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National Picnic Week might not be till June 18th, but if the pandemic taught us anything it’s that there’s no right or wrong time for a picnic. It’s one of the more joyful lockdown habits that we’ve taken forward with us long after social distancing ended. And we’re getting more and more creative with our picnics. For fine food retailers this is an area of growth and something that goes hand in glove with the business. But preparation, ahead of the picnic season, is still important.
Sarah Shaw, owner of The Cornish Hen, takes a fresh look at picnics every year. “Every season we have a good look at all our suppliers to see if there is anything new to offer our customers. Whether that’s a more affordable packaging option or a more eco-friendly way of supplying the picnics, or simply something that is a bit different to the usual.”
Simon Warren, owner at East Street Deli, agrees, but approaches picnic season with some subtle changes rather than anything too adventurous. “We will be tweaking our range of products to cater for the summer picnic season. Picnic cheese boxes were a winner last year and we anticipate much the same this season. Hummus was a popular line we introduced last year and so we’ll be looking to increase the varieties of it this summer. Tins of Perello Gordal olives are always a winner, whatever the season, and this year we’ll be pushing these products as much as possible.”
For Catrin MacDonnell, owner at Papadeli, it’s all about offering easy to eat things that can pack well and travel well. “Lots of creative veggie dishes, tarts, empanadas etc in the counter made every day work really well for picnics. Picnics also bring together these areas of the business that are already there.”
It’s something that puts fine food retailers in a prime position. The items that are stocked all year are already picnic foods, just waiting for the season to roll around. But there are some items that are brought in specially for picnic season.
Setting the scene
At Papadeli, Catrin knows that picnics can be used as celebrations, as well as a simple way to get out for the day, and it’s important to dress a special picnic and give customers the opportunity to splash out.
“We do picnics for weddings and these can be super simple affairs in a field with paper plates and wooden cutlery as well as smarter ones with hired picnic baskets and trestle tables, proper glasses etc. If it’s a picnic for a special day or event people like to go all out! We insist on being as sustainable as possible with reusable packaging or recyclable and customers really appreciate this.”
Sarah Shaw picks up on this point. She’s seen a drive towards eco-friendly tableware coming from the customer. “The main change is that people are far more eco aware every year which we fully support. We are careful with the packaging so there are less likely to be any leaks or spills. We offer eco plates and wooden cutlery for the picnics. The wooden cutlery is usually taken up but people seem to be as happy eating their picnic food in the eco tubs it comes packaged in and seem less likely to want to use the eco plates.”
For Simon, this is still part of the planning process, but with good sales of reusable containers last year, East Street Deli is looking to expand on this sustainable picnic trend. “We haven’t sold any tableware that is specific for picnics in previous years but we are currently looking into lines such as eco-friendly cutlery sets, tea towels and even picnic blankets. We do have an environmentally conscious and plastic-free section where we sell lines such as stainless steel food containers, and we definitely benefited from an uplift in sales of these lines in 2022.”
The low down
One area that Simon has seen a definite bloom in is the low-alcohol and no-alcohol drinks sector. “This has been a growth area for us. We offer a relatively large range of non-alcoholic beers and spirits and are looking at new soft drinks to be introduced to our shelves by Easter. We will be showcasing the health benefits from our ranges over the coming weeks and months through our social media feed and in-store tastings. Whilst many people shop with us for that ‘little treat’ we realise that there is a growing need for healthier foods and we’ll be continuing to grow this throughout the summer season.”
Sarah Shaw agrees, and has also noticed a growing desire amongst customers for low-sugar products and healthier options in general. “This is definitely a growth area for us. An area that seems to be more and more popular for us is our takeaway salads. Because this is so popular it means we can make a larger variety of them which is great for customer choice. I do think this trend will continue especially when looking at picnic hampers. Obviously our traybake and cakes are the food that we use the sugar for and because we make them ourselves we can help with the best option for our customers, as we all know exactly how much sugar has gone into which cake!”
It seems to depend on the type of product, as to how much attention customers are paying to sugar levels. Sarah finds some products will always sell better than others, no matter what the sugar levels are. “We look to offer a choice on the soft drinks, varying from very healthy to high sugar and then leave it to the customer to decide. I would say the high sugar currently outsells the healthy. The kombucha is much more expensive though, I’m not sure how great an impact that has on the choice.”