Most c-store owners now recognise that fresh and chilled is what will determine the long-term survival of their stores, but for an unaffiliated independent operator, embarking on this category can seem an intimidating venture.
True, fresh is notoriously difficult to manage – as well as some unavoidable wastage, it’s a highly sensitive category that demands special skills in the way that the produce is handled, presented and stored – but it’s not prohibitively difficult.
Many cash and carry and wholesale groups have addressed the demand for fresh and chilled in the independent sector. Booker, for example, has just launched a fresh and chilled delivery service in partnership with Kerry Foods Direct to Store (KFDTS). Booker Fresh is initially available to Premier retailers, but is being rolled out to Booker’s Retail Club members in April and all Booker customers in the summer.
Booker and KFDTS have agreed a customer charter that guarantees a delivered service at cash and carry prices; minimum shelf life; single pick or small case sizes; morning deliveries where possible; no minimum order; sale or return on selected products; six days a week service; and a four-weekly range and price.
The range includes ready meals, produce, cheese, yogurts and desserts, bacon and sausages, sandwiches, milk and pastry. Steve Fox, director of retail and Premier at Booker, says: “This is a massive improvement to our existing service. Booker Fresh is an ideal solution for all fresh food needs in one delivery.”
Landmark Wholesale reports increasing success with its chilled drop shipment service, available to independents nationwide through its local Landmark Wholesale members in partnership with Kerry Foods.
Vim Patel, the owner of One Stop stores in the New Cross area of Wolverhampton, has been retailing for 22 years but had not considered stocking a chilled range until it was introduced by Landmark member Blakemore Wholesale towards the end of last year. “We weren’t aware how profitable chilled foods could be,” says Vim. “Chilled has become a big part of our store and is constantly growing as customers become more aware of the range we have on offer.”
Vim deals directly with the delivery driver to tailor the range to his store and he currently receives four deliveries a week. As demand grows he hopes to increase this to six. “The driver advises me on new products and we work together to make sure the range is just right for me,” says Vim. “A lot of retailers are put off by chilled foods due to short life spans and wastage, but it works and my increase in turnover is proof of that.
“The high frequency of deliveries means that my stock is regularly replaced and this consistency also means my customers know that they can rely on me to have their favourites in stock. If I can’t get out to the cash and carry, I’m still guaranteed to get my regular delivery and therefore I’m not missing out on sales.”
ON YOUR DORRSTEP
There are a number of regional specialist produce companies who can help bring a comprehensive range of fruit and vegetables to your store. Atul Sodha, who runs a Londis store in Hayes, Middlesex, for example, sources his fresh produce from London-based Ready Produce. “Ready Produce delivers three days a week,” says Atul. “It’s all prepacked, and I like the quality. We get some wastage, but not lots of it, and we reduce the price of products that don’t sell.”
While suppliers of produce tend to be regional, Redbridge Fresh Services has been trialling a range that has the potential for national distribution through its network of wholesale depots. The Redbridge 5-A-Day range has been developed with the convenience retailer in mind, using special packaging that extends products’ shelf life to at least seven days. The long-life film means products last longer in prime condition, which leads to less wastage and gives retailers more time to sell at full price.
The range, which comprises about 30 core products including fruit, vegetables, salad vegetables and bagged salads, has been trialled with great success in two independent c-stores for Convenience Store’s Shop Project 2006. Sales of produce in the first three weeks of the trial rose by 112%, with cash profit in one of the stores increasing by 42% over 10 weeks.
Sally Cleary-Corbett, group marketing manager for Redbridge Fresh Services, says: “There is the opportunity to get this national but we need the critical mass so it depends on where the customers are. Retailers will need to take a certain volume and a full, robust display is key to success. The trial shows that if you have a full display, people are more likely to shop the fixture.”
Redbridge can also help retailers with category management, offering all the advice needed on choosing the right product range, displaying it in store, managing ordering, training staff in fresh produce knowledge, and full point of sale package.
While a delivered service may be preferential for most independents, many are seeing the benefits of going it alone at the wholesale markets. Simon Biddle of Biddles Convenience Store in Redditch, for example, goes to Birmingham Market three or four times a week. Birmingham Market claims to be the largest integrated wholesale market in the UK with markets selling fruit, vegetables, flowers, meat, fish and poultry.
