Indie retailers focused on the positives from a ‘chaotic’ Christmas trading period
Independent food retailers are focusing on the positive short- and long-term aspects of a highly unusual Christmas trading period.
Businesses in the sector reported a range of different experiences over a festive period heavily disrupted by the pandemic and politics.
Prime minister Boris Johnson ordered millions of Brits to stay at home over Christmas at just six days’ notice, and slashed the legal household mixing period elsewhere in the country from five days to one. With fears growing over new strains of the coronavirus, and the looming end of the Brexit transition period, lorries backed up in Kent with drivers waiting to leave the country.
Rob Copley – owner of Yorkshire farm shop Farmer Copleys – said the government U-turn on Christmas mixing “added stress” to the ever-busy period. “It caused carnage, chaos and wastage,” he said. “The phones heated up and people wanted to change orders. We had to throw eight cheesecakes away.”
Copley said that although the business had “double the orders” of regular recent festive periods, basket sizes fell. “Turkey sales doubled but overall sales and profit were up about 10%,” he said. “Other farm shops I have spoken to have a similar story.”
Antonio Picciuto, owner of Hertfordshire speciality food store Buongiorno Italia, said the firm benefitted from the government closure of restaurants and local people being unable to travel home to Italy for Christmas. “We sold out of panettone – we order enough to get us into February, but we sold out a week before Christmas, which is unheard of.
“Once the restaurants were closed, we found people wanted really nice food without it being too lavish or extravagant. Sales were considerably up. The feeling among my peers in the trade is that we’ve all done well and we will never see another Christmas like it again.”
Stefano Cuomo, managing director of Kent food hall Macknade, said that although retail sales were “buoyant” much of this came from online orders that created a spike in costs. While incidental purchases made by in-store shoppers fell, the switch in behaviour created a chance to look to the future, he said.
“Profitability was probably lower than in previous years. “But it is a good Christmas overall in the context of COVID; we are fronting supply chains and creating opportunities for communities.”
Cuomo said the fine food sector now had to decide whether to step away from online sales or fully commit to the model.
“It will be a process. People who might be very good at cutting cheese are not necessarily the best at packing glass jars. In the long term it is all positive as we can move people away from buying random stuff and push them to buy quality meat and cheese.”