Buyer’s Diary

== Monday ==

There is growing confidence shown by many of our retailers as the fine weather brings additional trade into their stores.

Drop sizes to our delivered customers have increased over the past few weeks and we have been very busy over the weekend in the cash and carry, with a huge demand for soft drinks, snacks and ice cream. Don’t we just love it when the sun shines.

A predicted 30% cut in grape prices across the major producing areas of south Australia, seen against a record harvest and a downturn in global demand, can only mean one thing – lower prices. With at least one major producer intent on getting out of unprofitable export business with the UK, the shape of the new world market is about to change dramatically. Watch this space.

Why has it taken so long to launch a national TV campaign for the Mars drinks range? There is plenty of mileage here in the independent sector – I only hope sufficient space can be found in retailers’ chiller units to display the full range.

McCain’s pound;10m investment in growing sales, growing the category and growing athletic talent by becoming the principal partner in United Kingdom Athletics goes down well with me. After all, a diet of Chardonnay and McCain’s chips prepared me well for last year’s Flora London Marathon. It really is ‘all good’.

It may have been hidden at the bottom of page 6 in Saturday’s Telegraph, but Lidl’s ‘Divine’ offer of loose Vine Tomatoes, reduced from pound;1.78 to 49p a kilo, certainly stood out. A subtle placement but one that suggests Lidl is cunningly building its ultra-competitive price image right across the customer spectrum.

== Tuesday ==

Tesco’s 25% off all wines offer is going to have a significant impact on sales across our sector.

While presenters at this year’s fascinating FWD Drinksummit conference talked up the opportunity for independents to grow their wine business through the excellent Wine Blueprint programme, now guaranteed to grow sales, they will struggle in the short term against such ferocious competition. Oddbins has also joined the fray with a 20% discount offer.

‘Love ’em or hate ’em’, Marmite crisps are a long overdue extension to this snack range. A pound;600,000 marketing spend doesn’t go far these days and as for the crisps – the packaging says they are produced from ‘good old potatoes’. Glad to see Unilever putting old spuds to good use.

Vimto isn’t exactly my favourite soft drink but its ‘Seriously mixed up fruit’ promotion has captured retailers imagination and its marketing effort, which includes free point of sale posters, shelf strips and wobblers provided free direct to retailers, is to be applauded. Great website, too.

I was a little flippant about Wrigley’s New 5 Gum launch in June, but must say the packaging is impressive, product placement first class and checkout displays impactful, even if at first glance it looked like a range of condoms.

== Wednesday ==

The proprietor of my local fish and chip shop cut a sad sight when I dropped by at lunchtime.

Trade has been very quiet during the heat wave and he reckons to have lost out heavily to family BBQs. TNS data has already revealed a boom in burger consumption, up over 6% in volume over the past year. Fish and chips represents one of the best value meals anywhere but punters are still reducing portion sizes to save money.

The Pizza Express in town is not helping matters with its 2 for 1 deal on all main courses. The restaurant was heaving when I went by – a clear sign to independent operators that creative marketing works in a difficult marketplace.

We had some good feedback from retailers participating in the MSYS National Independents’ Week programme and many are seeking follow-up activities.

The whole concept of the new FWD MSYS Walk Shop day is appealing. Whether it’s cutting carbon footprint, reducing food waste or simply healthy living, everyone knows ‘it’s good to be green’ and we will be playing our part in encouraging retailer participation in the 16th September activity.

== Thursday ==

My neighbour was clutching two cans of Strongbow cider – he said it was for the Andy Murray tennis match.

Only two, I thought – but then Murray did despatch his opponent rather quickly. The combination of Murray-mania and the early summer heat has been very good for local independent off licences, particularly those with a chilled facility. It’s a pity Murray didn’t make it to the final – that would have been good for business.

The recent Kraft Dairylea and Ritz Cracker Dunkers TV advertising is very good. However, a 2 for pound;3 deal in both Tesco and Asda currently does make independents look rather expensive.

Diageo’s current partnership with Coca-Cola promoting spirits with mixers demonstrates good logic. The problem lies with trying to merchandise products alongside each other in-store to encourage dual purchase.

The roll-your-own market will get an extra boost with the launch of Benson Hedges and Scandinavian Tobacco’s (formerly Henri Wintermans) Crossroad rolling tobacco and this should help maintain current market growth of 10%. Our concern is how long it will be before they ‘roll up’ on street corners via the boot-leg brigade?

== Friday ==

It was so hot in the office this morning a packet of yogurt raisins melted in my hand – not in my mouth.

We are now moving chocolate confectionery stock from the warehouse floor into the chiller room. Retailers will need to do the same if this heat goes on.

I always felt free extra-fill cereal packs were unnecessary – they don’t encourage increased consumption – merely postpone the timing of the next purchase. I am now anxiously watching for results of the Kellogg’s free Cornflakes and milk promotion. We are all for adding value, but not at the cost of losing a sale.

Waitrose’s recently launched ‘essential’ range of own brand products is, by all accounts, achieving excellent sales. Product quality and packaging are good and prices are very competitive. As Waitrose begins to close the price gap, Boots the Chemist, too, is offering outstanding value with leading toiletry and personal care brands being discounted by as much as 50%.

With all of the Big 5 increasing their advertising spend, the battle for market share is becoming more intense.

Two litres of branded semi skinned milk at my local discounter cost me 98p. Compare that to the Spar brand where I have been paying pound;1.09 for a litre and pound;1.69 for two litres. How can there be such huge differences in price?

Once a top seller in the independent sector, lager drinkers appear no longer to give a XXXX for it. The Castlemaine brand enjoyed some of the very best and funniest TV advertising of its day. Another ‘once great’ brand bites the dust.

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