Daily Bread

FSA U-turn is a Pyrrhic victory for industry

Posted by: Julia Glotz Thu, 24 Jul 2014

The poultry industry has successfully lobbied the FSA into U-turning on plans to ‘name and shame’ companies in its campylobacter survey, but it shouldn’t rejoice. This may yet prove a Pyrrhic victory.

There was merit to the industry’s objections to the FSA’s original plans: the agency – which is currently running a year-long survey of campylobacter rates in retail chicken – had wanted to name retailers and suppliers on a quarterly basis; the industry feared data from a single quarter wouldn’t be enough to draw valid conclusions about individual companies’ performance on tackling the food poisoning bug.

It urged the FSA to wait until the full year’s results are in instead, and on Wednesday – after some heated debate at its board meeting – the regulator concurred. Quarterly results will be anonymised; the naming and shaming will wait until next year. On paper, the industry should be pleased it has been listened to. In reality, yesterday’s U-turn by the FSA board has left it looking like a playground bully intent on covering up bad practice.

The problem here isn’t that the FSA changed its mind. It’s that it had previously been so hawkish about the need to ‘name and shame’. Back in March, CEO Catherine Brown had vowed to press ahead with “steely determination” with plans to publish names on a quarter-on-quarter basis, despite concerns from industry. “We are experiencing a good level of push-back from people in industry, but we will do it anyway because we know it is in the interest of the consumer,” she said at the time.

Now, the FSA says the interest of those same consumers actually lies in not being “misled” by premature naming and shaming. “Quarterly results cannot be interpreted in a meaningful way, so breaking results down by retailer and processor at this stage could mislead consumers,” a spokesman claimed.

This is an awkward volte face, to say the least. Campylobacter is the FSA’s self-declared number-one strategic priority (to the extent that some accuse it of being downright myopic about it, to the detriment of other food safety issues). Shouldn’t it have realised that quarterly results “cannot be interpreted in a meaningful way” months ago, before it went out guns blazing in the way Brown did in March?

That The Guardian published a major piece on campylobacter and hygiene breaches in the poultry industry just hours after the FSA board decided against ‘naming and shaming’ further complicates matters. Never mind that hygiene breaches (no matter how serious and worthy of thorough investigation) do not necessarily lead to problems with campylobacter – such nuance inevitably gets lost. Instead, many consumers will be left with the impression that here’s an industry with a problem it doesn’t want to face up to, and a weak regulator helping it avoid scrutiny.

Already, industry sources – including some who lobbied against quarterly publication – suggest it would have been better for the FSA to press ahead with its original plans, no matter what the fallout. “At least that way, we could have taken it as an opportunity to educate the public more about what we’re doing,” said one. “Now it’ll just perpetuate some of the myths around the subject.”

That would be a shame. The FSA has made important progress in putting campylobacter on the radar of senior industry figures in recent months, and there is significant investment into research and new hygiene measures happening across the sector. Neither retailers and suppliers – nor indeed the FSA itself – deserve to be seen as lacking commitment in the fight against campylobacter.

Unfortunately, the upshot of this week’s events is that they will all have to work even harder to prove that point.

More tea, pharaoh?

Posted by: Jon Yeomans Wed, 23 Jul 2014

Maybe the pharaohs had it right after all. Pyramids are a superior shape.

That’s if you’re talking about tea bags, mind you. And if you take Unilever’s word for it. For the fmcg giant has performed tests that show its pyramid-shaped tea bag (invented in 1996) has “significantly greater brewing efficiency” than a round tea bag over the course of two minutes and 40 seconds – which is the length of the average brew (rather than the office tea-round standard of 30 seconds and a few stabs with a spoon to get the colour out).

Unilever also “measured the volume of space available for tea to move around in a round teabag and in a pyramid teabag”. It said that, “in terms of volume, the pyramid teabag had 77% more room to move”. Mathematical modelling put the figure even higher, at 99%.

Why all this fuss over round tea bags versus pyramid? Well, Unilever was defending one of its PG Tips adverts starring Johnny Vegas, which had made claims about the efficacy of the pointed shape over the circular. This was challenged by Tata Global Beverages, owner of Tetley, in a complaint to the ASA. This morning, the ASA took Unilever’s side and rejected the complaint.

“We’re thrilled that the ASA have agreed with what PG Tips fans have known for years: pyramid bags really do make the best cup of tea,” declared a PG Tips spokeswoman.

Tata also claimed the offending ad denigrated Tetley because round tea bags were associated with that brand and the advert could be seen as portraying it in a negative light – even though no Tetley branding was visible. Unilever flatly denied this charge and the ASA agreed: “We understood that several brands of teabags on the market were round in shape. While a large portion of round teabags were owned by Tetley, we considered that consumers would not immediately identify a round teabag as being a Tetley teabag.”

Responding to the outcome this afternoon, a Tetley spokeswoman said the ASA’s decision related to just one facet of the process of making a cuppa: the speed of infusion – which was not “a key factor in determining the quality of a cup of tea”.

“Tetley’s extensive research shows that round tea bags, combined with high-quality tea, are just as effective as other-shaped tea bags. Ultimately, the shape of the tea bag is not as important as the quality and taste of the tea,” she added.

A fair point, but one can’t help thinking Tetley was stretching the point with its suggestion that round bags are associated solely with its brand. In the PR war, I’d say it’s one point to Unilever, which can now bask in the glow of headlines such as the Mail’s, this morning: “Pyramid tea bags DO taste better than round ones!”

Otherwise, I’m tempted to say it’s all a storm in a… well, you get the idea.

The new man in the Tesco hot seat

Posted by: Ronan Hegarty Tue, 22 Jul 2014

Much has been made of incoming Tesco CEO Dave Lewis’ lack of retail knowledge – which seems rather churlish. You don’t spend 27 years at Unilever, one of the world’s biggest fmcg companies, without picking up a thing or two about retail both in the UK and around the globe. 

