Buyer’s Diary

The failure of a major food broking company has stretched the buying team to the limit as we work frantically to tie up new supply arrangements, place orders and in some instances, search for substitute lines to see us through the crisis.

Challenged by our seniors to explain our contingency plans, we have had to come clean and admit we had none. Situations like this are, fortunately, very rare, but we now intend building in a ‘what if’ factor to all vulnerable areas of trading.
The relative mildness of this winter has cost us sales. A fine coating of snow or the prospect of a cold freeze has always produced a mad rush to the local store for emergency supplies and an up-lift in sales of salt, soups and sliced bread, to name but three.

Such was the mildness in January and early February, it looked like those snow shovels and sledges on the top rack would have to remain there for at least another year. Thank goodness the blizzards have at last arrived.

The Six Nations rugby tournament has livened up our licenced sales following a flat January for beer. A combination of price-marked packs and extra fill on premium beers and lagers should please everyone – brewers, wholesalers, retailers and consumers.

There is plenty of activity in the breakfast cereal market at the moment.

Kellogg’s Cornflakes 33% extra free price marked is a winner, but with Cheerios, Shredded Wheat and others moving in with 50% extra free deals, I am wondering if this is the right way to grow the category. The extra free device rarely leads to increased consumption. It just delays the next purchase. Weetabix and Alpen free stock deals are more attractive and more profitable.
Scottish Courage’s decision to pull out of extra fills on cider last year was widely applauded so I am puzzled by the arrival of a Strongbow 13.5% extra free promotion. Now we hear Scotco is switching a number of beers into 500ml cans. This heralds the end of 440ml plus 13.5% extra free activities – and possibly moves us on to price driven promotions. We’d rather sell beer than give it away but the responsible drinking movement might just have something to say about bigger can sizes.

“There is still a healthy, diverse and vibrant independent retail sector,” writes editor Julian Hunt in The Grocer. True, it’s the Top 50 independent chains he’s writing about but the thousands of unaffiliated independents trading with wholesale businesses like ours are also a part of that vibrant movement. The independent sector is worth investing in – and so are we.

The food industry has been caught off guard by the recent Sudan 1 Dye issue – it’s going to cost millions to remove and dispose of offending products yet the writing has been on the wall about the dangers of Sudan 1 for a long time.

The independent sector has been much less affected by product withdrawal and our crisis management programme has helped us deal effectively with the very few problems which have come our way.

Our customers have been confused, however, with all the information coming out from government, through the media, and from local public health officers.

We are giving retailers and caterers as much help and guidance as we can and accepting the return of all affected goods identified on the Food Standards Agency list.

Some of us are disappointed by Nestlé Rowntree’s decision to drop the Smarties tube in favour of pyramid style packaging. The marketing boys know best, we suppose.

Their consumer research no doubt reveals the great British public are weary of the tube and have demanded change under threat of shifting allegiance to Skittles or M Ms. Buy up all the tubes you can – they will be a collectors item one day. Maybe some marketing wiz of the future will dream up a ‘Bring back the tube’ campaign.

With a pre-election Budget set for March 16, we are wondering what the Chancellor of the Exchequer might have in store for us.

Price-marked cigarettes will minimise stock appreciation, but any increase in duty will be a further boost to the smugglers. Gordon has a soft spot for the distillers and may leave spirits alone again, but we are concerned about wine. The boom in wine sales is an open invitation to claw back lost revenue from a declining on-trade and take-home beer market. Should I be putting a few cases under the stairs, I wonder? If you are reading this Gordon, please, please, please leave wines alone.

We see one cash and carry is being ticked off for failing to have advertised stock available throughout a three-week promotional period. But the same things happen in retail, too. Forgetting JS, Waitrose, Tesco, et al, who have always sold out the rich wine deals you called by for especially, how often do you pick up on a local independent store promotion leaflet to find the shop doesn’t stock half the products?

We are working with our retail club members to ensure good promotional disciplines. Being local means we choose the right products and get a volume commitment from the retailer to ensure availability for the duration of the activity. Simple, isn’t it.

We are spicing up our catering activities. Brands are less dominant than in retail so it’s an opportunity to promote the value of own brand alongside proprietary products.

We have distinct trading advantage over delivered foodservice, both in price and availability for the local caterer. We need to harness these strengths and find a fresh way to approach this market to recover lost business and attract new customers. If, as has been suggested, many caterers shop regularly in multiple supermarkets – then we have failed them.

Our carefully chosen range of Easter Confectionery is well displayed and we are encouraging customers to create extra shelf space and free standing displays in store for multi-buy offers. Thanks mainly to Nestlé we have a number of exclusive products to sell this year. You won’t find them discounted at Woolies or Asda. There are a lot more filled egg products around this season, well worth stocking, and we are recommending a range of higher priced boxed chocolates we believe will be good for business.

Outrageous! Golden Wonder is using the image of a young woman dressed only in her undies and fish net stockings to promote its Ginseng ‘love potion’ Naughty ‘N’ Saucy Nik Naks. What will they think of next? Our Impulse buyer just can’t wait. Flavours, he means.

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