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As the new year approaches, fine food independents will no doubt be reflecting on their 2021 successes and setting new plans in motion for the year ahead. Every year, huge celebrations like Christmas and Easter break up the retail calendar and provide a welcome boost to shop sales, but thinking seasonally beyond these big-ticket days can offer new ways to cash in on annual events, and now is the perfect time to brainstorm ideas for next year.
The past few weeks, for instance, have seen the continued rise of autumnal marketing. “Working in retail design, we’ve been tracking seasonal retail events for a few years now,” said Richard Ford, strategy director at Sherlock Studio. “Over that time, we’ve seen autumn gain greater visibility. For example, autumn leaves appearing in Halloween creative, autumn decorations going on sale and even through tone of voice: Waitrose has previously used ‘Gather’ across its Halloween and Bonfire Night campaigns, a term which nods to autumnal activities like foraging and harvesting.”
This year, Sainsbury’s launched an autumn edition Taste the Difference range and Asda added the word autumn to its usual marketing campaign, showing that this season is becoming its own distinct event in the retail calendar.
Retailers can use the new excitement around autumn as a way to bolster marketing campaigns between summer and Halloween, Richard said. “As with anything in retail, autumn’s success depends on strong investment and customers being given a clear ‘reason to believe’. But the signs already look promising,” he added.
As well as decking out your shop with seasonal décor, adding experiential retail offerings can create an additional revenue stream across the year. Autumn again offers excellent diversification opportunities with pick-your-own (PYO) pumpkins. For Rob Copley, owner of Farmer Copleys and chairman of the Farm Retail Association, pumpkin season is the biggest and most profitable event that the farm runs. The farm offers 50 acres of PYO pumpkins. “It’s a full-blown festival with food, bands, and little fairground rides,” he told Speciality Food. “We’ve had 100,000 people through this year.”
The experiential retail concept can be adapted to other seasons too, from strawberries in May to sunflowers in summer. These events appeal particularly to social media users, Rob said. “They do take some cut flowers, but it’s more about the theatre and the photographs.
“People come and share their experience,” he continued. Modern day living is about sharing experiences, he said, so tapping into the Instagram audience could be a valuable way to boost sales.
Easing Covid restrictions have also helped. The lack of restrictions around Halloween meant that Farmer Copley’s saw 40% more pumpkin sales than last year. According to Kantar, this was a common theme, with pumpkin sales up 26% overall in the four weeks to 31st October.
For those that haven’t tested out seasonal marketing yet, Rob says it’s helpful to focus in on a product that you know customers will love. “In strawberry season, we are the strawberry farm. Everything in the café is strawberry, and that follows through for the people.” He also advises shops to make the most of social media. “It’s having the Instagram points,” he said. “It costs money to build these Instagram points, but that’s what keeps bringing people back.”
Not every fine food shop will have a large expanse of land to work with, but by thinking creatively about the seasonal calendar, even those with smaller premises can join in with experiential retail, such as offering springtime flower arranging demonstrations, foraging tips, and pumpkin carving ideas. Seasonal marketing can also be a way to celebrate seasonal British foods and their makers – think ‘meet the maker’ events or spotlight displays, and don’t forget to ramp up the festivities. With new trends emerging all the time alongside a growing demand for retail experiences, seasonality continues to offer new opportunities for fine food retail.