Posted: 05/11/2020

Independent food retailers positive in the face of second lockdown

Independent food retailers positive in the face of second lockdown
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the latest lockdown on Saturday 31st October [picture: Number 10 Flickr]

Despite a warning from a leading retail association that a second lockdown “could not have come at a worse time for indies”, speciality food businesses remain confident about the coming Christmas trading period.

The CEO of The British Independent Retailers Association (Bira) Andrew Goodacre issued the warning after the PM announced the new measures in a last-minute press conference on Saturday. 

But the independent food businesses who spoke to FFD just before the latest restrictions came into place on Thursday told a different story.

Robert Copley
Rob Copley

“I think turnover will increase,” said a positive Rob Copley, owner of Farmer Copleys farm shop and chair of the Farm Retail Association (FRA).

“Trade is going to be up,” he said. “I don’t think it’ll be on the same scale as last time, but, at the end of the day, if they’re not eating in restaurants, they’ve got to fill their bellies somehow.”

The latest measure – set to last until 2nd December – is a cause for concern for indies, but with their systems already fine-tuned from the first national lockdown, many remain positive. 

“Of course we’re concerned,” said Val Berry, owner of Leeds-based deli Hayley and Clifford, “but our customers were amazingly supportive during the first lockdown – so we’re confident they will be this time too.”

Berry said that she is anticipating an easier transition for November’s lockdown as their “tried-and-tested” systems and processes will make things easier than in March. 

“We’re relaxing our strict ‘one customer in the deli at a time’ policy which we had in the first lockdown, in favour of a socially distanced queue. Our customers were fine standing outside in the Spring sunshine – but it’s quite another story in the cold, dark, wind and rain!”

For Copley, too, the transition will be smooth. “We’ve kept all the changes we made the first time bubbling in the background – the click & collect and deliveries – and the software is all there for them. They’ll just pick back up again,” he said.

Anticipating a big Christmas trading period despite restrictions on gatherings and the threat of a longer-than-planned lockdown, Copley’s main concern is overcrowding.

“My biggest worry this Christmas is how will we get everyone through, not will we sell everything,” he said. “All year we’ve been up 150%, so we will still be trading well – the challenge will be getting customers through the shop, socially distanced.”

Even seeing the positives in a potential extension to lockdown, Copley said he would welcome the extra space his closed café would allow to pack Christmas orders and hampers.

Val Berry

While remaining more reserved, Berry was still confident about a good festive period, but had concerns around over-ordering should traditional trading phases be affected.

“Customers might decide to use the November lockdown to do their Christmas shopping early and pull demand forward,” she said.

“The risk would then be that we reorder stock, which doesn’t then sell in December, as we’ve already made the sale – just a month early.”

Another concern of Berry’s was that, with the added awareness of ‘shop local’, the deli may find itself running out of stock early, and wouldn’t have enough to fulfil December demand. “Who knows? It’s an absolute guessing game this year,” she said.

Read the latest edition of Fine Food Digest here.

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