Lewis was guest editor of The Grocer back in 2010 – in the same week as his promotion from Unilever’s UK chairman to president of its Americas operation. In a Q&A session he discussed his relationship with the major UK supermarkets and how closely Unilever worked with them. 

“Our reach in terms of categories is better than anyone else in the UK and penetration is massively greater than any other fmcg player,” he explained. “I’m not a big fan of talking about power in the relationship, it’s not about that. We live or die by how good we are by the category-specific engagement. I don’t think size can ever be at the expense of expertise.” 

This may be something he will do well to remember in his new job. Equally he will be able to draw on his experience in building relationships between Unilever and the big supermarkets. In the same piece he discussed how he had won over retailers during his stint as Unilever’s UK chairman by engaging more fully with their needs. 

Dave Lewis

Incoming Tesco boss Dave Lewis

Despite earning a reputation for being a tough cookie and the nickname ‘Drastic Dave’ as a result of his decisions to cut 300 jobs in 2007 and then halve the number of SKUs it sold in 2009, Lewis is more of diplomat than anything else. 

Throughout his time at Unilever he was constantly championing the path of collaboration with retailers; an approach he repeated in his work on public health. 

Lewis, along with Andrew Lansley, was effectively the architect of the current government’s health Responsibility Deal. In 2008 he was tasked by Lansley, then shadow health secretary, to chair the Public Health Commission. 

The report compiled by the commission was largely co-opted by Lansley to shape Tory health policy going into the last general election and was the blueprint for the Deal, which – lest we forget – looked to improve public health by getting the food industry, government and health organisations to work together, and by gently nudging the public to make better decisions about diet and lifestyle. 

Lewis said at the time the people around that table agreed on 98% of the issues but that progress was being put at risk due to squabbles over the remaining 2%. “Identifying commonalities and aligning ourselves behind them will enable us to more effectively work with government policymakers and other parties,” he said. 

Of course it is a rare thing for someone so deeply associated with the supply side to be handed the controls of a big retailer but it is not without precedent. Morrisons opted to follow Sir Ken, a born retailer, with Marc Bolland, who at the time was a Heineken marketer. 

Bolland successfully turned Morrisons around as it struggled to digest the Safeway acquisition, before being poached by M&S. 

There is no doubting that Lewis faces a tough challenge ahead. The retail landscape has changed beyond recognition in the last couple of years and Tesco, like all of the big supermarkets, may never be able to reclaim the stranglehold it once had on the UK grocery market. 

To think he can come in and wave a magic wand and fix all of Tesco’s woes is fantasy, just as it is to put the blame for all of them at the feet of Philip Clarke. However Lewis is energetic and charismatic; skills that will at least buy him some time. 

In 2010 he said: “I don’t mind if some of the things I try don’t work. I don’t think my customers would worry either. They only worry when I keep going and going when it doesn’t work. I’ve a simple rule: I want to try some things, and if I don’t get some things wrong, I am probably not trying hard enough.” 

Philip Clarke tried a lot of things too during his nearly three-and-a-half years in charge; Lewis must hope that the Tesco shareholders give him enough time to make sure more of the things he tries do work. 

Clarke bows out

Posted by: Ian Quinn Tue, 22 Jul 2014

It was a sad day yesterday for anyone who has had dealings with Tesco CEO Philip Clarke

Whatever the merits of his leadership, since he took over from Sir Terry Leahy in March 2011, there can be no doubting his passion for Tesco and his 100% commitment to turning its fortunes around, after what for shareholders has been an almost unthinkable period of decline. 

A look at the sheer number of initiatives launched under Clarke will tell you this is not a man who went down without a fight – and it speaks volumes that he has agreed to stay on until October despite the axe falling. Indeed he will make himself available till after Christmas if successor Dave Lewis needs him. 

In the end though, the job of seeing through the turnaround he so wanted has proved beyond the likeable Liverpudlian, and to the BBC he described yesterday’s announcement as “an enormous relief”. 

Yet there are few among Clarke’s critics who could point the finger with too much confidence at any one single fatal mistake. 

Philip Clarke Tesco

Philip Clarke will step down on 1 October

The list of problems by the time the end came were so wide ranging, most bosses would have struggled even with Tesco’s still-huge resources behind them, and there were several elements beyond his own control. 

He came in to take over a previously all-conquering empire, fronted by a legendary retail leader, at a time when the world (let alone UK), economy was being battered on the rocks; as technology was about to send the space race strategy Tesco had led crashing to earth; and with years of austerity creating a perfect breeding ground for the rise of the discounters. 

On other matters Clarke was probably more culpable. He lost too many of Tesco’s most talented leaders and at least for long spells took on too much of the massive job on his own back. 

Despite eventually having built up a talented top management team, these have, at the chairman’s own admission, not been in place long enough to join the board and help Clarke calm nervous shareholders, as the poor results have kept on flooding in. A bit like Alastair Cook, Clarke has looked anything like being on “the front foot” as he suggested Tesco was back in 2012. 

The boss called for the reinvention of Tesco’s stores, in service and design, and there have been outstanding examples. But these are still too much of an exception to the rule rather than the norm, and the money-sapping process has taken far longer than he wanted. 

There have also been suggestions of morale issues on the shop floor, which of course is where it all began for Clarke and where, previously, he appeared to be having some of his biggest successes. 

When it came to the big strategy decisions, Clarke admitted – perhaps too honestly – that when it came to tackling the discounters, it would take years to get it right. That’s not a message the City wanted to hear, despite his chairman agreeing that a strategy of fully fledged price cuts would be a “strategy of decline”. 

Clarke was zealous in his visions for Tesco to take the lead in multichannel and here his legacy in years to come may prove to be more flattering than it stands today. The retailer is way ahead of its rivals in many respects. 

But sadly when it comes to the bottom line, it is next quarter’s profit margin that really counts and the board signed off with a pretty damning verdict yesterday. Things were actually looking worse – not better – than when Clarke got to his feet to face the flak at the AGM in June and they could not be confident he was the man to get it right. 

