Latest-ever Xmas trading means a mixed bag for wholesalers

Overwhelming numbers of wholesalers are reporting that retail customers are leaving Christmas shopping to the last minute. The Wholesale News online poll reveals that 80% of those who’ve taken part say retailers are shopping later than ever.

And because retailers are keeping their wallets shut until the last possible moment, the Christmas’ trading picture looks like being a mixed one for most wholesalers.

And in a more indepth online Wholesale News survey, a third of respondents told us that sales were down on the same time in 2011 with just over 50% reporting static sales. Fewer than 15% said they’d seen an increase.

And many wholesalers aren’t optimistic that things will improve in the last fortnight before Christmas either. A resounding 86% said they had the same or less optimism about trading this year than last and with less than three weeks to go before Christmas, more than 60% said they were still waiting for the Christmas sales rush to begin, while less than 40% reported that sales were in line with expectations for the time of year.

Some wholesalers (33%) reported customers were trading up, particularly in confectionery and alcohol as shoppers turned to more premium products but the rest said there was no difference in product or brand selections.

One wholesaler who declined to be named told us: “The multiples are the new Christmas wholesaler. We have retail outlets in addition to our wholesale business and this year we will be buying approximately 75% of ‘Christmas’ stock from the supermarkets. So far we have sourced in the region of £70k of offers from various multiples and every retailer I know is sourcing stock from them too.”

Another wholesaler commented: “It’s twice as difficult for half as much.”

However, it’s not all bad news. Nearly 43% of survey respondents said in all sales in 2012 were up on 2011 and some wholesalers told us that while business is by no means easy, things could be worse.

Terry Larkin, group general manager at JJ Foodservice said: “Pre-Christmas trading is mirroring last year’s but our customer base is not significantly influenced by Christmas.”

However, he added that the main shopping centres such as Lakeside and Blue Water were taking sales away from the high street, an area that JJ normally excels in.

“There is clearly still a concern regarding disposable income, which also reflects in our customer base, eg fast food type businesses – people are eating less kebabs and pizzas but from JJ’s perspective our customers always want a bargain. Our weekly emails to registered customers highlighting more than 50 extra special weekly prices attract a lot of interest as well as big savings to be made when they order on-line and collect.”

And Karl Goodwin, commercial director at Creed Foodservice added: “Overall business continues to trade well ahead of last year and the peak seasonal weeks look to be ahead of our year-on-year performance, which is hugely encouraging. Christmas pre-orders have gone particularly well.

“These have been driven by improved sales focus and better execution of our Christmas promotional and marketing material.”

He added that customers were looking for “price-led innovation” to retain footfall and volumes as there was no doubt that discretionary spend was being challenged everywhere.

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