Buyer’s Diary

The short spell of bad weather late during the Christmas break was a real blessing for us – and many of our retail customers.

There is nothing quite like a few inches of snow to get the public to visit their local store to buy up emergency supplies. We hope for more snow to come – and yes, we’ve still got a few snow shovels and sledges up on the high racking from a few years ago to be dusted down and put on sale.

My principal new year resolution to operate a more effective appointments diary has already been broken. My colleagues are also stretched as the entire buying team finalise activities for 2006 and concentrate on maximising overrider revenue on a number of critical agreements – some inevitably resulting in purchasing stock we really don’t need in order to meet our targets.

Coca-Cola’s “Love the Taste” January push on its Z range of sugar free carbonates looks strong. Given our flat performance of late, any activity to revitalise the category is welcome. Pepsi Max Cino is an interesting launch – one of many new product developments, no doubt, to help drive the soft drinks business over the coming year. GSK’s recently announced Blueberry Ribena launch this summer is another. Note to soft drinks buyer: do we have any Pepsi Punch left over?

A quick read-through of ACNielsen’s latest stats shows how quickly the market place is changing.

Notably key categories in the independent sector like carbonated soft drinks, snacks, chocolate confectionery, hot beverages and cigarettes are stagnant or losing value. Not every category is capable of maintaining growth and suppliers are understandably reducing investment in declining categories. However, our continued support for their brands must be rewarded irrespective of market conditions.

While government departments consider the problem of discarded chewing gum, Wrigley’s range extensions to Airwaves and Hubba Bubba brands reflect their commitment to develop this market and maintain market leadership.

Gallaher’s belated introduction of its Sterling cigarette brand into the convenience sector asks a lot with its five stocking options (plus sizes) but reflects the ongoing shift to value brands.

Smokers are much less brand loyal these days and the time may now be right for some range rationalisation. The new look Mayfair pack is a strong prospect to challenge Lambert Butler and Richmond for brand leadership. Any news yet on BAT’s safe cigarette?

After disappointing Christmas sales we welcome renewed Customs Excise and police interest in hunting down people and businesses engaged in undermining the legitimate wholesaling of drink.

It’s not just beer that is reaching the market at crazy prices. We know that a number of leading wine brands are also being offered at well below cost price. And we are still losing tobacco business to smuggled and counterfeit cigarettes and hand rolling tobacco.

We sincerely hope C E will succeed. They have our full support.
We are not paying sufficient attention to the dairy cabinet and are missing out on the growth of dairy based mini health drinks like Danone’s Actimel, Müller Vitality and the up-and-coming Flora Pro-activ. I don’t think we know enough about the consumer switch towards healthier eating and drinking and to what extent independents should embrace these changes. Most independent retailers have a space problem in their chillers, but it is vital we can advise them how best to use what space they have got and how to display and promote product effectively. Is there a supplier out there willing to help us?

We are impressed with UB’s Go Ahead relaunch and range extensions. Its £3m marketing spend should help to make it a leading performer in both biscuit and snack categories.

Our own brand spirits supplier is happy. Sales have held up well over Christmas with vodka again outselling whisky and gin. In most categories own label is now outselling brand.

The Famous Grouse is poised to become our best selling whisky, thanks to its excellent advertising, competitive pricing and increased support from the on-trade.

St Valentine’s and Mother’s Day provide the next special event opportunities, if you manage to overlook Australia Day, Burn’s Night and Pancake Day. Suggestions that obese and overweight Brits will avoid chocolate in pursuit of their new year diet plans should be taken with a pinch of salt – although that’s not good for you either.

Catering and foodservice is seen by many wholesalers and cash and carry operators as the big opportunity to pick up new business and boost profit margins to replace lost retail sales. It is not going to be that easy and again we are reviewing our total approach to this market. Are we happy serving the burger bars, cafes, pubs and other independent fast food outlets, or should we expand to offer a one stop shop for hotels, restaurants, nursing homes and contract business with local authorities, schools, hospitals, and the leisure industry? Eating out of home is on the increase and we will have to fight for an increased share of this business.

Working closely with retailers over the past year, many of whom we now offer a delivery service, has been particularly rewarding.

We have a greatly improved understanding of their needs and appreciation of their day-to-day problems and this is helping us fine-tune our retail package and drop shipment programme. In-depot availability is improving, too, now we are pre-selling promotion lines and new products.

The arrival of Marmite love portions took us a little by surprise, but should anything surprise us given the volume of creative new product developments and range extensions we have seen across all product groups of late? During 2005 we listed hundreds of new lines. How many of them will be here this time next year? Given both space and financial restrictions in the independent sector there is a real need for extra scrutiny and caution, by us and our customers. The recent failure of the much publicised Nestlé Baci brand, for example, demonstrates that money doesn’t automatically bring success.

We all feel sad hearing the news that administrators have been called in at Golden Wonder. Like many independent operators, we have supported this brand over the years and the snacks market will be a poorer place without them. Let’s hope the brand name will survive.

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