Do shoppers trust British supermarkets?

16 June 2023, 08:22 AM
  • A recent survey by Which? shows consumers' confidence in supermarkets is at an all-time low, which could present an opportunity for fine food retailers

Do shoppers trust British supermarkets?

According to Which?’s monthly consumer insight tracker, trust in the grocery industry dropped in May to the lowest point since November 2014.

This comes as a separate nationally representative Which? survey of over 2,000 UK adults found that two-thirds (67%) feel that supermarkets are ripping people off in the cost-of-living crisis

An opportunity for indies
As supermarket prices remain high, despite slowing inflation. “We should not be surprised if the general public are losing trust in the large supermarkets,” said Andrew Goodacre, CEO of the British Independent Retail Association (BIRA)

“We know that the rate of inflation is has fallen and yet the consumer inflation keeps rising whilst senior directors earn big bonuses. The so-called lag between supplier prices falling and consumer prices falling seems a flimsy argument.”

This has presented independent retailers with an opportunity to offer quality and value to consumers who have lost trust in their usual grocery haunts. 

Indeed, as Tina McKenzie, policy and advocacy chair at the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), told Speciality Food, “This data opens a window of opportunity for independent food retailers.

“Their trump card lies in the personalised touch and community spirit they offer, a luxury not afforded to larger establishments. As the modern consumer craves a deeper understanding of their food’s journey, independent retailers are perfectly placed to satiate their appetite. Their tight-knit relationship with local suppliers allows them to paint a compelling ‘farm to fork’ story. 

“In a climate of growing consumer scepticism, small businesses have the potential to emerge as a beacon of reliability and quality in the food and retail industry.”

Offering quality and value
To do this, independent shops need to provide an alternative to untrustworthy supermarkets. 

As Toby Edwards, deli manager at Friday Street Farm Shop, explained, “Being in the middle of the cost-of-living crisis now, a lot of us are shopping with quality in mind. But with this distrust of the supermarkets and the feel that they are ripping customers off, we can show that you can spend the same or even less with us and receive a higher quality product, whether that be meat, fruit, veg and cheese.”

“We can showcase the high-quality food and reasonable prices that we have and still compete with the supermarkets and their prices.”

Andrew agreed, “Independent retailers earn trust by always treating customers fairly. They are local shops and if they lose trust, they lose the right to trade. Now is the time for independent food shops to remind customers of the value they offer and the support they give to their local communities. 

“Our customers are looking for quality produce, local produce and fair prices so it is essential to keep that message clear along with excellent customer service,” Simon Jones, owner of Forest Deli, added.

Communication is key
Gaining the trust of shoppers during difficult financial times isn’t an easy feat. However, independents are in a unique position to communicate effectively with customers, something supermarkets simply cannot do.

As Simon explained, “One of the main topics of conversation recently has been the rises in prices for milk and cheese, which in some cases has doubled in the supermarkets and is often referenced in the news. We take time with our customers to chat, and I am always very pleased to explain that some of our cheese has not gone up at all, which does surprise most people.

“Sourcing cheeses direct from local farms and knowing the producers well means we have a strong relationship and can have honest conversations about prices, costs etc, so when there are rises that we need to pass on, we can explain exactly why there is an increase. Be that cost of feed, fertiliser, packaging or electricity – it helps the customers to fully understand what the producers have to do.”

Indeed, it is this distinction that can help fine food shops to boost sales. According to Toby, “A story about the products or your enthusiasm can sell the product more than an offer can. Show them how to cook it or show them a dish to use it in. Give them a one-on-one experience they won’t forget. 

“Always good to remember a face or name as well, to check up on how they got with your product, make them feel valued as your customer, rather than a number like the supermarkets.”

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