12 February 2020, 12:10 PM
  • In a tough time for retail, independents are upping their offerings and services to stay on top
Indies defy “worst year on record”

Figures released at the start of the year revealed that 2019 was the first year to show an overall decline in retail sales. Stats from the BRC–KPMG Retail Sales Monitor covering 24th November to 28th December 2019 showed that total sales for 2019 decreased by 0.1%, compared with 1.2% growth in 2018. Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, said that 2019 was “the worst year on record” and cited Brexit alongside shop closures and job losses within the retail industry as major influences.

The numbers confirm how increasingly challenging retail is today. The Centre for Retail Research highlighted that since the start of 2020 over 10,000 jobs had been lost within the sector.

It’s not all doom and gloom for retailers in the food and drink sector, however; many of whom are able to react quickly to consumer trends and behaviours and keep competitive.

Graham Webster, managing director, Rhug Ltd, explains that at Rhug Estate Farm Shop a focus on sustainability, supporting local suppliers and expanding certain ranges lead to the business seeing overall growth of just under 10% in 2019. “At Rhug we recognised the changes occurring in customer shopping habits over the past few years and have made changes to try to combat any decline in spend. This has included a focus on our packaging with all of our own packaging now being recyclable or compostable, as well as working with our suppliers to encourage less reliance on single use plastic.

“We have also focused our purchasing on more unique gifts and supporting very local and small businesses, predominantly from Wales. We now have over 140 local suppliers providing more than 50% of our products, so we offer a point of difference to our high street retail competitors. Along with our focus on providing great service, this strategy saw growth of over 11% from 2018-2019 in our farm shop.

“We have kept pace with dietary requirements with a far expanded free-from range and far more vegetarian and vegan choices in both our retail and catering businesses.

“Overall last year the business grew by just under 10%, but only due to us constantly reassessing our offering and challenging ourselves to do better by keeping pace with changing consumer habits and demands.”

Susan Barratt, CEO at IGD, pointed out that the BRC–KPMG report showed some optimism for 2020, saying, “This is also the first time since June 2018 that just as many shoppers predict they will focus more on quality as saving money in the year ahead when food and grocery shopping (18%)”.

Charles Bradford, MD at The Gog Farm Shop in Cambridge, has seen customers becoming more considered with their purchases; “As an example, our butchery certainly witnessed a dip in meat sales at the beginning of the year as we experienced our first proper Veganuary. There has definitely been a significant swing in consumer habits towards meat over the past 12 months, with customers being much more considered about what they are buying. Quite rightly, people are consuming less meat, but when they do it simply must be better – better provenance, better quality and better tasting.

As a result, sales from our butchery started picking up in Q2 and have tracked higher month-on-month than previous years ever since. I can certainly appreciate that retailers who have little to differentiate themselves in the age of internet shopping are going to struggle. But like many reading this, we know that our infectious enthusiasm for supplying amazing food is difficult to compete with online.”

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