HMSHost International, the global concession operator, is looking to grow its presence in the UK, and would entertain the possible add-on acquisitions of smaller UK rivals, MCA has learnt.

Chief executive Walter Seib told MCA the group would look to expand its partnership with Comptoir Libanais, which recently launched at Cheshire Oaks; KFC, which has one site at Manchester Airport Terminal 3; and looking for suitable locations for Vapiano, which was announced earlier this year.

Seib said a number of UK travel hubs sites have been proposed for Vapiano Mini special designed for travel hubs, which he hoped some or all would result in opening.

The Autogrill-owned group could also bring some of its European brands to the UK, with Seib saying it would only make sense at scale in the competitive market.

Meanwhile HMSHost will continue to grow its partnerships with Leon and Pret in Europe.

Speaking about the company’s growth in the UK, Seib told MCA: “A couple of years ago when we started in the UK, we were a smaller player. Since then we have grown four-fold in terms of sales, and I think there’s much more opportunity for us.

“We are mindful about sensible growth – we want to expand responsibly. There could be potential add-on acquisitions we would look at, such as smaller competitors.

“We’re committed to the UK market, and I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t say we have an ambition to grow our presence further.

“Autogrill is a world leading concession business, and we are open to further grow company - it doesn’t matter where on the planet.”

HMSHost International currently operates in three channels in the UK: airports, including East Midlands, Inverness, Heathrow, Manchester, Stansted, Belfast City; train stations, such as Euston, Kings Cross and the Eurotunnel; and outlet shopping malls, such as Cheshire Oaks.

Seib said: “We’re equally happy with each of channel, though we only just opened a week ago in designer outlets, so it’s very early.

“In the end its simple – it’s about location location location. In an airport you could have a great location one day, the next day they could change the passenger flow, or a big carrier goes bankrupt, and it could be a less great.”

On selecting the right sites, Seib said: “When we look at locations, we analyse the area and the consumer. We want to create places people want to be in. We look at the demographics, then think about the best category to fit, what we have in our portfolio, or if there’s a gap in our portfolio where we need to add something.

“We take it step by step. It’s not a quest like collecting stamps, where we’re looking for as many brands as possible. We have about 350 brands already, which also tells you we always look at regional and custom solutions.”

On the potential to bring European brands to the UK, Seib said: “I’m convinced we could. The challenge is it’s a competitive market. When you’re bringing a brand you have to ask if it has a commitment to travel hubs, and high streets, because scale helps with procurements, supply chain etc.”

Seib said the key considerations when it came to consumer satisfaction where the three Ps – personalisation, premiumisation, and portability.

On catering to contemporary consumer tastes, Seib added: “Consumers want to see what they get, how it’s prepared, what it does to the body. When we talk about travel hubs, the consumer usually doesn’t see if HMSHost operates the location. The brand gives confidence, and you know what you get. In general people at travel hubs are not there to taste new restaurants.

“People and consumers in the digital world want to be in control of their own time. We can recoup a lot of things in our lives, but one thing you cannot recoup is time. We have a certain lifespan. We need to provide solutions to maximise people’s times.

“Also, in a world we were are all connected all the time, people have never felt so alone. That’s one thing we have done a lot of work on, around personal attention. You see people using F&B as a place to reconnect to other humans. That’s a big part of our success in travel hubs. If you see stats in Western Europe sales per passenger in retail are down, but sales in F&B going up.

“The human being is not designed to be alone, so we do a lot of work on reconnecting with the consumer and giving personal attention.”