As well as sourcing all his fresh produce from Birmingham market, Simon also buys fresh fish and vacuum packs it to sell it in his store. “Delivered wholesale saves time, but it’s a lot more expensive,” says Simon. “You also know what you are buying in the market because you choose the products yourself.”
There are more than 20 large-scale wholesale markets across the UK. To find the nearest one to your store, visit the Fresh Produce Consortium’s website at www.freshproduce.org.uk.
The new season for Jersey Royals starts this month and runs until early July. Despite severe frosts delaying the season by two weeks last year, production was up by almost 20% on the previous year and about 38,000 tonnes of Jersey Royals were exported in 2005. The island’s growers anticipate a similarly good year for new potatoes this season.
Last year’s increased demand was helped along by an unprecedented level of TV advertising, with many of the major retailers using the potatoes in their campaigns. The total market value last season was £20m, with up to 15% of Jersey Royals sold through wholesalers.
Jersey Royal Potato Marketing is the largest grower of new potatoes on the island with 3,000 acres dedicated to growing the crop. Its recent developments have included improving skin quality and it is now washing 70% of potatoes at source after it installed a second high-volume wash line.
Jersey Royals have been farmed using the same traditional techniques since 1880. Once harvested, they are pre-cooled, graded, packed and transported – travelling from field to fork in less than 48 hours. At the peak of production in May, up to 1,500 tonnes are exported daily.
MEET THE SUPPLIER
SUPPLIER: New Covent Garden Food Co
BACKGROUND: The idea of packing fresh soup in cartons was originally trialled by the London producer in 1985. After steady progress, a listing in Sainsbury’s in 1990 and an increase in PR, sales started to rise.
The company enjoyed a period of dramatic growth in the 1990s but sales suffered when similar own-label products began to hit the shelves. The brand was bought by Daniel’s Chilled Food in 1997 and then by present owners Singapore Foods in 2001. By 2002 the brand was back in growth and has since branched into categories other than soup, including fresh sauces, porridge and most recently risotto.
A comprehensive PR campaign is planned for 2006 including adverts every week of the year in women’s magazines. There are also plans to extend the range into another category and introduce a new innovation in fresh soup later in the year.
RECENT LAUNCHES: 200g pot range of fresh porridge in four varieties – original, honey, maple syrup and citrus; risotto available in 500g microwaveable pots in three varieties – slow roasted tomato & herb, chorizo sausage & chicken and wild mushroom & Parmesan; and soup of the month – spicy lamb goulash soup.
DISTRIBUTION AREA: National distribution through Wholesalers, independents and multiples.
Retailer Adrian Lecky, VivoXtra, Castlederg, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. fresh strategy Adrian believes a good selection of fresh and chilled products can have a huge impact on overall store sales.
“Fresh and chilled sales are absolutely vital to the business,” he says. “It’s where the major growth is at the moment and is probably linked into the increased interest in living a healthier lifestyle. We’ve seen particularly good growth in our fresh produce sales, which make up 11% of the turnover and are up close to 30% year on year.”
The in-store butchery and deli sections have enjoyed big increases in popularity. Sales of ready-packed chilled products are also doing well, although Adrian believes many retailers would benefit from introducing a serve-over format.
“We cook a lot of our ham and deli products on site,” he explains. “We’ve found that our serve-over business does very well. We learnt a lot from a recent study tour of Milan with Hendersons. A huge number of stores there operate a serve-over format and we took a lot of their ideas away with us.”
Adrian has actively looked to support his local producers and farmers by providing customers with local fruit, vegetables, milk, ham and cheese.
“There’s a big drive in the area to support local business and we’re definitely in favour of it,” he says. “Our local milk supplier has just gone organic and provides us with milk and cream. At first customers were reluctant to pay extra but now more people are making the switch to eating organic food. I’d definitely recommend other retailers provide an organic choice across their fresh and chilled range.
“A lot of stores neglect their fruit and veg sections but I think they are often key to a successful business and can really enhance the rest of the store,” he adds.
“Although you’ve got to keep a very close eye on wastage, the bright colours and smells of fresh produce can have a great impact on customers. A well merchandised section gives customers faith in the rest of the store.”