We believe that Brexit provides an opportunity for updating the systems and for the Home Office to work much more closely with businesses in developing a Work/VISA system that would be more robust than the current systems.    Many businesses report that they find the current system extremely to understand and hugely time consuming to work with if they need to bring in labour from outside the UK.

The system proposed through discussions with our members is for a Business VISA approach whereby employees coming in from outside the UK would be linked directly to the businesses employing them for a fixed period of say 12 or 24 months.    They would similarly be bound by contract to continue working with that business for the period, much as with an apprenticeship approach.   If they decided to leave for any reason, their employer would be required to notify the Home Office that they were leaving.

If they wanted to leave early or reached the end of their contact, they would either have return to their home country or move to another job with the new employer having to reapply for a new Business VISA for them.

At the end of the original period, the employer would have the option of re-applying for a VISA for them if they wished them to continue in their employ.

We believe businesses would welcome this approach as it would encourage greater continuity of work and make it more economic to spend time and money training people.

It has also been suggested that there is a case to be made for an identity card system, which could solve many of the problems associated with the current immigration processes.   Rather than creating something completely new this could be linked to the driving licence system, which already goes some way towards such a system and works well.   Perhaps a ‘non-driver’ version could be established including information on the Right to Work?


Andrew Walker, Chief Executive of EAT sandwich bar chain, speaking at the Lunch! Show in September:    “In general, recruiting and retaining staff is a real problem." But there’s no doubt that things are getting tighter because of Brexit. It poses its challenges and you have to deal with it. Right now it’s not a major problem but we need to see how it pans out.

It’s getting harder to recruit and the millennials are getting flightier. They will come to you and say ‘Yes, I want to work’, but they’ve also said that to three other companies and they might not turn up for your trial if they’ve got a better offer.

It’s getting harder to retain them as well. So, what we’re trying to do is create career paths for them and say you could be manager in two years’ time and earn more money.”

Chandos Deli, Bristol – 25% of staff are EU nationals, balance are UK nationals.   “We have had people living in this country for 20 years saying for the first time ever they are being made to feel unwelcome.”   Applications so far have sought them out.

Sohel Patel, Halal Kitchen – a sandwich manufacturing business in the North of England.   “25% of staff are EU nationals – balance are UK nationals of ethnic origin.   There are very few EU nationals now available that would normally come in as temporary staff.   If there are shortages, automation is a possibility but it is very costly.   Part time staff such as mothers, retired etc. would be very difficult to fit around production hours and when things need to be delivered.”

Frank Boltman, Trade-made, London – “20% UK nationals, 20% non-EU nationals and 60% EU nationals.   We have had problems recruiting since June 2016 and have had to pay higher wages to attract experienced staff.  Automation is not an option in this business.   The work is hard and we need experienced staff to make it commercially viable.   Using the buddy system we pair together new staff with an experienced staff member who they shadow.  It takes three to six months before a new recruit can perform to the level we feel they can teach another.”

Peter Maylay, La Baguetterie, Reading -  “The real unemployment rate in the Reading area according to JSA at 1.1% actual in an area where there is a huge immigrant population, which means that if we get a restriction, competition for staff is going to become very fierce indeed.  One only has to look at the fact that the starting rate for a trained curry chef in our area is £40K + benefits due to the restrictions on them coming to the UK and all our local curry houses have Romanians as sous chefs and KP’s!”

Parviz Hayati, consultant and former owner of a pizza delivery business in Doncaster – “The employee split in my business was 80:20 UK vs EU nationals.   Talking to businesses within the Chamber of Commerce who heavily rely on EU nationals, they are experiencing difficulty in retaining existing staff as well as attracting new ones.   I know three EU staff who have relocated to other EU countries and also some who are applying for jobs elsewhere, while others are closely watching the situation.    I do not believe that wages have anything to do with employing EU nationals in our sector as they have always been paid the same as others – reality is that they seem to shine in our sector.  UK nationals don’t seem to fancy the unsocial hours required and EU nationals do not seem to be afraid of hard work and the hours.   As a result of all this uncertainty, it is a really worrying time for businesses and a few that I know have cut back on capital investment and expansion as a result.   Automation is not an option in the catering/hospitality sector.   Employing part-time workers has problems as they are not always available when you want them and the number of employees increases, with consequential additional administration and legislative requirements which place an added burden, particularly on smaller businesses.”

Sandwich Manufacturing Business (wish to remain anonymous) -  75% of staff are either EU or non-UK nationals workers.  Recruitment is an on-going issue and may have to look more at mechanisation, increasing wages, changing hours and contracts.

This information is supplied on behalf of The British Sandwich Association, The Café Society and The Pizza Pasta & Italian Food Association.