Demand for - and the supply of - locally-produced food and drink has grown over the past few years, but there are many factors behind a successful local offering. C-Store looks at where the market is heading and how retailers can best capitalise on the trend
There’s always been demand for local in our experience,” says Guy Warner, owner of Warner’s Budgens in Gloucestershire. “But interest in food and provenance has definitely increased over the past two years.” Guy is far from alone in his observations, both among retailers and analysts.
Ina Mitskavets, senior consumer lifestyle analyst at Mintel, says local products are benefiting from growing consumer scepticism about mass-produced food. “The declining trust in mass manufacturing and big supermarkets, punctuated by a high number of high-profile food scares, has been the main driver behind a movement towards products and services with local origins, where ingredients can be more easily traced to the source,” she explains. “This is especially important in the food and drink sector, where products consumed have an immediate impact on people’s health and well being.”
Guy adds that the media has helped in terms of promoting provenance, “as well as celebrity chefs and food programmes -they’ve all fanned that flame.”
So how can retailers best capitalise on demand for local, and where is the market heading? C-stores are clearly well placed to capitalise on rising demand for local. A recent Mintel Local Living report found that c-stores and supermarkets were the first port of call for people looking for locally-produced food (44%), followed by 36% who went to farmers’ markets and 30% to farm shops - while only 7% ordered directly from sellers online.
Among c-store retailers, 38% said having locally-sourced products helped them represent an excellent product range in store, according to HIM’s Convenience Tracking Programme. It also found that 18% of c-store shoppers said it was “most important” that their c-store had locally-sourced options available, making it as important to shoppers as ‘premium options’ and ‘eat now options’. In Wales the figure rises to 30%, while in London it drops to 14%.
Budgens director Mike Baker says the group has recently seen a “huge demand” for local products. “When we launched our Broadstone store we opened with 100 local product ranges on our shelves, and to our surprise they outperformed many other categories,” he adds.
The Mintel report found that the perceived benefits to the local economy and the ability to support local producers were cited as the main reasons why people buy local products (43% of respondents), while 29% said their primary motive was the superior quality of local products.
Indeed, Phil Butler of Spar Bruton in Somerset says that although he is seeing demand for local “right across the board”, quality is imperative. “Demand is high for quality products, and if it’s local it’s even better,” he adds.
Phil’s staple local sellers are in meat, fruit & veg and dairy - his milk comes almost solely from one local dairy. “It’s more expensive than the mainstream milk, but people like the quality; it’s not homogenised and it comes to the shop the day after processing,” he says. “Also, people know it’s supporting local farmers, which is important now.”
Kash Khera, managing director of Simply Fresh, says the symbol group’s stores have seen a continued increase in fruit & veg sales, especially organic, with “fantastic” sales of seasonal products such as strawberries, raspberries and summer fruits. “August and September are particularly good months for fruit & veg supply from local producers: the demand is high and the produce is available and at the right quality and in abundance,” he adds.
Meat and fish are also important features in Simply Fresh stores, and in the past two years more focus has been put on locally-farmed meats in response to rising demand. “Sales of organic meats are increasing and we now have fresh fish delivered to our stores from Cornwall within a day of being caught,” Kash says. Quantities depend to a degree on local demographics, he adds.
Guy says the key volume drivers at his Budgens stores are local sausages, meat, cheese and beer, while Roli Ranger, owner of Londis stores in Ascot and Sunninghill, Berkshire, says the butcher’s meat is the main seller for him. “People want to know where it comes from,” he says.
Local ales have become increasingly prominent in c-stores, as popularity of craft beers grows throughout the UK. “There’s a tremendous interest in micro breweries; there are more of them than at any time in our history,” says Guy.
Kash concurs: “There has been a noted increasing trend toward local and microbreweries, of which there is good choice in most areas. Consumers are getting more inquisitive in their approach to alcohol and are increasingly willing to try new products.”
Guy adds that local bread is another crowd pleaser, and is more price elastic as people are prepared to pay more for it. “People love fabulous local bread - it’s hard to beat.”
Kash has seen a large increase in demand for produce from local bakeries in rural areas. “Some of our stores have produce from as many as seven different local bakeries on offer,” he adds. “This includes biscuits, artisan cakes as well as extensive ranges of bread. Gluten-free products are becoming more popular in this range and we have seen increasing demand for these and are now stocking them in many of our stores.”
But retailers also need to explore more unusual options, Phil explains. “It’s important to offer something different and unexpected in local,” he says. “We sell locally-produced Black Cow Vodka, which is made from milk. We’ve had it a couple of years and it’s selling really well.” Similarly, his Bean Shot Coffee line, which is roasted in Bruton, is hugely popular. Phil spends about £300 a week on the product and also uses it for his in-store coffee to go.
Elsewhere, Roli sells a local chilled curry range, My Bombay Kitchen, which has proven so successful that he has reduced his traditional processed ready meals range. “The producer first approached me in Ascot and now she is selling to local Budgens stores, too,” he says.
