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We may still be weeks away from National Picnic Week starting 17th June, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be picnic-ready in May. We explore the factors that consumers are considering when purchasing their alfresco treats, from affordability to portability.
Expense is a big deal right now, and for the foreseeable future. Though some items will always demand a higher price point, the cost-of-living crisis can create another big win for picnic foods, as it’s a cheaper alternative to restaurants.
Simon Warren, owner of The East Street Deli, finds that customers don’t mind spending a little more on picnic foods if it’s still less than they’d spend on dining out.
“We are seeing a continuing trend of people eating in rather than eating out and in doing so are willing to splash out a bit more. We see picnics being a great opportunity for delis like ours to cater to families and friends who are looking to get together and eat and drink without it breaking the bank.
“More than ever, our customers are looking for value for money. If we can offer quality products with the great service we pride ourselves on then we believe they’ll be happy to return time and again.”
For Sarah Shaw, owner of The Cornish Hen, it’s often the special items that customers go for, when it comes to picnics, and price isn’t an issue if they feel they are getting value for money.
“Customers are definitely willing to splash out on a hamper. A hamper usually means a special occasion or doing something that you want to put a bit more effort into, hence being happy to spend a little more! In the current climate our customers definitely want value for money. They work hard to earn it and really want to see that they are spending it on something worthwhile. Value for money as opposed to cheap is where we will be looking to serve our customers best.”
On the whole, a picnic is still cheaper than eating out, and being able to offer a cheaper alternative puts fine food retailers in a sweet position. “I think people see a picnic as a well-priced day out,” Sarah says. “Much cheaper than a restaurant and the food quality can be the same. Picnics are great because you can go all out with all the trimmings and Champagne or keep it realistic and fit your budget.”
It’s all about portability
Unsurprisingly, what most people are looking for in a picnic is good food and drink that can be carried easily. Hampers are always a good option, as everything is already in one place, as Sarah Shaw knows.
“Our hampers vary in size, shape and form, from the traditional wicker hamper to a cardboard wicker effect hamper to a Cornish Hen Bag, cloth or paper. There are a few other options besides, but these seem to be the most popular.”
For Simon Warren, hampers are a year-round offering, and when it comes to picnic season he’s looking at other ways to make the products portable. “We have introduced a slightly more suitable range of boxes that can be filled with all of our picnic lines.”
Sarah agrees, and knows that getting the packaging right is vital, and not always easy. “The area that offers the most challenges is the packaging. We continue to look at eco boxes that are both functional and attractive. There is no point spending hours on food prep when the carrier leaves something to be desired. This is quite hard because packaging that looks good costs more. It’s a juggling act for sure.”
But there is one picnic item that’s done the job for them. “Canned cocktails have been an absolute winner for us,” says Simon. “They were the ultimate stocking filler last Christmas and we expect the summer picnic season to see them continue to grow in popularity. Canned wines were a little bit more of a struggle, possibly because of our location.”
For Sarah it’s an evolving area of the business, but one there’s no denying is a grower. “Canned wines are certainly an on-trend product. We have tried quite a few and been amazed and delighted by some and horrified by others. It is a new line that we hope our customers will really enjoy this year.
“We are cautious with this though as even the entry level has a high price point.” Indeed, research by Statista shows that sales of pre-mixed alcoholic drinks are expected to have doubled between 2021 and 2025.
There’s no doubt that picnics have changed, and will continue to change. A picnic is no longer a few sandwiches and some crisps, as Catrin Macdonnell knows. “Sandwiches are pretty popular, but I think there is a general move away from these and more creative picnic ideas such as veggie rolls and mini salmon en croute will rise in popularity. I think people are more into trying new cheeses too instead of the traditional Cheddar/Brie types.”
It’s the ability for fine food retailers to roll with these changes and keep offering customers exactly what they want, that makes them so well placed to put picnics ate the centre of their business.