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Warm, sunny weather plus continued progress with the rollout of the vaccination programme have boosted footfall and shopper confidence in recent weeks.
In May, IGD’s Shopper Confidence Index found financial confidence had climbed to its highest level since records began in 2013. Just 19% of respondents expect to be worse off in the year ahead compared to 23% in April 2021. And while this confidence remains polarised across income groups, the gap in the K-shaped recovery reduced slightly in May.
Tony Hindhaugh, co-founder and owner of London butchers Parson’s Nose, said there is still some uncertainty among customers. “It is very much two steps forward and one step back at the minute with our customers,” Tony told Speciality Food. “While undoubtedly confidence is increasing, there is still an element of caution as to when this really will end,” he said.
Indeed, the planned 21st June easing of the final lockdown restrictions has been pushed back by four weeks in England. Despite this, Tony said his stores are getting busier, and online sales are still holding up.
The latest take-home grocery figures from Kantar show that supermarket sales remain stronger than they were pre-Covid, with shoppers spending an additional £3.8bn over the last three months compared to the same period in 2019.
While the slower start to summer this year meant that BBQ season was delayed – sales of barbecue staples like burgers fell by 20% year-on-year in May, according to Kantar – the sunny bank holiday weekend and, as Tony described, an “almost exploding excitement to entertain” ensured that sales have quickly picked up.
“Our BBQ range has literally gone through the roof as our customers are clamouring for that human engagement again,” Tony said. The shop’s handmade sausages were also “flying out of the door”.
Tony noted that convenience is once again becoming a key factor in shoppers’ buying decisions as well, and he is hoping to find success by catering to its resurgence. “We have launched our own range of Chef Created Restaurant meals in our partnerships with some leading chefs. Traditionally seen as an unhealthy option, we are trying to reinvent the ready meal by using only our counter meat and adding no additional sugars or salt,” he said.
According to Kantar, the rise in convenience has driven sales of chilled ready meals up by 20%, cooked poultry by 28% and sandwich fillings by 12%. Chilled desserts were another big winner in May, with a 14% rise as family and friends began entertaining again.
Over the final week of May, UK retail destinations saw the greatest weekly increase in footfall since the reopening of non-essential retail in April. The sunny summer weather boosted shopping in high streets and coastal towns. “Staycations clearly fuelled an increase in footfall in coastal towns which surpassed that in any other type of high street, and a rise in footfall in high streets in the south-west that was nearly double the increase in high streets across the UK and in Greater London,” said Springboard insights director Diane Wehrle.
While there are reasons to be optimistic, Andy Sumpter, retail consultant for EMEA for Sensormatic Solutions, warned, “The prospect of a sustained recovery is still very much hanging in the balance, with variants of concern and an uptick in infection rates threatening to undermine consumer confidence, and the final stage of unlocking far from a fait accompli.”
With financial confidence growing, Simon Wainwright, director of global insight at IGD, says food retailers have an opportunity to focus on engagement with customers to drive “additional and unplanned purchases”.
However, the unpredictability of the pandemic means that nothing is guaranteed, so focusing on customer retention by boosting the customer experience is one area that indies can focus on to ensure success for the months and years to come. As Simon says, “Now is a good time to build on foundations to create long-term trust and loyalty.”
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