It’s been a few weeks of very sad news in the UK, with many people dying premature deaths, so on that scale the sad news within the speciality food sector I read this week on Facebook pales into insignificance. There are enough other people at present commenting on the UK’s socio-economic and political problems, so I am going to restrict myself this week to talking about the demise of one of Cotswold Fayre’s first ever customers.
The Food Company, near Colchester, in Essex, first opened in 2000, as a response to people who had become concerned by the disappearance of local butchers, fishmongers and bakers in the area. Owned by a company with a significant business in another sector, my first meeting was in their offices a few miles away. I remember how excited I was by the concept of a purpose-built food hall on an out-of-town site. At the time, there were several good farm shops, but this concept was the first of its kind that I am aware of. There were several concessions within the store; butcher, fishmonger and florist amongst them.
For many years, certainly based on their trading with us, the store did very well. So, it was with surprise and shock that I read this week that the store is to close next month. The owners state how sad they are to be doing this, and say “Sadly, the food retail market has changed significantly over the past two decades and the business can no longer compete with the challenges posed by other retailers in the area.” I am not as familiar with that area as I used to be, and would love to know more about what these pressures and challenges are. In fact, I think it would be a valuable contribution to the sector if the owners would be able to write an article to help the rest of us understand and learn from.
Having just looked on GoogleMaps for food stores close by to the Food Company I can see two East of England Coops, a Sainsbury’s and a Spar in the immediate vicinity together with a garden centre I know has a food hall. So, on first glance, nothing particularly unusual. However, the Co-Op has moved more into premium products recently, so this could be a factor. Indeed, on Facebook, there is a comment that they are going to take the building. Sorry I am fumbling around in the dark a little here! However, one thing I do know is that food and drink sector is a very different place than it was in 2000. To maintain and grow a food retailer needs adaptability and flexibility, and the spirit of innovation needs to continue. If we stand still, we end up going backwards. Did you know that Nokia started in 1865 as a wood pulp mill and ended up creating one of the most popular mobile phones of all time. Sadly, they failed to continue to innovate and ended up selling the mobile phone business to Microsoft in 2013.
Innovate to stay alive!