Retailers report mixed results during Christmas trading period
Supermarket price competition, underperforming festive lines and unpredictable consumer behaviour were all factors in independent retailers’ Christmas trading performances in 2016.
As stores re-opened in 2017, FFD spoke to a cross-section of the UK’s farm shops and delicatessens – some reported increases in year-on-year sales, others said their sales were down.
Here is what our surveyed retailers said:
Richard Clarke, co-owner, Perfect Partners, Cranbrook, Kent:
“I suspect we were down in early December but roughly the same as last year in the week before Christmas Eve. Pre-orders were significantly lower.
“Cranbrook Conserves, a local supplier of jams, marmalades and chutneys did particularly well. Locally made 300g/600g fudge gift trays sold well but the 125/200g bags didn’t do well despite a significant improvement in packaging. We under-ordered soft goats cheese.
“December 23, as always, was the best day. Christmas Eve was reserved for pre-orders and those sent in by the Christmas chef.”
Daniel Williams, project manager, Godfrey C Williams & Son, Sandbach, Cheshire:
“Accompaniments sold well this year, with the Popaball’s range for Prosecco and cocktails a popular hit. Local cheeses have also done a lot better than usual, with Belton Farm White Cheshire, Nantwich Blue, and Bowland doing best. Sales of most Continental cheeses and foods were down. Manchego, Gouda, and Gorgonzola all under-performed for this time of year. Traditional fruitcake also struggled.
“Our busiest day was December 23, as expected. Christmas Eve was markedly busier than last year, although New Year’s Eve was quieter than usual.”
“We learned this Christmas that hiring more seasonal staff will be a must next year. An extra pair of hands can work wonders in a supporting role, or as a shelf-stacker!
“We held a competition for a local charity, entitled Guess How Many Le Gruyere Cows are in the Shop?. We raised more than £200, with many customers perusing that little bit longer to find them all.”
Jonathan Stainton-Burrell, co-owner, Hockey’s Farm Shop, Fordingbridge, Hampshire:
“Christmas trading was buoyant – up 5% on the previous year which was up 25% on 2014, which in turn was up 50% on 2013. Post-Christmas has been even better at about +30% year to date.
“The old favourites dominated sales but Christmas cakes and puddings did not perform as well as expected. The busiest day for us was the 23rd with meat from the butchery the main driver. Christmas Eve was as good per hour, but we shut at 2pm so total sales were less than the previous day.
“Mince pies were in short supply towards the end of the season. Every year, consumers purchase later, so it is important to hold your nerve in respect of reducing prices. It is important to provide tasters and train staff to have basic product knowledge in categories like cheeses, meats and olives.
“Suppliers should set their pricing from the consumer backwards – that is, what premium the consumer is prepared to pay and what margin the retailer needs.”
Helen Lawton, co-owner, The Olive Tree Delicatessen, Culcheth, Cheshire:
“It felt quieter but takings-wise it was similar. It felt like it got off to a slower start this year. Sales were much more spread out and we started selling gift boxes and hampers much earlier. The year before if felt like everyone came in all at once. Whether people were more forward-thinking and planned this year, I don’t know. It was certainly less stressful.
“Christmas week, everyone was pulling chutneys off the shelf like it was going out of fashion. Coffee beans and ground coffee, particularly Grumpy Mule, did well which is not something that has happened in previous years. I can understand it with meat, cheeses and wines, but not coffee. My coffee shelves are completely bare now until I get deliveries in.
“People did not necessarily go for Christmas-branded products such as Christmas biscuit tins. They were going for things that were a bit more classic such as Cartwright & Butler and Shortbread House. People were also looking for something a bit different to traditional Christmas chocolate.
“Chestnuts sold out very quickly and I had to reorder, I don’t usually have to do that. A lot of people mentioned they had trouble getting chestnuts. Prosecco was a big one and I had to reorder several times.”
John Upson, owner, Upsons Farm Shop, Hatfield Peverel, Essex: “My gut reaction is that we were down anything from 10% to 20% – a lot to do with the supermarkets having a price war on veg with cucumbers for 40p when I couldn’t buy them for less than 80p. Whether people went to supermarkets for the veg and then picked up other stuff which affected our overall trade, it wouldn’t surprise me.
“On the plus side, although fresh turkeys were a bit down, people did prefer to come to a farm shop for those even though supermarkets were knocking them out for ridiculous prices.
“We do a lot of quality jams which sold very well this year but not necessarily up on previous years – probably consistent. Where we lost out was that we did not get the footfall because of the veg situation so everything else was hit.”
“I don’t know if we could have done anything differently. All the supermarkets have been at it. I feel a bit sorry about the whole situation. As a grower as well as a farm shop retailer, we see it from both sides. It’s not good for the industry as a whole. A price war never is.”
Ian Long, partner, Harvest Time Delicatessen, Moffat, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland:
“We were slightly less than 2-3% up on last year which was more than I expected. It wasn’t brilliant but it was satisfactory. Seasonal items such as panettone, lebkuchen and stollen went well but, having 15 years’ experience with this shop, it doesn’t always follow that what you sell last year you sell this year. The public are a fickle bunch.
“Hampers tend to be very expensive and one of the reasons is the price of the basket you load up. We steered people away from basket hampers and suggested they went for a cardboard box which we covered in Christmas paper and a big bow which cost next to nothing.
“It annoys me when you have to order from big distributors in the summer and then they tell you at the last moment they’re out of stock when it’s too late for you to try and buy elsewhere. Very frustrating.”
Martin Hall, supervisor, The Cheese Hamlet, Didsbury Village, Manchester:
“We were expecting a good Christmas and trading was up about 7%. French cheeses did particularly well despite the fact we are leaving Europe. Maybe that’s the reason – the last Christmas it will be cheaper, I guess.
“Brie did especially well and we ran out quickly. We had to order some British Bries on the 23rd and on Christmas Eve because the French supplier only delivers weekly. We have local suppliers that can deliver last minute.
“It’s my first Christmas here. A lot of us were working here on the 23rd and on Christmas Eve and treading on each other’s feet because of the shop’s size.”