Apparently high street sales were 5% down over the Easter weekend, largely due to weather – heavy rain and cold in most places I went!  How this translates to sales in farm shops and garden centres, which are not on the high street I don’t know.  In fact, there is no data available of this nature for independent retailers, the stats are all taken from national chains.  I have often thought it would be great to have some decent data of this kind for speciality retail, but there is probably not enough money in it.


Retail is definitely in the spotlight currently with the demise of national chains such as Toys ‘R’ Us, and just before Easter Kerryfresh and Conviviality went into administration, losing us and several other suppliers considerable amounts of money.  There is much talk of the growth of on-line food sales that will eventuality take over much of the current market.  However, despite growing very rapidly, food sales as a proportion are only at just over 5%.  This will undoubtedly grow to 10 or 15% reasonably quickly, but for those that love their food and want to see or maybe even taste food before they buy it, there is no substitute for real shopping. 


Speciality food retailers have a huge advantage over the supermarkets and on-line retail in that we are the food experts, we can talk to customers about where products are grown or made and offer tastings before they buy.  It is the latter that is a real chance to shine for independent retailers.  We force our new suppliers each year to commit to doing tastings in-store, it is a vital part of launching a product.  Yet it is only on occasion that these offers are taken up.  In my opinion all speciality food shops should have tastings happening on their busy days of the week, probably Fridays and Saturdays.  This is your chance to stand out – make use of it.  All producers worth their salt should have a team working at weekends getting as much of their product in consumer’s mouths as possible. 


Yes, it is hard work, but having some excitement in-store is the way we will ensure we will not only stand out against the very mediocre offerings in many national retailers, but also ensure that every weekend is good, not just Easter.  There is a crying need for more theatre within speciality retailers.  I believe we need to up our game.  Once people hear there is some excitement going on, they will choose to come to you rather than the shopping mall down the road.  To hear more, come to one of my sessions at the Farm Shop and Deli show in a couple of weeks.