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With continued restrictions limiting many Brits’ ability to travel abroad, 2021 is truly the year of the staycation. Although the traffic light system limits travel to many countries, here in the UK the lockdown reopening is progressing, with the final restrictions set to be removed on 19th July.
Setting Brits free to explore their own shores opens opportunities for independent retailers, especially following growth in demand for specialist retailers during the pandemic. “Our recent decision to start opening on Sundays was largely inspired by the shift in demand we’ve seen since the start of the pandemic,” explained Darren Henaghan, managing director at Borough Market. The iconic London market has extended its produce trading hours into Sundays for the first time in modern history, helped by strong demand for locally produced food.
“Despite a steep drop in overall visitor numbers, our essential produce traders – the butchers, greengrocers, fishmongers, bakers and so on – have been buoyed by the growing number of Londoners who clearly care about provenance and want to buy high-quality ingredients to enjoy at home,” Darren continued. “By opening our produce stalls every Sunday while the street food stalls take the day off, we hope to give these more engaged shoppers the time and space to explore the stalls and talk to the traders. More than 26,000 people passed through on our first Sunday, and sales were really positive. Just as importantly, so too were the conversations that were happening all around the Market. That gives us all a lot of hope.”
Indeed, Borough Market is not alone. After an initial rise in demand during the early days of the pandemic, specialist food retailers have seen their sales grow this year, too. The prospect of staycationers taking holidays around the UK, whether visiting coastal towns, city breaks or the countryside, offers more opportunities to cash in on a growing interest in local and British-made products.
Food businesses are also finding ways to reach locally-minded customers no matter where they are in the UK. Devon-based Darts Farm this year introduced an artisan food subscription box, seeking to take a slice of the direct-to-consumer food box market. Elsewhere, Imogen Royall, co-founded Dine in the Lakes, which aims to bring food from the Lake District directly to consumers’ doors. Imogen believes the rise of conscious consumption is a key driver of the growing demand for high-quality local food and drink.
“Now more than ever people are looking to make better choices, be that for their health, the planet, or both,” Imogen explained. “Many are learning to see past the smoke and mirrors often displayed by larger corporations and are readily hunting out smaller businesses, who focus on quality, handmade, natural ingredients; authentic recipes; and traditional manufacturing methods. Perceptions have shifted in tandem with lifestyles, whereas once artisan products were largely considered to be an indulgence, many now see them as an investment.”
The pandemic has only heightened this, allowing consumers to see the food and drink retailers and producers available on their doorsteps. “It’s contributed to our having a much broader and open conversation around ingredient provenance and the importance of buying local,” Imogen said.
And retailers who are able to leverage their e-commerce operations can expand the reach of beloved local products. Imogen said artisan food businesses in the Lake District have seen e-commerce as an invaluable tool. “It means independent producers are no longer reliant on tourist seasons, the weather or immediate market to make a healthy trade. Small artisanal businesses are now able to reach beyond their immediate high street and expand their footprint not only nationally and internationally, but year-round too.” What’s more, e-commerce offers a way for retailers to keep in touch with customers visiting from all over the UK.
For retailers, ramping up local and ethical credentials this summer will be key to securing sales, whether in-store or online.
Images courtesy of Borough Market.