Provenance, consumer confidence and Christmas all on the agenda for fine food’s future
Reporting by Tom Dale and Michael Lane
Widespread coronavirus testing and vaccination, buying British and a “huge” Christmas are among the things that will be vital to the fine food sector’s recovery, according to businesses spoken to by Fine Food Digest.
Although lockdown has been a success story for some businesses, some producers and retailers have faltered as foodservice ceased entirely and footfall has dropped off.
Many are now beginning to look to the future and ask what will be required for the sector to bounce back.
“The big problem isn’t now while we’re in lockdown,” said Steven Salamon, owner of Cardiff-based Wally’s Delicatessen, “but when we return, and the furlough scheme and other financial help stops.
“If business is massively down and all my costs return to a normal level, then it will be dangerous.”
Consumer confidence, said Salamon, is key to the recovery of the industry. “So much depends on widespread testing for the virus and hopes for a vaccine,” he said. “Until the numbers of people dying drops considerably or testing is ramped up, people aren’t going to feel confident coming back out in numbers.”
Without “community confidence”, he fears that when the government lift restrictions, there still won’t be a rush back to the high street.
“If they say shops can open, but cafés, restaurants and pubs can’t, then that’s one big chunk of people coming into the city who will be missing,” he said. “And if they say that office workers should continue working from home, then that’s another huge bit of trade gone. It could be that shops are open but there are very few people around.”
Rufus Carter, director of North Wales’s Patchwork Paté, believes that which products consumers and retailers choose to buy and stock in the coming months and years is paramount.
“Provenance will be massive after this,” he said. “Consumers should be demanding that their food is British – end of discussion.”
He believes that consumers should be helping retailers to focus on British produce. “They need to be saying, ‘if it’s not British cheese, I don’t want it, if it’s not British bread, I don’t want it’.
“In making a purchase, you’re supporting the area where that product has come from – and we need to support our own food-producing regions.”
Provenance, says Carter, needs to be top of everybody’s list of priorities after this crisis. “If people focus on that, it makes our future more possible.”
The MD of Cotswold Fayre said some independent retailers are already telling him that Christmas is going to be “huge”.
“Christmas is still going to be on 25th December,” Paul Hargreaves told FFD. “Most restrictions by then will be gone. People have missed Mothers’ Day, Easter, and birthdays so they’re going to want a big blow out with their families.”
Hargreaves is expecting festive orders to be placed later than usual because retailers are currently so busy with day-to-day trading rather than being cautious.
He said farm shops and delis also need to begin thinking about retaining the new customers they have acquired over the last two months, both online and in store.
“They’re not all going to stay but they may not all be going away either,” he said. “The value and perception of the local shop has risen. People have been really pleased to be able to use them.”
Hargreaves added that online retailing and deliveries are likely to remain popular with customers, even after the lockdown eases.
“With all these local shops doing home delivery, customers are going to carry on expecting that level of service afterwards.”
With many commentators speculating on whether the country will embark on the recovery phase of the government’s plan to tackle the pandemic, Hargreaves has already seen changes in consumer behaviour coming through in its orders from independent retail.
Demand for chilled and luxury items on the up, with some retailers placing £1,000+ orders in these categories, but there is one basic item that remains in-demand.
“Flour is very much an ongoing issue,” said Hargreaves. “It’s getting slightly better but we’re still only getting half of what we need.
“If people are doing a lot of bread-making and cake-making that will carry on but demand has spread out and April has been a lot more about chilled products.”
Among the products that have been selling well recently are hummus, ready-meals, vegan meat alternatives and pizzas.
“We’ve seen an uplift in smoked salmon and clotted cream,” added Hargreaves. “People are now realising that the restaurants and cafés are going to be shut for a while, so they’re probably going to be treating themselves with these types of products more.”
Read more in May’s edition of Fine Food Digest – read online here.