Paul Hargreaves: How strong is our sector?
After spending most of last week at trade events, I thought I would give an assessment this week of the strength of the speciality food sector. Most people’s view is that we are booming. The IFE show last week was busier than I expected with some aisles very crowded indeed at the peak hours of the day. Stands seemed to be busy and when asking the question of how business is currently going, many give positive answers. However, if you scratch a little deeper under the surface I wonder whether all in the garden is rosy?
Firstly, the complaint from many exhibitors at the show was a perennial one of there being too many people there trying to sell to them rather than buy from them. One exhibitor I spoke to estimated that over 50% of the visitors to his stand had been sellers not buyers. The problem seems to be growing yet very difficult for the show organisers to police this, but I suggest they find a way as it not only gives misleading visitor numbers to the shows, but also potentially means that exhibitors miss opportunities with genuine customers.
Secondly, with those exhibitors I knew better than average I asked them the question of whether they are making any profit at present. It is more the body language than the words that gives the answer away. Too many businesses in this sector are bumping along the bottom and not really generating any cash to invest in their brands, and, of course, that is ‘chicken and egg’. Revenue will remain low unless brands invest in sales and marketing. The fact that one distributor in our sector has just removed its entire team of sales agents and another has felt the need to launch a new no frills service, involving no investment or risk from the wholesaler into the brands will hardly improve the situation. Cotswold Fayre seems to be unusual these days in having an employed sales team out doing the old school activity of presenting new brands to retailers!
Thirdly, yes, there is a degree of uncertainty due to Brexit, as I mentioned in last week’s piece and the around 150 people at the Big Brexit Debate at IFE last week were testimony to that, but Brexit is only part of the reason for some brands poor sales performance at present. Too many brands in the sector and some retailers not adapting to changing times I would suggest are more of a factor. Expect some more turbulent times ahead.
Finally, on a more positive note, thank you for all the complementary comments about the book, which is officially published today, Monday 25th March. Buy your copy from Amazon here https://amzn.to/2VF4ez5 and there is still space at my second book launch, which is during the next show at Farm Shop and Deli show on Monday 8th April at the NEC, 6:30pm – register here http://bit.ly/2D6fpK8