Too few of the many elements of his turnaround plans seemed to be coming to fruition, despite their heart, like his, being in the right place. 

You can take a look at some of the highlights – and lowlights – of Philip Clarke’s reign on The Grocer website, alongside the verdict from retail experts and news from the City.

 

 

Raising a glass for the silly season

Posted by: Ronan Hegarty Thu, 17 Jul 2014

Apart from the fact that the sun is cracking the pavements and the mercury is heading towards 30 degrees, if you needed any more proof that we are entering the journalistic silly season then it arrived this morning with the news that Pernod is having to change its label so that people realise it is alcoholic. 

Like many alcohol brands, Pernod may well have been consumed by the odd under 18, but I think we can safely assume that those under-age partakers were doing so fully aware of what kind of drink it was. While they will have known they were drinking alcohol, they may have been surprised by the aniseed flavour first time around.

Pernod is having to make the change because of a review carried out by the Portman Group. Apparently, the description of the product as “spiritueux anise”, which appears only in French on the front of pack, could be more prominent and the 40% abv declaration was not legible enough. 

These are no doubt technical issues over font and size of print, but I defy anyone to see a bottle of Pernod and not come very quickly to the conclusion that it was an alcoholic beverage. Not least of all because those stumbling over a bottle in-store will be doing so in the spirits fixture of a supermarket or behind the counter of a c-store. 

The Portman Group does have an important role to play in rooting out some of the less than savoury practices some drink manufacturers will stoop to in a bid to tempt underage drinkers – but rulings like this risk undermine that work and make it look more like over-zealous interfering busy-bodies – probably best we don’t ask Laverstoke Park’s Jody Scheckter what he makes of today’s move. 

Why Tesco's gone all sheepish

Posted by: James Halliwell Wed, 16 Jul 2014

If I ever have a rough day at work I often cheer myself up by thinking, well, at least I’m not Philip Clarke. 

Sure, I wouldn’t mind the Tesco CEO’s £1.14m salary, and I admire his rumoured predilection for staying at top quality hotels when travelling around Tesco’s global empire (“It’s got to be the Mandarin Oriental” gossiped one senior executive after a couple of vinos the other night).

And Monday morning must have made a pleasant change for Mr Clarke, who woke up to the news that some analysts had decided that Tesco, with 28.9% of the grocery market, profits of £3.3bn a year, and a share price that has slumped so hard that it’s fast looking like a bargain, wasn’t such a bad bet after all. Cantor’s Mike Dennis even double upgraded from SELL to BUY. 

Then someone had to go and spoil things and remind us why, at times, leading Tesco must make the boss want to sit in a corner and comfort eat his favourite sushi. 

According to the Daily Mail, Tesco was selling 300g packs of New Zealand lamb chops for £6 yesterday, a saving of around 30%, as well as some multi-buys on leg steaks. A bonus for anyone planning chops for dinner then, but sheep farmers were apoplectic because Spring and Summer is the peak season for British lamb. It’s when it is at its tastiest and, unlike the rest of the year, there is plenty to go around. So why offer a deal on imports? 

In a measured response, NFU president Meurig Raymond told the Mail its members were “upset and angry” by the promotions. He wasn’t against imports per se, he added, but that the NFU could see “no reason to promote foreign lamb above our own.” 

It could be argued that, as a retailer, Tesco can sell what it wants, at a price it chooses, whenever it fancies. But to complicate the matter, less than 18 months ago Philip Clarke stood up in front of the NFU and announced “a sincere commitment to source more of our meat closer to home”. It hasn’t exactly done the opposite by price promoting imports, but it’s unlikely that running a deal like this is what he intended at the time. 

That said, rather than Tesco going back on its word, or at least the sentiment of what it expressed, it’s likely this promotion is another example of Tesco’s sometimes unwieldy and disjointed organisation failing to join the dots. It’s not going to turn into Lambgate. And it’s unlikely to happen again. Indeed, a Tesco spokesman hurriedly told the Mail a similar promotion would soon take place on British lamb, although “in the next few weeks” was as specific as he could be for when it would begin. 

It will be “half-price” though. And there are plenty of squeezed shoppers out there who couldn’t give a monkeys where their lamb comes from. They just want affordable lamb they can put on the table. And Tesco is delivering that. 

In short, it’s another challenging week for Philip Clarke, featuring the highs and lows of happy analysts and furious farmers. And it’s only Wednesday.

 

 

Nine months is a short time in politics

Posted by: Kevin White Tue, 15 Jul 2014

Exiting his role as secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs today, Owen Paterson can look forward to spending the next 10 months sniping from the backbenches. 

His successor Liz Truss, meanwhile, can look forward to a potentially challenging tenure at Defra

Truss has said she is keen to tackle “the important issues facing our rural communities”, including “championing British food, protecting people from flooding and improving the environment”. 

But one obstacle to success in her new role could be time. 

The general election looks to be all set for 7 May 2015, which means parliament will be dissolved on 30 March, giving Truss no more than nine months to make her mark. 

The Countryside Alliance executive chairman Barney White-Spunner today described it “an impossible role”. He said Defra had “fundamental issues”, a questionable ability to create policy, and was in need of a “root and branch review”. 

Putting aside the fact the Conservatives might lose the election, Defra’s new minister could have her hands full in placating often diametrically opposed sections of society. 

Owen Paterson

Owen Paterson

Paterson certainly polarised opinion. His views on genetically modified food, climate change and the plan to cull badgers drew the ire of the environmental lobby, but he also achieved strong support from the farming industry, with the NFU particularly fulsome in its praise today. 

Truss will have to decide whether to press ahead with policies that could potentially harm Tory chances at the ballot box next May, or postpone them until the next government is formed, which could also provoke criticism. 

She will have to consider whether to proceed with the roll-out of the badger cull, amid strong opposition from some quarters and the recent launching of a judicial review by The Badger Trust. 

