The high street is evolving: How indies can cash in

08 December 2022, 12:18 PM
  • A new report has revealed that the British high street is changing rather than dying, and fine food retail is well-placed to benefit
The high street is evolving: How indies can cash in

According to new research from Ordnance Survey, high streets and shopping areas appear to be evolving into more service and hospitality-based venues

In fact, despite the restrictions of lockdowns and social distancing rules, eating and drinking establishments saw growth of almost 4% between 2020 and 2022.

The Ordnance Survey data found 700 more pubs and bars were operating after the pandemic, along with 2,000 more cafés or tea rooms.

Good news for indies
This change demonstrates that consumers want something more than supermarket and large chain drudgery – instead, they are looking for excellent customer service and a unique experience that only independents can offer.

As Andrew Goodacre, CEO of the British Independent Retail Association, explained, “This report is interesting and conforms trends we have noticed over the past few years. There has been a growth in ‘service retailing’ and a decline in the traditional ‘comparison goods retailer’ - and the pandemic seems to have emphasised this change.

“A good high street is a series of inter-dependent businesses working together to create a great place to visit, and independent retail is absolutely integral to that future vision.”

Within this, fine food retail, especially delis and cafés, can provide the solution to this changing landscape.

According to Mark Kacary, managing director at Norfolk Deli, “In many ways, I see this as a good thing and do not see this as being something which is to the detriment of retail, provided that retailers understand the changes and how they need to interact with customers to accommodate this desire for more socialising. 

“Speciality food establishments have an ideal opportunity to cash in on this trend. There are people who want to be entertained, who want to be fed, who want some form of engagement and service, so the thing is to think what can I do that will engage with customers? 

“It could be as simple as setting up a cheese-tasting table outside, or it could be setting up a paella pan and creating your very own street food experience. 

“We opened our café three doors away from the deli and while we have seen a growth in the number of people who eat with us due to the newer premises it is also something which has allowed us to offer a range of events and services for our customers. We have held an Indian evening, a couple of cheese and wine taster evenings and we are currently planning a Burns Night cheese tasting, cheese quiz night and other events.”

The future of the high street
With urban shopping areas becoming more service-focused, there is a huge opportunity for indies as chains lose out. 

As Andrew explained, “The closure of large chains, and now banks, is well documented. We have seen many traditional indie retailers change their offerings, for example by the inclusion of cafes in their shops. 

“We expect these changes to continue but we must remember that every vibrant high street needs diversity and should not be dominated by any particular sector.”

In order to thrive, this means that indies still need to be unique in their offering. Mark told Speciality Food, “I think what this trend will do is make retailers think about what is happening beyond their front door. 

“The changes can be viewed in two ways a) it is a lot harder to trade in the traditional sense. Or b) these are exciting times and the rule book to retail is being thrown in the trash can and allowing businesses to be innovative and creative. 

“I think creativity and the enthusiasm to try something new and not to be afraid if the first idea doesn’t work will be key to the future success of speciality retail. It should also help to really differentiate the small retailer from the sterile corporate supermarkets.”

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