John Shepherd, Partridges: “Xmas or Xmiss 2020”

01 September 2020, 09:21 AM
  • Will there be ‘normal’ December trading for speciality food shops this year? Will it be the traditional cavalry charge towards Christmas Day or a tiptoe through the turmoil? These are questions that have been raised a lot over the past few weeks. It is difficult to answer politely, says John Shepherd, MD of Partridges
John Shepherd, Partridges: “Xmas or Xmiss 2020”

The truth is that after the shock of the pandemic, the trauma of the lockdown and the disappointment of the reopening nobody knows what will happen next.

For us it has been a difficult lockdown loosening. We closed the in house café like everybody else in March and when allowed to do so opened a takeaway version in the hope that we would encounter a vestige of normality. Sadly not. Our central London location, the fact that a lot of locals left town early, the poor weather, the lack of passing trade and the fact that it is a traditionally quiet time of the year anyway have made this July one of the most challenging times ever. The reopening of almost all other food and retail businesses means that sales are being divided between so many different options. This is only fair but nevertheless painful.

At the end of July we are 17% down in sales compared to the same month last year. Is this a temporary and seasonally related decline or is it an omen for still difficult times ahead?  Hopefully the former but the fact that this level of doubt exists for September does not bode well for the festive season.

Some of our management team feel strongly that we should reduce orders. Others feel in some cases we should increase them. This latter course of action may look like a prima facie case of clinical insanity. However the reasoning is that after a year of toil, turbulence and temporary terror there may be a concerted attempt to have as traditional a Christmas as possible. Certainly we are expecting online to keep expanding but overall my guess is that we have reduced orders by about 20%. There is always some scope for last minute ordering so better safe than sorry for the time being.

The central problem with Christmas 2020 is that a memorable festive season is usually measured by footfall and not just snowfall. December has a gravitational pull on customers. This year Newton’s Laws of Motion will have to be rewritten for retail. We are essentially aiming for the same level of business while allowing for footfall to be down around 25% on previous years which is what we are currently running at. Although average spending has actually risen by 11% which is usually what happens when passing trade is diminished. At these parameters it looks like Christmas sales could be down 15%. A lot will, of course, depend on online sales and the shift in focus that will bring to traditional delis, for example targeted marketing and proportionate labour.

So the unanswered question remains – cavalry charge or tiptoe? Probably, as happens so often in speciality food the answer lies somewhere in the middle. A cavalry charge on tiptoe!

Best wishes and good luck for the autumn.

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