Also on the agenda will be the politically sensitive implementation of tough new EU rules on the pre-slaughter stunning of animals. The new rules could have implications for halal certification, and were suspended at the eleventh hour on 16 May when Defra stated it needed to give “a complicated issue” more consideration. 

The Elliott Review, commissioned by Defra post-Horsegate to investigate the state of the UK food industry, also hangs over the department. Professor Chris Elliott published his interim report in December, and warned the UK food industry and consumers remained at risk from criminals, with only a dramatic change in industry culture able to protect them. The publication of the full report - and the potential ramifications of increased regulation on the food industry - could also be a vote loser if it had an effect on jobs or the price of food. Publication might also be “kicked into the long grass” in the wake of the reshuffle, industry insiders have suggested. 

For Truss, those nine months might feel like a very long time after all.

 

Small shop, big opportunity

Posted by: Beth Brooks Mon, 14 Jul 2014

The Co-operative Group has launched a mobile top-up shop that will act as a temporary store when one of its shops is being refurbished. 

The four-metre by 2.3-metre kiosk will stock 120 of the society’s most popular products and will help it serve customers while the 340 ‘generation two’ stores it plans to refit this year are closed (sometimes for as long as 14 days). 

Temporary stores are not unusual in grocery, but they are when they have wheels. Temporary stores of the more static variety include one by Morrisons in 2010 when its Penrith supermarket was destroyed by a fire. Midlands Co-op (now Central England Co-op) did the same in 2009 at its Oakham store. Both chose to operate from marquees in the store’s car park. 

Waitrose is also currently trading from a temporary store in Dorking, Surrey, while its store in the town is being extensively expanded and refurbished. 

Retailers who have gone for a more mobile version include Asda, which in March last year launched the ‘Asda Anywhere’ shop –a pop-up shop that’s basically a PoS display and checkout on wheels. 

The Co-op has done it before too – it used to run mobile vans in the 1950s and more recently has tried mobile versions to take to food shows. 

On today’s move, The Co-op Group’s head of retail Steve Murrells says The Co-op is “taking convenience shopping back to the future”, and describes the kiosk as “a modern day twist on the old style mobile grocery vans”. 

The society could even look at “other possible options for portable convenience shopping”, he adds. “This could point to a new way of convenience shopping in the future.” 

But you can’t help thinking why the Co-op has taken so long to launch this. 

With group debts of £1.4bn, the society needs to maximise every sales opportunity, so not trading from a site for up to 14 days - even if like-for-like sales increase by double digits when the store reopens again – is something the Co-op can’t afford to do. 

The kiosk may be small, but it’s a big opportunity, both to boost sales and enhance its reputation as a community retailer. 

Winter wonderlands

Posted by: Arabella Mileham Thu, 10 Jul 2014

Christmas in July is one aspect of the retail landscape I still have trouble getting my head around. While I appreciate retailers’ need to nail down the all-important Christmas range well in advance, and tempt consumers with a dizzying array of products during the most crucial trading period of the year – does it have to start at the height of summer? (Perhaps, more than anything, it has to do with the lead-in times of the monthly magazines, which are already planning their Christmas editions.)

Last week’s sweltering weather was the backdrop to the first few retailers rolling out their Christmas wares, explaining the npd to food journalists over turkey, small bites of stollen, twinkly lights and fake snow.

Some had themes: there were cosy Alpine chalets and igloos at Asda; restrained Scandi-style fir at Waitrose; and it was all aboard the Christmas Express at The Co-op. But what each show had in common was a fervent desire to predict what consumers are looking for this Christmas. The question is: have they got it right?

christmas sainsburys 5

A Christmas pudding from Sainsbury’s

Even with a sense of seasonality being bashed off course, one couldn’t miss the genuine excitement from some of the retailers about this year’s ‘hero’ products. Suppliers and developers who have been slaving away since 1 January were keen to share the reasoning behind the new lines as a natural progression from last year’s successes.

The stars of last Christmas were premium lines, particularly own-label ranges and turkey alternatives, so this has remained a key focus for the coming winter. There was turkey with an imaginative twist at Waitrose; Lidl’s first fresh whole goose; and a strong focus on convenient, spiced and flavoured salmon, both fresh and smoked.

The lines have now been drawn, but battle is yet to commence.

Will Asda’s snowmen crumpets get as much coverage on Twitter as its Christmas trees did last year? Will Heston pull it out of the bag for Waitrose with his latest bit of outrageous npd? Will kids be put off Lidl’s smoked reindeer slices by the thought of eating Rudolph? And how many people will actually buy Fortnum’s £1,950 Iberico ham?

We’ve got to wait more than five months to find out.

In the meantime, you can get a preview of retailers’ Christmas ranges in this week’s issue of The Grocer, plus extra content on The Grocer website. Merry, er, Christmas!

Hard work

Posted by: Jon Yeomans Wed, 9 Jul 2014

BlackBerrys have got a lot to answer for (the smartphone kind, not the fruit).

They helped fuel, in part, the trend towards out-of-hours working that we see today. After all, it’s hard to clock off at five o’clock if you’re receiving emails on your phone all evening.

It’s a scenario made frighteningly easy by the rise of what IT experts call BYOD, or bring your own device; when you use your personal smartphone to access work emails and applications. Its acronym may have been inspired by BYOB, but – I think we can all agree – it’s much less fun.

BlackBerry phone

We’re working longer hours and using our phones to answer work emails

BlackBerry had its comeuppance, of course; its sales went off a cliff in around 2010 and never recovered. Today you’re more likely to be checking work emails on an iPhone or a Galaxy S. And many of us do; a survey of 1,056 UK business people today found that 20% of them were spending more than an hour each day checking work emails on their smartphone.

According to the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM), overtime is “firmly embedded in UK working culture”. Around 76% of people routinely work late in the office or at home; 48% skip lunch breaks; and a staggering 47% claim to work an additional 7.5 hours or more of overtime a week.

“Excessive hours are not sustainable – there are only so many times you can burn the midnight oil before your performance, decision making and wellbeing begin to suffer,” says Charles Elvin, ILM CEO.

