To what degree do you feel it is your responsibility to provide healthy products?
Carey Lake: I certainly think we should have healthy products available, especially with people being more health-conscious today.
Bill Brown: It’s partly our responsibility to provide healthy foods, but with the credit crunch it all comes down to cost now.
David Smith: It’s not my responsibility to provide so-called healthy products - the definition of ‘healthy’ changes from one week to the next. It’s my responsibility to provide choice and let customers decide what to buy.
Vickram Karavadra: We’re largely responsible for providing healthy foods, but whether or not people buy them is another matter.
What kinds of healthy products do you sell?
CL: We have fruit and veg available, and salads in the sandwich section. We also stock more cereal bar lines than we used to and they’ve really picked up this year.
BB: Our fruit and veg has expanded recently because Booker has reduced the minimum amount that you have to buy. We now stock grapes because we can buy just one red punnet and one green, instead of having to buy four. Dealing with smaller quantities means there is less wastage and so I can afford to stock more varieties of fruit and veg.
DS: We often stock the lighter versions of products and stock
Lo Salt alongside salt. We also sell fresh fruit and veg.
VK: We’ve a small but fairly exotic fruit and veg range, which includes products such as kiwi fruit. We also sell yogurts, Müller Vitality shots, salads and sugar-free soft drinks.
How does the profit margin on fruit and veg compare with that of other products?
CL: Unfortunately, the margins tend to be much lower in fruit and veg because of the smaller quantities you’re buying. To achieve a high margin, you’d have to price them so high that they wouldn’t sell.
BB: In the past, the margins were 10-15% for fruit and veg, which was a lot lower than other products. But now that we can stock smaller quantities, our margins are higher because we have less waste.
DS: You have to aim for higher margins in fruit and veg because they are chilled and therefore cost more to maintain.
VK: An average product margin is 25-30%, whereas fruit and veg is a little lower at about 22%.
Are customers asking for healthier options?
CL: I certainly get people looking for healthier alternatives, such as cereal bars. I stocked soya milk as the result of a customer request, but having to buy an outer instead of a few cartons meant I had too much waste and had to stop selling it.
BB: Customers are asking for fruit and veg to be fresh - not three or four days old like it has been in the past. Customers are used to supermarket ‘A’ grade quality and most wholesalers are ‘B’ or ‘C’.
DS: We’re in Lincolnshire where customers are more interested in a traditional diet - they prefer full-fat milk rather than semi-skimmed. They are usually sceptical about new diet concepts to start off with.
VK: Customers aren’t really interested in healthier options. Even if the fruit and veg was right by the door it wouldn’t sell. The only time sales pick up is in the summer when people make salads.
What are the barriers to selling healthy foods?
CL: Wastage. Ideally, I’d be able to get really fresh produce, but it can be in the wholesalers for a while before it’s sold. The only thing you can do is to get produce straight from a farmer, which is how we source our eggs. But farmers need a regular order, and you can’t guarantee that with fruit and veg.
BB: Customers’ lack of knowledge can be an issue. You need to educate them - they want to know what products are and what they taste like, so we sample some of the more unusual fruit and veg.
DS: We don’t have any specific barriers. Fruit and veg waste isn’t a problem as we manage stock carefully.
VK: The main barrier is customers’ lack of interest. The expense of healthy foods is also an issue. We tried once to sell organic milk and bread, but no one touched them because they were more expensive than standard lines.
How do you display and maintain healthy foods to ensure that they look inviting?
CL: We keep fruit in a chiller to maximise its freshness. It’s checked at least daily and we have to monitor the sell-by dates very carefully. Even if the product still looks good, if it is out of date then it may have lost a lot of its nutritional content.
BB: You have to take care of fruit and veg - you can’t just shove it on the shelf like a tin of beans and leave it. You have to check it every day for quality and ask yourself ‘Would I buy it?’
DS: Our fruit and veg is checked in the morning and the evening and anything that isn’t up to scratch is taken off.
VK: One of our suppliers comes in every other day to check the fruit and keep it topped up.
A scheme in North East England offers government funding to help provide retailers with fruit and veg display equipment. Is this a good idea?
CL: It sounds like a good idea - I’d certainly look into it if it was available to me.
BB: I think this is a great opportunity for independents, as long as they can get their suppliers to reduce the minimum amounts of fruit and veg they have to buy. We can see the recession is on its way and so customers need the option of buying small amounts of product.
DS: I’m always wary of anything with government involvement, so I’d treat this with caution.
VK: Maybe this sort of scheme might work in other areas like the North East, but I dont think it would take off here.
How do you promote healthy eating to customers?
CL: Fruit and veg is kept near the sandwiches so that people will be tempted to have some with their lunch. We also have shelf-talkers to encourage healthy eating, and we run promotions on our yogurts.
BB: We offer more low-sugar breakfast bars these days - about a dozen lines now. Previously, the healthy bars were at the back of the shelf, but now we’ve moved them to the front. We also put alternatives to crisps, such as Rainbow Drops (sugar-coated puffed rice), at children’s eye level
to persuade them to consider healthier options.
DS: We took part in a Londis healthy eating campaign by putting up pos material in the store and we have shelf cards to remind people about healthy eating. We’ve also handed out 5-a-day leaflets to plug fruit and veg.
VK: We don’t promote fruit and veg because there’s no call for it around here. Customers come in with their government-issued Healthy Start vouchers, which entitle them to a certain amount of free milk, fruit and veg. But they only ever buy the milk and when I tell them there is money still left on the voucher for fruit and veg, they just aren’t interested.
What plans do you have to support healthy eating?
CL: We don’t have any specific plans - we tend to go with what our wholesaler is offering us in terms of promotions.
BB: As the seasons change, we’ll continue to stock different varieties of fruit and veg to keep customers interested.
DS: If the demand is there we’ll sell healthy food, but we wouldn’t necessarily promote it. That stinks of dictating to customers what they should buy. If people are making the wrong diet choices then it’s an educational issue that needs to be dealt with. As far as promotions are concerned, I just don’t see how you’ll get over the interests of the advertising industry.
VK: We don’t have any plans to promote healthy eating due to the lack of demand.