The longest-lasting legacy of the past two years of lockdowns won’t be the masks, the hybrid working or the lost relationship with your uncle who kept posting about vaccines on Facebook. It will be increasing cost of living, specifically in food and fuel.

Britain’s wealth gap broadened during the pandemic, with The Guardian reporting last year that the UK’s richest 10% gained £50,000 on average against a backdrop of wages falling at their fastest rate in 20 years.

There are few places where price rises are as conspicuous and as stressful as when they appear on a family’s food bill. UK consumers are staring down the barrel of a £454 hike in their annual grocery spend. The result is that growth has flatlined for three out of the big four supermarkets, while discounters Aldi and Lidl post sales growth of 11% apiece.

Suppliers have always had to offer a range of products that is as diverse as the communities their retail customers serve, with compelling brands and pricing for the most affluent and poorest neighbourhoods. That’s nothing new. But we now have a trading environment where food bank usage grew by 17% in the 12 months to March 2022, while some retailers deliver slushes to shoppers’ doors for three times the store price – and often the deliveries are to houses less than 10 minutes from the shop.

If your trade comms strategy is the same as it was in 2019, or even in 2021, then you need to rapidly rethink what you are saying and how you deploy your messaging. In the same way life-long partnerships between retailers and suppliers were forged during lockdown, the cost-of-living crisis has the potential to place you in the hearts and minds of store owners forever. Or misfires will ensure your products are never listed in certain independents again, as was the fate of several suppliers who threw local stores under the bus in favour of the supermarkets during April/May 2020.

Despite, or because of, the challenges, a recent forecast by Lumina Intelligence has convenience retail returning to growth this year, with 3.2% vs 2021. Here, we will discuss the trends that are changing retailers’ businesses and explain how suppliers can be part of this £45.2bn opportunity.

Place pricing at the centre of your comms

The most important information that retailers want to know from the biggest brands is where they can buy them at the best prices.

Although suppliers need to tread carefully when it comes to advising on price, there are certain nuggets of information you can offer to help. Where are the best deals? Where are the biggest margins offered? And in turn, what are the most compelling offers that retailers can introduce for their customers?

This is also where promoting cheaper alternatives come into play. If consumers are going to be spending less due to the rising cost of living, and research by Wholesale experts TWC suggests this is the case, then suppliers need to work to ensure they are still choosing your products and not someone else’s. What smaller formats do you have available? Are there cheaper brands in your portfolio that still offer quality? This is the messaging that suppliers need to be thinking about over the coming months.

Support on retail crime 

It’s a topic that makes many a supplier spokesperson squirm. We understand, it’s a difficult topic to face unprepared, but given shop theft is an issue that effects nearly every retailer in the country, having a strategy in place for helping retail partners cope needs to be a priority. In July, betterRetailing reported figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) that shop theft has increased by 21% in the past year in England and Wales. It’s a challenge that is likely only going to get worse in the coming months as the cost of living continues to rise.

A few months ago, I spoke to a retailer who was facing ‘at least 10 incidents of shop theft a week’. Frustrated by the lack of the support, he said: “Suppliers should be grateful for us. We take on all the risk of theft that comes with actually getting their products into their customers’ hands.

“We have to offer their products because of demand, but if it gets stolen, then we’re the ones who have to pay to replace it – the supplier gets twice as much money.”

It would take a very bold supplier from the categories that overindex in retail crime (e.g. household, chilled food or alcohol) to go public with a policy of “we will replace any of our products that are stolen” – but unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures.

If that’s beyond the pale, then you at least need to have sensible, specific guidance for stores to help prevent retail crime. Are your reps equipped to give advice on CCTV placement? Are you able to advise on the optimal layouts for deterring would-be criminals? This insight can give you the edge above all the others who are simply pushing products.

Provide advice beyond the shelf

If the extent of your category advice is still a planogram for ‘small,’ ‘medium’ and ‘large’ fixtures, then your advice may not be specific enough for the majority of retailers. You need to be able to equip retailers with highly specific, targeted sales insight relevant to their locality, store type and consumer base. The best suppliers will be the ones that can create digital tools where retailers can build their own bespoke displays, using unbiased data.

But for many retailers, the store fixture itself is decreasing in importance when it comes to the process of moving your products to consumers. While some of the growth from newer home delivery disruptors has slowed, local retailers who built a loyal customer base for home delivery during lockdown are continuing to see success. Indeed, betterRetailing has reported that Snappy Shopper has recorded more of its retailers opening dedicated hubs for home delivery.

Retailers, famous for their ingenuity, are developing these using trial and error, and sharing tips with each other. But how can you be sure your brands remain part of their offer? What advice are you providing around creating delivery deals using your products? How can you advise them in laying out their dark sites to be as efficient as possible?

Conclusion 

There are turbulent trading times ahead for local retailers as the cost of living rises, but like all tough times before them, the best and brightest will make it through. We’ve asked several challenging questions in this blog, which we hope have been useful to get you thinking about how your messaging can establish your company as a partner that has a long-term benefit of partnering with.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on these tough topics and help you shape your messaging using our expertise of working with retailers and the trade press.