The ILM study, by its very nature, gravitated towards the management end of the scale – but there seems little doubt that overtime culture is a real trend. We may not be working as long hours as the Japanese – who famously have a culture of staying as late as the boss – but actual weekly work hours are on the rise.

According to the ONS, there were 981.6 million hours worked each week in the UK between February and April 2014, up on 930.3 million in the same period in 2012. The number of roles (including people working two jobs) rose from 31.7 million to 32.1 million in the same time span. That works out at 29.4 hours a week per role in 2012, versus 30.6 hours a week in 2014.

We see the same effect on the shop floor, far removed from managers with their noses pressed to their BlackBerrys. In recent weeks The Grocer has reported on store management restructuring at Tesco, Asda, Morrisons and The Co-op. As roles are streamlined, staff are being expected to do more; an inevitable consequence of a competitive, squeezed grocery business.

On a macro level, all the economic indicators of late have been positive. The downside of this bright side is that we are working harder to get there.

Welcome to The Grocer's new-look website

Posted by: Adam Leyland Tue, 8 Jul 2014

New Grocer website

The Grocer has relaunched its website

The Grocer has today launched a brand new website, featuring an impressive array of new features, new content, new channels and new functionality.

On the surface, you might argue it looks very similar to the old one. It uses the same fonts, and features lots of great content, anyway.

But as well as a cleaner look, and some swanky new features, and new ways to display our great content more dynamically, underpinning it is a whole new modus operandi for The Grocer.

Watch the video below:

Web first

First, we are going web first: whereas previously we used the magazine to break our most important stories, we will now take advantage of the immediacy of thegrocer.co.uk for breaking all news, as well as analysis, comment and features. These stories will be locked down, but as a digital subscriber you will be able to access this content - and do so ahead of regular subscribers.

Membership

Reflecting the growing range of services offered under The Grocer umbrella, we are introducing a new ‘membership’-based approach. Essentially this means we are tiering access to The Grocer depending on which channels and services you want to sign up to.

At the premium end is the Platinum membership package , which includes access to our new Finance channel .

Performance tables

Our new performance tables are available to Finance members

This new service brings you the latest exclusive financial news and analysis on areas like results, M+A, pay and remuneration, and the economy, as well as up-to-date share price and company performance data on the 350 listed grocery retail- and fmcg-based companies on the UK Stock Exchange and other international trading markets: from top risers and fallers to company share price movements, director deals and executive appointments.

New channels

We are also reorganising our content more generally to reflect the core functions used by grocers big and small: Gold membership gives you full access to dedicated new channels for ‘Buying + Supplying’, ‘Stores’, ‘Channels’ and ‘People’.

We believe this is a more intuitive approach than the taxonomy of old - enabling subscribers to unlock the rich seams of content that previously lay hidden within its many layers.

Buying and Supplying is our new hub for fmcg, supply chain, and product news. Here you can find the latest in NPD, sourcing, and product marketing – as well as our new review hub: Acid Test. We’ve teamed up with Cambridge Market Research to put a series of products through their paces every week, combining consumer feedback with expert analysis to grade the latest NPD on the market.

You can also find here our hugely enhanced GPI inflation tracker, a unique service that measures inflation based on 70,000 products in 15 fmcg categories available in the five biggest grocery retailers.

Our Stores channel takes a broader look at the issues around store management, design, retail pricing and store-based marketing. Here you’ll find up-to-date pricing & promotions news, as well as insight from our new and improved Grocer 33 mystery shopping survey, which measures price, service and availability across the top five supermarkets.

G33 pricing table

Our new and improved Grocer 33 pricing table

Now it’s even more useful, packed with new information and, for the first time, features a guest retailer, with the likes of Iceland, Aldi, Ocado and Lidl all set to feature.

On the prices side , The Grocer 33 contains a wealth of information: click on the cross symbol to see the pricing history of the product across the retailers and find out how many weeks in the last year it has been on offer.

Hover over the red information symbols to find the type of promotion that is running on each product.

And scroll down the table to see which vouchers were issued to our mystery shoppers at checkout, and how many products from the basket of 33 were on promotion this week.

Our service & availability table is similarly enhanced. As well as featuring guest retailer appearances every month, it harnesses our new Grocer 33 methodology to provide better insight than ever before into how the stores compared.

G33 service table

Our Grocer 33 service & availability table includes shopper feedback

The table is split into six areas covering the whole shopping experience: car park; store standards; store layout; shop floor service; checkout score; and availability score.

Click on each item to read additional comments and feedback from our team of mystery shoppers from around the country. Stores can gain points for a variety of features, adding up to a total score for each category. The final tally gives us the overall service & availability winner. Our coverage is rounded off with an interview with the manager of the winning store.

The Channels landing page gathers together news and analysis covering the different routes to market in today’s grocery sector, including not only supermarkets, wholesalers and convenience stores but also the fast-growth discounters and online retailers.

Our People channel presents the latest movers news along with big interviews, profiles and careers advice, plus a renewed focus on community initiatives across the sector.

Our new website is also home to news, reaction and analysis on our industry-leading events , such as The Grocer Gold Awards and the Own Label Awards.

It’s also an invaluable resource for accessing our wide range of exclusive reports and rankings, including category reports and our new series of online-only digital features , which will delve into a different sector each month and provide new insight and analysis beyond what we can display in our weekly magazine.

Newsletters

The changes haven’t been limited to the website, either. We’ve introduced a whole host of new newsletters to support the new channel-based approach (and all our newsletters are now optimised for mobile).

Digital issue

The magazine itself is now available digitally on the Android platform , as well as via Apple devices .

Grocer Magazine Android

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Magazine

Finally, in this week’s issue, you’ll notice one or two tweaks to The Grocer itself. It’s fair to say these are limited, however. As a hugely successful 152-year-old title, the magazine clearly works well. Online, on the other hand, offers us new possibilities, in terms of dynamic and interactive new features, and the opportunity to display information in exciting new ways.

