David Rees: Editor's comment

All posts from: January 2018

Don't waste the chance

Posted by: David Rees Mon, 22 Jan 2018

An unusual combination of Theresa May and David Attenborough has put plastic waste firmly on the public agenda as a problem that needs to be tackled. I do not wish to disagree, and am just as appalled as anyone by images of plastic bottles floating in the ocean, but as usual the detail of how we tackle the problem is going to be all-important.

The first wave of proposals from central government has, predictably, revolved around taxation. Obesity crisis? Tax the sugar in soft drinks. Disposable coffee cups in landfill? Add a 25p tax. Bottles in the ocean? Tax the plastic bottles via a deposit scheme (and, what is more, make retailers first collect and then return the tax to customers). Not all of these suggestions may yet become law, but you can see the thinking – hit manufacturers and retailers in the pocket, in order to change public behaviour.

Most product, and therefore most plastic waste, in the food and drink industry comes via the major supermarkets, and it is there that the “solution” will doubtless be focused. But there is a danger that any remedies will hit the c-sector disproportionately hard, as so much of the industry’s trade is based around soft drinks and, increasingly, coffee to go.

Self-fill product dispensers and re-usable containers are growing in popularity, but most shoppers have enough trouble remembering their loyalty cards, let alone carry their own coffee cup around.
To me, the solution has to focus on using recyclable materials, and then making it as easy as possible for consumers to recycle them. But there will be a cost, and it needs a more imaginative and courageous commitment from politicians than the standard suggestion of another new tax.

A very new, new year

Posted by: David Rees Mon, 8 Jan 2018

Happy new year to everyone, and with such unprecedented change about to sweep through the independent convenience sector, 2018 will certainly be all about the “new”.

Whether it will be “happy” as well remains to be seen. Most retailers I have spoken to over the past couple of months are still cautiously optimistic, but with competition increasing, costs rising and a lack of stimulus to boost consumer spending, the caution is outweighing the optimism.

And the new year is bringing with it more than the customary amount of change, with Booker-Tesco and Nisa-Co-op-Costcutter all due to complete within months. Against this uncertainty, it isn’t surprising that many are looking at the marketplace warily.

But now is not the time to be passive. Surely a better strategy is to focus on being good at the things that you can do. Last week I was in Northern Ireland visiting stores as part of our Convenience Retail Awards programme and, as ever whenever I visit, I was very impressed by what I saw.

Despite multiple competition and a growing presence from the discounters, store owners had invested heavily in the areas where they had a point of difference and a growing customer base, such as in fresh meat and artisan bread from local butchers and bakers, food to go and ‘fakeaway’ meals prepared in on-site kitchens, and a focus on quality alcohol lines.

Convenience is not a one-size-fits-all industry, and business opportunities are always going to remain local rather than national, but in uncertain times there is still a lot to be said for investing in the future.

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