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Paul Hargreaves is the chief executive of Cotswold Fayre a specialist fine food wholesaler.

“Innovative food shop closes”

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

“Stable to chaotic?”

So, we have now completed our third national vote within just over two years, and it is odds on a fourth within a year. I heard a rumour the other day that polling stations are occasionally used as primary schools!

“It’s E-Day”

So, here we are at perhaps the most significant election for the UK for many years and one that will define the next decade and beyond

“The Manchester Spirit”

What should have been one of the best “feel good” weeks of the year with the hottest temperatures of the year so far has not been that at all, due to the horrendous events in Manchester last Monday evening. This has had an effect all over the UK, and I and several others I have spoken to, have shed tears on seeing or hearing the news this week

“Fragmentation”

Back to an old chestnut this week, and one that I believe will become more and more relevant over the next few years. For a number of retailers, suppliers and wholesalers I talk to, the fragmentation of supply to retailers within the speciality food sector remains their largest frustration. It is also holding back the sector in my opinion. I talked about this in my last piece when I compared this sector with the convenience sector, whose managers would very rarely buy any new brand unless it was listed with a wholesaler they were already dealing with. This last week I was reminded by someone that the health food sector is similar. Health food retailers “force” new brands to be listed with a wholesaler before they take them on. As a result both sectors are more mature and more efficient than the speciality food sector. It is time for us to grow up

“Margin means everything!”

Following on from my thoughts last time about the differences between the speciality food world and the convenience sector (and thanks for all the response on that), I want to focus this time on margin. Do bear in mind I have never run a retail outlet (yet!) so what I say is drawn from those that do, and clearly I base my thoughts on those that are expanding and doing well

“Five things you would NOT have heard at The Convenience Show last week”

In spending some time at both shows last week, it was interesting to compare the two sectors. In my view, it is time for the speciality food sector to stop being an immature teenager and to grow into an adult. There are too many companies, both producers/suppliers and retailers, who act on a whim or do things because they have always done them. Many of these do not make long-term commercial sense.

Here are a few things that you would have heard at the Farm Shop and Deli Show last week that certainly would not have been heard at The Forecourt or The National Convenience Show:

“Off to the show”

So, many of us will be off to the Farm Shop & Deli/Convenience Show this week. I’m writing this on Sunday and will be off later today to help set up our stand. I thought it might be interesting for a moment to compare the three types of shops named in the title of this show: Farm Shops, Delis and Convenience stores. How are these three types of shops doing in the current retail landscape? And what can they learn from each other?

“United in leadership?”

There was a news story last week, which is still ongoing, that will be used in business courses for years to come. PR companies will use it as a salutary lesson for years to come and undergraduates will be taught “how to devalue a company’s stock in three easy lessons”. I am, of course, referring to the United airlines fiasco or lessons on how not to treat a customer!

“Welcome to summer – (and Christmas!)”

What a fabulous weekend! I really enjoyed my three days away in Tallinn last weekend, and can thoroughly recommend a visit there. However, I got the timing horribly wrong. It was 18 degrees at home last week and when we arrived in Tallinn, only one degree. So, do go, but wait until May. However, that cold weather is thoroughly appropriate for today’s task of helping to proof-read the Christmas Catalogue. Yes, I know, it’s annoying isn’t it! We’ve only just recovered from the last one, but don’t blame me. We only followed the larger wholesalers who had been doing it for many years before Cotswold Fayre started! The belief is that the early bird catches the worm around May!

“Keep looking forward and stay positive”

Comments this week from one of the Waitrose directors following Brexit Wednesday (as it may become known) almost seemed to be expecting a good performance from the partnership due to an economic downturn in 2017. He is right, Waitrose, performed their best in the last decade during the deepest parts of recession. By no coincidence, Cotswold Fayre tends to grow faster in times of low economic growth. Why is this? Well, we are both in the retail sector at the premium end, and it has been shown that in tough economic times consumers cut down on large ticket items but do treat themselves with good food and confectionery. Also in less good economic times, more cooking at home goes on and less eating out at restaurants

“Inflation to lead to pay demands?”

With the news within the last week of a sharp rise in inflation up to 2.3%, it is expected next month that the average wage increase will dip below the average pay increase of employees for the first time for 3 years. The average pay increase is currently 2.9% and it is expected that this will drop slightly and inflation will increase above this when the March figures are issued in a month’s time. This means, of course, that worker’s wages will be decreasing again in real terms, which is bound to increase pressure on employers, who are already feeling squeezed on many other fronts: Brexit, Living Wage, Business Rates etc. as discussed previously

“The politics of uncertainty”

By the time you read this Article 50 may well have been triggered, or it May have been delayed (see what I did there?) I have made my views on Brexit very clear over the past year, so have many others within the business world, but I like them whilst we voted “Remain” had resigned ourselves to the process of leaving, hoping for a smooth transition. I wouldn’t say that I have become optimistic about being out of Europe but had begun to see some positives

 
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