We hope you enjoy the new offer, and look forward to hearing from you.

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Little and often

Posted by: Beth Brooks Mon, 7 Jul 2014

The shopping habits of a The Grocer journalist: If I’m not busy, I try and do a weekly shop at a supermarket every Sunday morning. There are a couple of products I buy at another supermarket. For everything else, I top-up shop from the convenience store at the end of my road, or pick up my lunch from a high street store on the way to work. 

It seems my shopping habits are far from unusual because new data released this morning has claimed shoppers are increasingly looking beyond the hypermarkets and supermarkets for their grocery shop. 

McColl's shopping basket

The Shoppercentric poll found 38% of shoppers were shopping at a wider variety of stores and 70% were using different stores or altering the frequency of shopping visits. 

The phrase ‘little and often’ was adopted largely by convenience operators in 2009/2010 to explain changing consumer shopping habits that saw shoppers choosing to shop locally more often to control their budgets. 

But as The Grocer revealed in May, this trend is not necessarily restricted to the convenience sector. Consumers may very well be shopping little and often, but they’re shopping in the channels most convenient to them. 

In essence – convenience is in the eye of the beholder. 

The Shoppercentric poll gives more weight to this argument. 

Although it found the lion’s share (89%) of shoppers used a supermarket or hypermarket for their grocery shopping in the past month, they also shopped at discounters (67%), convenience stores (52%), online (29%), in high street shops (21%) and indies (17%). 

It shows that shoppers will go to whatever channel they feel is most convenient for their needs. 

As IGD CEO Joanne Denney-Finch succinctly put it last month: “Shoppers now expect grocery retailing to organise itself around their lives rather than building their routines around store opening hours.” 

Cutting the mustard

Posted by: James Halliwell Fri, 4 Jul 2014

I’ve been a sucker for mustard ever since the time I ordered a ham sandwich without mustard, but it turned up covered in the stuff. At that moment, everything changed.

On balance, English mustard is my personal favourite. So, on a sunny day spent with Colman’s in Norwich, I was unnerved to hear that in 2007 it was nearly all over for English mustard as we know it, thanks to a disastrous harvest of mustard seeds.

The situation was so bad that there was a very real danger that “English” mustard would cease to exist. Yet it’s often in crisis that the keenest minds find renewed focus, and the unmitigated disaster of 2007 led to the formation of the English Mustard Growers – a green-(yellow-?) fingered collective of 14 farmers with a love of mustard and a fierce determination to put things right.

“The greatest thing has been the sharing of knowledge,” said EMG chairman Michael Sly, standing in a field filled with mustard seeds, as he explained how this crack unit brought UK mustard harvests back to life. Supported by Unilever, which owns the Colman’s brand (and Maille, too) the EMG has gone from strength to strength since 2007 and harvest levels for 2014 are on an upward trend, approaching 1997 levels – considered a boom time for mustard.

Colman's Mustard dons a vintage look

Colman’s is celebrating its 200th anniversary

That’s obviously good news for Colman’s, which has a long, rich history. Starting in 1814 (it’s celebrating its 200th birthday this year), Colman’s bought rival mustard maker Keen Robinson (it’s where the term ‘keen as mustard’ comes from) in 1903 before merging with Reckitt in 1938. Unilever acquired Colman’s in 1995, yet the equipment in the factory hasn’t changed since the 1950s, when the site was rebuilt following a devastating fire. It’s got serious retro charm, particularly a wood and metal contraption that whirred, pumped and rattled away, sorting thousands of seeds every hour, as it’s done for the last 64 years.

“The modern stuff isn’t any better,” said our guide. “You could do more tonnage, maybe, but this meets our capability. So you’d be spending money without getting anything for it. This is as hi-tech as we go.”

Everyone involved with the ongoing creation of Colman’s mustard was obviously, and justifiably, proud of it. I’m already looking forward to the next time I accidentally put too much vibrant yellow mustard on my ham sandwich and it burns straight through my nose - that’s when you know you’ve got just the right amount.

End of an era

Posted by: Beth Brooks Thu, 3 Jul 2014

It’s a well-worn phrase, but yesterday really was the end of an era for Costcutter and Nisa.

The distribution agreement between the two companies expired yesterday, ending an association that has spanned an incredible 27 years.

The Grocer revealed in March last year that instead of extending its contract with Nisa, Costcutter had decided to join forces with wholesaler Palmer & Harvey.

An eight-year distribution deal was confirmed shortly afterwards, and the formation of a joint buying venture called The Buyco was announced to negotiate “the best deals through maximum volume”. P&H also handed over the direct management of its symbol fascias Mace, SuperShop and Your Store to Costcutter.

It hasn’t been all plain sailing to get to yesterday. The Grocer revealed in April that Costcutter had apologised to retailers in Northern Ireland after hitting problems when it started to migrate retailers over to P&H there. The Grocer understands these problems have persisted as migration has gathered pace, with some Costcutter retailers continuing to report delivery and availability problems. A number of retailers have also chosen to leave Costcutter for Nisa.

Issues are to be expected as a move as big as this beds in and retailers get used to the changes, but it will be interesting to see how long retailers will be prepared to wait for any disruption to die down. They should be patient, however, because although it is the end of an era, it is also the start of a brave new world for not only Costcutter, Nisa and P&H, but also for the wider convenience symbol sector.

For Costcutter, the move puts it “in control of our own destiny”, as CEO Darcy Willson-Rymer told The Grocer earlier this year. This is because it will be able to control its own pricing, promotions and own-label ranges. It has also launched new technology and has big expansion plans - last month owner Bibby Line Group said it wanted to see Costcutter grow its store estate from around 2,500 stores now to 6,000 in the future.

Nisa has lost its biggest member, but the symbol group has already made a number of changes that has seen it become much more consumer-focused, with a new strategy, new store formats, a revamp of its popular Heritage own-label range and a recent TV ad campaign that was very well received. More initiatives are on the cards, too.

