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As we approach two years since the first Covid lockdown turned the world upside down, it’s remarkable to reflect on just how much retail has changed in a relatively short time, with the speciality foods sector no exception.
The size of the online customer base has exploded, with a particular focus on mobile purchases –about 70% of Britons say buying online and on mobile phones have become their preferred shopping methods, up from less than half prior to the coronavirus pandemic. Customers have discovered the simplicity offered by shopping online, and, driven by the delivery speeds of the likes of Amazon, their expectations for the convenience of the experience have risen.
At the same time, the pandemic exposed just how fragile our ‘normal’ life was. This, coupled with the overdue focus on climate change thanks to COP26, rearranged consumer behaviour to put sustainable practices at the top of potential customers’ interests. 71% of consumers now prefer buying from brands that align with their values, and 50% of consumers say they’re more ‘eco-friendly’. In 2022, the ‘conscious consumer’ can no longer be treated as a stand-alone niche group.
However, convenience and sustainability don’t necessarily go hand in hand. Being able to find whatever I need incredibly cheaply at the touch of a button and have it arrive the next day is great, but it inevitably comes with a cost beyond the price of the product itself.
So last year, my wife Ana and I launched Pantree – an online marketplace for gourmet food, drink and kitchenware – to square this circle and provide an option that works for shoppers, sellers and the planet. Working closely with our carefully curated Partner Vendors, who benefit from the best rates of any major marketplace, allows us a fascinating perspective on the brands that are getting things right when it comes to the emerging trends that will define success in 2022.
While the world was locked down, consumers started paying more attention to the sustainability of the products they purchased, and the process retailers go through from sourcing through to fulfilment. Our most successful Partner Vendors have been those who demonstrate the consideration they’ve given to every stakeholder in their supply chain. One such example is Coco Pzazz, chocolate-makers who offer micro loans to support their farmers in West Africa and South America, enabling individual growers to develop their small chocolate farms.
In an increasingly saturated speciality foods market, this sort of innovative sustainability can set a brand apart from the competition. Whilst Nemi Teas undoubtedly make great tasting tea, when we speak to our customers who have fallen in love with the brand, they always mention the same thing: the company’s innovative scheme to provide employment to refugees to give them local work experience and job readiness skills to enter the UK workforce and help them integrate into broader society.
Whatever sustainability measures a brand implements, putting them front and centre in the brand’s story will maximise their value – gone are the days of a single web page that no one ever finds! Greensand Ridge – our gin Partner Vendor – is a great example of this. They are the UK’s first carbon neutral distillery, they use 100% renewable power, and they make most of their spirits from surplus produce from local farmers. There’s no shortage of competition the craft gin world, yet by celebrating their sustainability at the forefront of their brand, they stand out to every customer.
We consistently see that the brands who connect best with our community are those who highlight the people behind the brand. Spice Kitchen’s tins were one of the bestselling gifts on Pantree over the Christmas period, and our customers consistently told us that it was finding out about the story of Sanjay and Shashi – the mother and son team behind the products – that convinced them to make the purchase.
This final point is one that Ana and I learned ourselves with Pantree. When we launched, we felt that in order to present Pantree in a professional manner, we should be detaching ourselves from the brand. Instead, we discovered that our story was one of our strongest assets when it came to building a community that both consumers and Partner Vendors wanted to be a part of. Ana excitedly cooking a recipe using a new Partner Vendors’ product and posting it on Instagram brings a level of authenticity that money can’t buy.
As the speciality foods sector begins the new year, over a third of consumers now say that when making a purchase a product must be natural, local, or sustainable. With that number set to continue to rise, there is undoubtedly an exciting opportunity for brands across the sector to set them themselves apart in 2022 and beyond.