In Kent, Heath Stores in Horsmonden sells a local frozen curry range, Chai Stop Curries, which has attracted a new, more discerning audience to ready meals. And at Guy’s stores, local wines and fruit wines such as strawberry and elderflower are adding interest to his alcohol section.
Local honey is another product causing a stir, according to Roli. “People perceive there to be medicinal benefits. We sell honey produced in nearby Sandhurst. It’s a one-man band - it’s just called ‘Pure English Honey’ with the producer’s name, Mr Chambers, written on the label.”
Budgens has also seen a significant uplift in local honey sales over the past year or so, Baker says. “The quality and provenance of honey are things that customers care about. Honey has long been in the spotlight in terms of health benefits and people are really aware of the product they are buying. Quite a lot of our stores offer local honey, made by bees just around the corner. People buy it because it tastes great and because they like to support local producers,” he adds.
Conrad Davies, who owns four Spar stores in north Wales, sells honey produced on his doorstep, in addition to Welsh ‘Hilltop’ honey from about 70 miles away, which he sources from Cotswold Fayre, along with Spar own-brand honey and New Zealand Manuka honey. “It all works well together - we need to satisfy all our customers.”
It can be a risky business introducing new local products to the mix, but one way of identifying the potential of a new line is by visiting local farmers’ markets. Budgens Byfleet in Surrey started stocking a local honey - which used to only be available at the monthly farmers’ market - following a recent refit. “Customers were delighted when they could also get it at Budgens. Some customers come into the store specifically for that product,” Baker says. Similarly, in Costcutter Halstead, Essex, owner Peter Woods started selling sausages from a local supplier after seeing the product’s popularity at a local market.
Retailers should also keep an eye out for local non-food products, Conrad adds. He has started selling a locally-made tanning mousse called ‘TANya Whitebits’ in his stores, with spectacular results. “It’s gone off like a rocket - we sold more than £1,000-worth in one store in two weeks,” he says. “She sells only to us and a local hairdresser. It’s a great USP.”
Routes to market
One of the potential drawbacks of local is affordability, though. “Demand is driven by quality, but also price,” adds Guy. “Local doesn’t give you a licence to sell things that aren’t competitively priced.” Mintel’s report found that lower pricing would be the number one driver to encourage people to buy more local (60%), followed by a wider selection of goods (35%).
But Phil thinks that local suppliers are becoming more efficient and innovative, thereby keeping costs down. “Producers are getting better - they know they have to up their game due to more competition,” he adds.
Conrad says that food deflation has made “some local products look expensive”, although he, too, is optimistic about the state of the supply chain, which he believes has benefited from the support of wholesalers such as Blakemore Fine Foods and Cotswold Fayre.
“Blakemore Fine Foods has helped massively in terms of keeping costs down and getting products to market; there is an awful lot of support now,” he says.
Guy agrees: “Small producers’ passion for food is unequivocal, but their ability to bring their products to market and package them properly is questionable - some great producers have disappeared because they haven’t got out of the starting blocks commercially. But organisations such as Blakemore Fine Foods offer invaluable advice and support. It’s broadened the reach of local products.”
Kash says Palmer & Harvey, Simply Fresh’s main source for ambient and chilled, has done a lot of work with local suppliers.
So with competition among local producers intensifying, and the supply network growing in sophistication, there are more opportunities to stock affordable, quality products. And by keeping an eye on market trends and identifying the potential of niche local products in your area, embracing the local buzz has never been so easy.
National wholesalers get in on the act
Some artisan products may not be local to you, but they’re in demand - which is where fine food wholesalers such as Cotswold Fayre and Blakemore Fine Foods come in. Spar retailer Conrad Davies has started sourcing far more from both wholesalers. “It’s about 50/50 in terms of artisan food and local products; they really complement each other. And artisan food is local to someone in the UK, after all,” he adds.
Cotswold Fayre distributes from small producers across the UK. Says managing director Paul Hargreaves: “Convenience didn’t originally feature with us, but in the past two years orders have doubled in volume.”
Its top 20 most popular products for c-stores are healthy snacking and home-baking ingredients, such as those from Wessex Mill, while meal solutions and chocolates are also in healthy demand.
“The main challenge is the extraordinary amount of new products coming out,” Hargreaves adds. He advises retailers to start with more established artisan brands, such as Belvoir Fruit Farms. “They have more volume,” he says.
Communicate the local narrative
Budgens director Mike Baker stresses the importance of communicating the provenance of local products. “We like to demonstrate clearly where the offer is local - it’s an integral part of our new store design, with clear product markers for all local produce, alongside storytelling, to explain the origins of the products and meet the people who make them,” he says. “One of our promises to our customers is that we’ll work with local food heroes and suppliers.”
Paul Hargreaves, managing director of Cotswold Fayre, adds that retailers need to think about the in-store ambience. “Get the display and store environment right, and it works,” he says. “Create a narrative, get a couple of storyboards and get suppliers to do regular tastings.”