P&H, meanwhile, has gained a huge new distribution contract. It is focussing on its wholesale distribution strengths but has also extended its reach further into the independent sector.

All of this can only be good news for the future of the symbol market. With such strong players in Costcutter and Nisa upping their game, and many of their rivals also reporting strong trading, symbols will become all the more competitive, improving store standards and standing up to the continued encroachment of the multiples into convenience.

BRC rethinks rates rethink

Posted by: Ian Quinn Wed, 2 Jul 2014

It was good to see MPs in their droves yesterday backing the BRC’s call for a fundamental overhaul of business rates.

The problems with the system are so far reaching and such a disincentive to retailers, they need much more than just tinkering around the edges.

But the consortium’s accompanying announcement that it had been forced to think again about some of its specific plans for a potential replacement was both sadly predictable and a sign of the huge barriers facing those fighting for reform.

It signals the end of short-lived plans for a new energy tax, which the BRC had argued could be a fairer way for businesses to prop up the Treasury.

Ideas for a new system based on employment levels and on corporation tax also went into the shredder. While perhaps not as far fetched as the proposed green tax, they too were found by the BRC to carry more potential problems than advantages.

It was always going to be unlikely that any government, let alone one in the build-up to a knife-edge election, would replace a tried and trusted income generator with an entirely new and untested form of tax.

As it is, even Labour’s announcement yesterday that it would order a shake-up of rates to allow all the income generated to be held by councils in powerful new city and county regions still relies on a system that four out of five MPs admit is broken.

After – probably wisely – changing tack, the BRC has to somehow convince the next government that changes to rates must go much further than simply a review of the methodology, although it admits there is not going to be one “big bang moment”.

Realistically it is looking like the option it least wanted – reform of the existing system – is the only one on the table, and even that won’t happen until after the big vote next May.

Snowball's chance

Posted by: Jon Yeomans Tue, 1 Jul 2014

There’ll be dancing on the streets of Scotland today at the news that snowballs – those chocolate- and coconut-covered marshmallow confections – are cakes.

An Edinburgh tribunal overturned a previous ruling that snowballs should be standard-rated in terms of VAT (cakes, of course, are exempt).

The tribunal concluded that: “A snowball looks like a cake. It is not out of place on a plate full of cakes. A snowball has the mouthfeel of a cake. Most people would want to enjoy a beverage of some sort while consuming it. It would often be eaten in a similar way to cakes - for example to celebrate a birthday in an office.

Lees snowballs

The snowball is a cake - official

“We are wholly agreed that a snowball is a confection to be savoured, but not while walking around or, for example, in the street… Although by no means everyone considers a snowball to be a cake we find that these facts, in particular, mean that a snowball has sufficient characteristics to be characterised as a cake.”

Judges Peter Sheppard and Anne Scott were certainly impeccable in their research. At the tribunal – in what one must assume was one of the less gruelling tasks they have been called upon to perform in their legal careers (unless, of course, they don’t have a sweet tooth) – they were reportedly presented with a plate of Jaffa Cakes, Bakewell tarts, tea cakes, Lees Snowballs, and Waitrose meringues by way of comparison.

Jaffa Cakes of course were themselves the subject of a legal battle in 1991 over whether they were cakes or biscuits. They were eventually found to be cakes – as their name had insisted all along – by means of the simple test that cakes go hard when stale, and biscuits go soft.

Two Scottish suppliers, Tunnock’s and Lees, will be celebrating this week’s ruling – which is estimated to cost the HRMC £2.8m in lost tax revenue.

Of course, in battles with the taxman, it doesn’t always go the supplier’s way. In 2009, HMRC won its fight to have VAT slapped on Pringles, having argued it was a potato snack, and therefore liable. Pringles owner P&G had claimed it was not similar to crisps because the flour content of the product, its regular shape and “mouth melt” taste made it a snack rather than a potato crisp.

Perhaps – for the sake of the waistlines of our legal profession, if nothing else – we need a little more clarity on which food products are liable for VAT, and which are not; something a little more scientific than eating a plate of biscuits and weighing up the “mouthfeel” of a product.

As for the humble snowball, it may have escaped the taxman’s clutches, but in the current climate, I sense it will still have to watch its back. How much sugar is in the typical snowball, I wonder..?

(Not-so) plain sailing

Posted by: Jon Yeomans Fri, 27 Jun 2014

With yesterday’s headlines captured by the SACN’s virtual declaration of war on sugar, the government chose an interesting moment to publish draft legislation on plain packaging for tobacco.

Action on plain packs was notably absent in this year’s Queen’s Speech, despite the government saying in April it was “minded” to introduce such a measure. Plain packs, it seems, is the idea that just won’t die (let’s not forget it was shelved as recently as July 2013, only to be resuscitated four months later in the Chantler Review).

The draft regulations outlined yesterday pave the way for the introduction of plain packs in May 2016, coinciding with the start of the EU Tobacco Products Directive (TPD). They borrow heavily from existing laws in Australia, down to the proposed design of the packs: the outside must be a “drab brown with a matt finish”, and all text must be Helvetica.

Suppliers would be allowed to print their name once on each of the front, top and bottom surfaces, as well as on individual cigarettes. Furthermore, “packaging would not be permitted to include aspects that change after purchase, make noises or produce a smell not normally associated with tobacco packaging” – unlikely, though I’d give full marks to any company that tried.

The government says it hasn’t made up its mind on whether to introduce plain packs, and a consultation on the regulations is open until 7 August. But the tobacco industry and retail groups have been quick to cry foul (again), pointing out that the Chantler Review struggled to find evidence that plain packs actually discouraged kids from smoking (and that two-thirds of responses to the last public consultation were against plain packs). The lessons from down under are still unclear; recent data indicated that, faced with shelves of identical-looking packs, Australians had gravitated towards buying the cheaper brands – cutting their spend rather than their intake.

The government’s policy will “provide counterfeiters with a blueprint of exactly how to copy UK tobacco brands in the future”, Daniel Torras, JTI’s UK managing director said yesterday. “There needs to be better assessment of the effectiveness of (and need for plain packaging in the face of) existing and forthcoming regulation, such as the full implementation of the retail display ban and the EU’s Tobacco Products Directive.”

