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The revival of the Butcher, Baker and Wine Trader

09 April 2020

By Jessica Hodson Walker, Account Director

Last week, Kantar announced that in the two days before full lockdown, UK supermarkets saw a staggering additional £1.9bn in sales as the UK stockpiled and panic bought. Two weeks in, as the shelves are being slowly replenished, a trend is emerging in consumer habits which, whilst it is not new behaviour, is in line with our quick return to traditional community values during this unprecedented period; that is of direct-to-consumer retail, buying local and, more often than previously - buying British.

Ahead of the lockdown, as supermarkets were approaching riots over loo roll and hand sanitizer, the public began to diversify where it spent its money. In order to tackle stockpiling and keep food on shelves, supermarkets decided to remove all offers on products, ultimately adding costs to shopping bills at a time when households are under financial pressure.

Consequently, in order to access products, consumers started spending more money at local newsagents, butchers, bakers, delicatessens or wine merchants/vineyards, not only diluting where demand was felt, but making consumers feel that they were investing in the community and helping support smaller businesses. As a result, these retailers have seen a significant increase in sales. Anecdotally, our local butchers say it has nearly quadrupled its regular order volumes. Berry Bros., Armit Wines and, prior to pausing deliveries, The Wine Society are rumoured to have had better than Christmas and record-breaking sales (I’ve certainly been contributing to this!).

With the convenience of supermarket shopping diminished, independent retailers and producers are homing in on the opportunity to access their customers directly and raise their brand profile in the process. Given that the On-trade (restaurant & bars) side of business for many of these producers will have ground to a halt, private and off-trade sales are now fundamental to keeping some businesses afloat.

However, whilst the support for producers and smaller businesses is great for our local economies and also for brand loyalty, will it be sustained when normality eventually returns, the pubs are open and we are back in our offices, short of time and energy?

Over the next few months, independent brands and producers need to court their customers, communicate with them regularly, empathise with them, provide them with the few pleasures left to enjoy at the moment such as great wine, food and content. Interestingly, the rise in ‘cooking at home’, and baking, has been incredible on social media: photos and videos on social media channels suggest that Britons are becoming real epicureans enjoying their food and wine more than ever. Brands need to become a presence in people’s lives and provide artisanal quality that customers will noticeably miss should they go elsewhere and which cannot be substituted for convenience.

It will require a long-term paradigm shift in the Nation’s thinking to sustain this, particularly when international travel and trade are back to pre-COVID levels. Whilst it has been temporarily forgotten in the midst of the pandemic, ‘Brexit’ will be the next hurdle to face, and it is going to be more important than ever, to support ‘our own’ but also, to have an open market to export these products, import ingredients and employees and, to further grow our economy.

Whatever happens to our brick and mortar retail sector (clothing and products etc.), food and drink are crucial industries which we can really own. Whilst COVID-19 may have temporarily isolated nations and neighbourhoods, it won’t last forever and we need to be ready to move again to establish a global presence for our produce and brands; be it sparkling wine, milk or strawberries.

To that end, I hope that the queues continue down the streets from our local butchers, bakers and wine traders.