14 May 2021, 09:22 AM
  • Strong summer sales are on the cards for indie retailers as optimism rises and indoor dining gets the green light
“Plenty of opportunity for retail” as shopper confidence spikes

From Monday 17th May, the food and drink industry will welcome back indoor hospitality, with cafés and restaurants set to reopen in England, Wales and Scotland. With the lockdown exit roadmap ticking forward, fine food retailers can expect a bumper summer season as consumer confidence soared to its highest level in five years, according to IGD’s Shopper Confidence Index.

In April 2021, shopper confidence reached -1, the highest level since August 2016, and significantly higher than the -11 recorded in April last year. Confidence increased across most demographic groups, but particularly younger shoppers, as non-essential shops opened their doors and outdoor socialising resumed.

“We are cautiously optimistic about the reopening of hospitality and leisure, and are looking forward to a more certain future,” said Emma Mosey of Minskip Farm Shop and restaurant Yolk Farm. “We can’t wait to get our brunch restaurant back open inside, and have been overwhelmed by the support of the public as we have flexed our business to suit the times. Although this period has been challenging, it has solidified for us and our team how much we love what we do, and how important that is,” she said.

According to UKHospitality, six in 10 hospitality venues were unable to open in recent weeks due to a lack of outdoor space. UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls echoed Minskip’s Emma, saying, the move to reopen indoor hospitality “gives businesses far more certainty, with trading no longer beholden to the weather”.

Economic outlook improving

Financial confidence also grew over April, IGD found, despite the K-shaped recovery causing the gap between shoppers focused on quality rather than saving money to widen. Just 23% of consumers expect to be worse off in the year ahead – the lowest level on record.

Recent economic data also painted a picture of recovery – although the UK economy shrank by 1.5% in the first three months of the year, in March alone it rose by 2.1%. This was the fastest monthly rise since last August, boosted by the reopening of schools and strong retail spending growth. In April, retail sales were still on the rise, growing 7.3% compared to the same month in 2019, with food sales recording growth of 10.3%, according to the BRC-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor.

Michelle Ovens CBE, founder of Small Business Britain told Speciality Food it was good to see positive signs of an economic recovery. “Bricks and mortar retail has certainly had a tough time, but people have also really connected with their local areas and will no doubt increasingly venture out as restrictions ease,” Michelle said. “With foreign travel limited this summer we’d expect to see the UK’s retail sector and high streets benefit from increased staycations as people rediscover the British isles and all that our towns and cities have to offer.”

Indeed, Lizzie Caunter, marketing and events executive at Darts Farm, added that many of the new habits emerging from pandemic life will be a boon for indies. “The ‘glass half full’ optimist in us really can’t help but notice some of the positive lifestyle changes that have occurred as a result of the pandemic,” she said. “Here at Darts Farm, we have found people are definitely enjoying the simpler things in their lives. They are taking time out and reconnecting with what is on their doorstep; whether that be the great outdoors or locally produced, great tasting, sustainable food and drink.

“With restaurants and pubs closed for most of the past year, consumers have changed their habits, enjoying a healthier home life, shopping more regularly at farm shops and specialist food retailers and trading up from using supermarket products. They are creating their own favourite dishes at home, using the same ingredients that world class chefs and restaurants would; and what’s even better they are actually saving money whilst doing it,” she says.

With confidence growing, IGD’s Simon Wainwright says there is “plenty of opportunity” for retail and foodservice in the coming months. “Retailers should focus on capturing the additional spend that higher income shoppers are diverting to ‘trading-up’,” he said. “Many shoppers are choosing food for occasions that require minimal preparation, enabling them to maximise the social time that they’ve missed out on. Ready-to-eat snacks, meal deals and meal kits are likely to be a popular choice among more shoppers this summer,” Simon added.

While optimism remains fragile, there is good reason for retailers to look forward to increased sales over the summer months.