Susie Warran-Smith: “What is the new normal?”

21 March 2022, 07:16 AM
  • Susie Warran-Smith, award-winning businesswoman, author, broadcaster and speaker, shares her thoughts on "the new normal"
Susie Warran-Smith: “What is the new normal?”

There have been lots of predictions about the food trends we expect in 2022, not least the insightful article ‘10 food and drink trends set to soar in 2022’ in this very magazine last month. But what is the new normal once we start to get back to a post-pandemic reality? Will our customers in the independent food sector permanently change their behaviour and attitudes?

I think there is an increased sense of confidence among most of the 50+ age range who do not have underlying health conditions, are fully vaccinated and had a booster too. I am in that bracket, and I don’t feel at risk at all in a retail environment no matter what new variants might evolve. My attitude does not extend to taking public transport or in densely packed entertainment venues but I do feel safe in my high street and my local shops. I may regret making that statement, but that’s how I feel. Now things are beginning to get back to normal I also sense a general dissatisfaction with the media sensationalising of our predicament and how predictions seem to have been reported at the more pessimistic end of the scale. 

We’re all bored of the reports but there could be some upsides to the disruption we have all suffered over the last two years. I believe that all this has led to a better awareness of the link between sustainably and provenance, and possibly distrust of imported products, whether warranted or not. I want to use my hard-earned money to support the community in which I live and feel ever more inclined to patronise family businesses that have had such a hard time recently. I am sure I’m not alone. 

Data from NielsonIQ shows that, “Ingredient labels on products are more important than you think. Forty percent of consumers switched to a brand’s competitor in the last year because it had more robust and trustworthy information about their desired product.” Research by Kerry clearly states that producers and retailers need to “demonstrate greater provenance.” They also observed that globally “49% of consumers are now considering sustainability when buying food and drink.” It seems to me that our local delis, farm shops and retailers are in a very good position to prove how they have ensured provenance and can shout about their long-held sustainability ideals. I don’t think the supermarkets and others can demonstrate such cast iron credentials. 

In promotional material, social media and at the point or purchase, make sure to highlight ingredients, provenance and the names of local suppliers. Your customers want to know and are proactively seeking this information in order to make purchasing decisions. Shout about it and make it visible!

One difficulty as we transcend recent events is the spectre of a considerable increase in inflation. We have not experienced this for some time, and it’s being exacerbated by a huge uplift in utility costs. However, Eurostar Commodities have concluded that although “inflation, price increases and transport costs are grabbing all the predictions in 2002. If you look beneath the headlines there is a world of sophistication taking place with a special focus on healthy eating and clean label.”

I am renowned for being an optimist, but I genuinely think this is a huge opportunity for independent retailers. The pandemic has been an awful scourge. People have died prematurely. Families separated at times when it has been very hard to bear. Businesses have gone under, and our children’s education has been ruined. Mental health has taken a big hit too. But as we have all started to emerge from this, a reset button is open to us. The pandemic has allowed many people to reassess their priorities and work out what is most important to them. Health and wellbeing have become incredibly important and the willingness to support local businesses with connections into the community has too. At last!

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