After a very busy summer so far, finally I have had the opportunity over the last couple of weeks to call into a few speciality food retailers. This was after hearing from my sales team that after several years of sustained growth, some of their customers were reporting that growth was static, or in some cases, negative. (I have always found the phrase “negative growth” bizarre – why don’t people just say what it is: shrinkage or decline. Maybe those phrases are too negative!) Anyway back to the point. Several of the places I visited seemed to be thriving farm shops or food halls/delis, and of course, I didn’t really know how busy they should have been for that time of week, but some of them certainly seemed busy enough. Maybe these are the ones that still in growth.
Afterwards though, I did a little thought experiment and tried to take myself back in time 10 years and asked myself how different these retailers were compared to 10 years ago. Now, some of them, of course, just weren’t there, but those that were how much had they changed? Yes, some had lovely new shop fittings, there were undoubtedly more fine food brands in the shop, and maybe there was a butchery or fishmonger where there was none. All changes for the better, no doubt, but the feeling in my mind was that maybe change might have to be more rapid over the next 10 years to engage many of the new shoppers that will come through their doors. Many of these people were students 10 years ago by the way. I’m not sure what the answers are, but this is something we collectively need to talk about and discuss. I would say, more theatre, more interaction with shoppers, more for children and more education. A surprisingly percentage of the British public are amazingly ignorant about food.
The other aspect I noticed was that there were many of the same brands time and time again making the retailers look a bit “samey”. You may say, that I, as a wholesaler, are partly to blame for this. Maybe so, but you might be quite surprised to know that very, very few of our brands are distributed into more than 500 retailers – by us, anyway. But if brands are distributed by 15-20 wholesalers, then not surprisingly they appear everywhere, including the local garage. We all know the brands I am talking about. Many retailers will say, “But brand X has been very good to us over the years” or “we can’t replace brand Y because we have customers coming in for it”. Have you analysed the rate of sale compared to ten years ago as a percentage of turnover? How do you know that your customers who used to come in for Brand Y aren’t now buying it at Waitrose?
My own view is that many retailers often play too safe. Why don’t you take a risk and change that brand that really is now absolutely everywhere. There are so many new brands with huge potential coming onto the market that struggle to gain shelf space where they really shouldn’t. What’s the worst that can happen? The new brand doesn’t work out, despite promotions and tastings and you have to go back to the old one. But if you don’t try, you will never know. Go on, let’s take a few more risks and try some new ideas.
Have a great week.