By Prof. Michael Winter
One of the tasks in this project has been to keep an eye on what is usually called the ‘trade press’. And one of the publications, which I confess I was unaware of prior to this research project, is Speciality Food. For anyone who is interested in following food news, especially as the title indicates at the top end of the UK market, I strongly recommend this magazine. I get newsfeeds from it most days and it is really informative and usually gives its sources too, which is far from a universal practice in investigative journalism! In this instance, I have been able to use those sources to dig a bit deeper into the story headlines.
This reflection is based on a piece entitled 7 Characteristics of the 2021 Shopper. The piece outlines ‘seven key qualities of the modern customer that will help retailers succeed through the remainder of this year and beyond.’
1. They’re optimistic despite Covid
Notwithstanding the obvious economic impact of COVID and higher rates of unemployment, Speciality Food (SF) draws here on two recent pieces of market research showing a growing spirit of optimism among consumers. Firstly, research from Kantar[i] undertaken in late April involving interviews with a representative sample of 1,115 adults in Great Britain, shows the highly uneven impact of the pandemic on income. 62% report that their personal income ‘has not been impacted’ by coronavirus, and although 21% have seen their savings decline as a result of the pandemic, a similar proportion (20%) report an increase in savings with 41% reporting no difference. There is a marked age difference with older people more likely to have increased their savings: 30% of over 65s compared to 15% of 25-34 year olds, for example. Just 11% of 65+ year olds report a reduction in savings compared to 25% of 25-34-year-olds at 25% and 28% of 35-44 year olds. SF also cites evidence of growing consumer confidence citing the IGD’s measure of shopper confidence growing to its highest level in five years in April, since before the Brexit referendum in fact. SF concludes that ‘For fine food retailers, this could be good news as more shoppers may be willing to stick with the food and drink upgrades they made during lockdown in the “new normal”’.
2. They’re working from home
Cut to another survey – this time of 2,000 UK companies by CIPD the UK professional body for HR specialists and we find strong evidence for a continuation of home working in some sectors of the economy.[ii] Their research was based on interviews with 32 senior managers and directors between October 2020 and January 2021 and an online survey with a total sample size of 2,133 senior decision-makers in UK organisations, conducted by YouGov between 14 December 2020 and 4 January 2021. Key results of the research are as follows:
- 63% of employers plan to introduce or expand the use of hybrid working to some degree.
- 45% plan to introduce or expand the use of total, five-days-a-week homeworking to some degree.
- 48% plan to introduce or expand the use of flexitime (formal or informal; employer-led or employee-led) to some degree.
SF conclude from this that food retailers can expect to see demand for restaurant-quality food at home remaining.
3. They’re (still) shopping online
Under this heading SF turn to work by Opinium Research for Barclaycard[iii] which found that almost 60% of British consumers expect to continue buying some of their groceries online even after all Covid-19 restrictions end. Of those using click and collect more often during the pandemic, 90% plan to continue. SF caters primarily for high-end independent retailers and therefore the message is clear: giving customers flexibility to choose the shopping method that suits them, with online as an option, will be key to maintaining market share going forward.
4. They care about the planet
Under this heading, SF turn to the 2021 Global Buying Green Report[iv] based on a survey of more than 15,000 consumers from Europe, North America and South America:
- 67% environmentally aware (same as for the previous pre-Pandemic year).
- Fewer than a third of consumers de-prioritized Sustainable Packaging due to COVID-19.
- 83% of consumers among younger generations showed a willingness to pay more for sustainable packaging.
- 67% of consumers find recyclability of packaging important; however, the perceptions do not always match recycling facts.
- 54% of consumers say the sustainability of the packaging is a factor in their product selection process.
5. They’re cashless
Given the drive to cashless transactions for hygiene reasons, contactless limits were increased to £45, and then again to £100 to support consumers and retailers during the pandemic. Again SF urges its clients to ‘keep up with this fast-evolving payments landscape in order to ensure customer transactions can be performed quickly and smoothly.’
6. They’re happy to go al fresco
Here SF speculates that even after inside dining is allowed, the move to and investment in outdoor activities and events will continue: ‘So if you created a temporary outdoor dining experience in place of your café or restaurant, consider if it would be worth keeping around in the longer term – or at least while the warmer weather remains. Stores can also consider boosting their food to go range as more shoppers will be keen to pick up a snack to enjoy while socialising with friends or family outdoors.’
7. They’re spending more on food
Finally SF turns to Generation Z’s (i.e. teenagers) top spending priority being on food this spring. A survey, conducted between February and March 2021, in the United States found that almost a quarter of the spending of Gen Z shoppers was on food. How easily a US trend amongst young people translates across to the UK teenager is less clear.