Forthcoming regulation is also a concern of the ACS, which warns that smaller retailers will end up footing the bill for the government’s chopping and changing of policy. In particular, why introduce a tobacco display ban (due on 6 April 2015) only to wipe brand names off packs?

“One of the main reasons given for introducing a tobacco display ban was that brands needed to be hidden from children,” said the ACS’ James Lowman. “Now the government is proposing to remove those brands, yet the tobacco display ban is going ahead at an average implementation cost of £1,000 per store… This makes a mockery of the government’s continued rhetoric about reducing the burden of regulation on business.”

There may be a saving grace for those opposed to plain packs: having been killed off before, there is no guarantee legislation will make it to the statute book in the lifetime of this Parliament. But yesterday’s draft regulations make those “drab brown” packs much more likely.

Common sense on food waste

Posted by: Julia Glotz Thu, 26 Jun 2014

Waste is one of the food industry’s undisputed hot potatoes. In the face of finite global resources, worries about environmental sustainability and – despite the beginnings of an economic recovery – continued strain on UK household budgets and growing concern about food poverty, waste and wastefulness around food (perceived or otherwise) strike a powerful chord.

The current focus on date labels is a case in point. Wrap this week issued new advice to industry to help consumers make better sense of use-by and best-before labels, and avoid unnecessary food waste in the home. This comes after the best-before vs use-by debate returned to the headlines in May, with Sweden and the Netherlands calling for a review of EU labelling rules, and a widely publicised piece in The Times in which supermarket CEOs “admitted” to ignoring date labels on their own foods.

There’s no question that heightened public awareness of food waste is a good thing: it’s created new, important opportunities for the food industry to talk about how it’s reducing waste and, crucially, what role consumers themselves can play in tackling wastage.

But it also presents challenges. One concern is that the food waste debate is increasingly being skewed in favour of headline-friendly areas such as date labels, with less ‘sexy’ – but equally important – priorities for waste reduction receiving less coverage.

There is something pleasingly intuitive and common sense about being told to ‘trust your instincts’ instead of relying on ‘nanny state’ date codes when deciding if a food is still okay to eat. But – as the Food Standards Agency made clear in a series of exasperated tweets when that Times piece was published – common sense can be a poor guide when it comes to food safety issues.

Another area at risk of being overlooked – and misunderstood – in this ‘common sense’ approach to food waste is packaging. New packaging formats and technologies can play a crucial role in reducing waste in the home and in the supply chain, but the public discourse on the subject is often simplified to ‘less is more’.

Of course, there are still far too many examples of wasteful packaging out there (here at The Grocer, we are frequently tempted to start naming and shaming those who send us ludicrously over-packed boxes-within-boxes-within-bags), but packaging that, say, helps improve shelf life can make a vital contribution to reducing food waste – even if the ‘common sense’ approach would suggest an item is being over-packaged.

A new report by Rabobank on emerging meat packaging technology, published this week, highlights just how difficult overcoming such perceptions can be: “Consumers often perceive packaging as harmful to the environment, so there is a need to convince them, perhaps through an information campaign, that both the environmental and commercial costs of food waste, particularly for meat, are in fact far greater than the environmental costs of packaging,” it says.

Developing the right technological solutions to help tackle food waste is clearly just the first step. If they want to ensure consumer buy-in, retailers, suppliers and packaging providers will have to make it just as big a priority to explain how such solutions help reduce food waste. It’s just common sense, really.

Sugar Thursday

Posted by: Ian Quinn Wed, 25 Jun 2014

As the clock counts down to ‘Sugar Thursday’ – when the SACN’s report and Public Health England’s sugar reduction strategy are released – it seems to have almost been forgotten that the DH claimed to have come up with the weapon to tackle obesity a year ago this month.

It’s been a long 12 months since the DH claimed that its traffic light hybrid front-of-pack labelling system, having secured backing from all the major retailers, would enable consumers to “see at a glance what is in our food” and “help us all choose healthier options and control our calorie intake.”

Backed by health groups, including Consensus Action on Salt and Health – before it mysteriously morphed into Action on Sugar – and billed by then health minister Anna Soubry as a way to help save the NHS “billions every year”, the scheme has become the forgotten weapon in the battle again obesity.

The draft report by Public Health England, which is expected to form the basis of its review on the options to reduce sugar intake on Thursday, does mention the possibility of the front of pack system being rolled out universally on all products as a way to get consumers to eat less sugar.

But there appears little enthusiasm either from the DH or from the industry to make it a truly comprehensive system, even though in many ways it would appear to tackle the key issues at stake in this debate.

The PHE report says that traffic lights have the potential to “drive reformulation and support consumer choice.”

But it says the system has been left hamstrung because the scheme is “not mandatory due to EU regulation” – ironic given the huge raft of labelling red tape in the European pipeline – and has too few signatories among soft drinks providers and cereal manufacturers.

Some of those may just be kicking themselves that they didn’t get involved as the agenda among health groups has switched to other more punitive measures, including a sugar tax, which is also set to be among the proposals mooted.

But it is a sign of how quickly traffic light labelling appears to have fizzled out that last week Tesco, whose decision to back it after years of opposition proved so pivotal in paving the way for the DH launch last year, is now trialling a new colour coding scheme.

Rivals Sainsbury’s told The Grocer that Tesco’s plan to have a WeightWatchers-style colour coding, separate to traffic lights, risked causing confusion.

Tesco, which reckons it may have caught on to a clever new way to help consumers with their diets and grow the health category, replied: “Perhaps Sainsbury’s might like to suggest the right colour for sour grapes?”

So much then for a universal approach. Perhaps there will be more unity from the industry and more direction from government on Thursday, as both are once again bound to come under attack.

Tacon's challenge

Posted by: Guy Montague-Jones Tue, 24 Jun 2014

One year into her role as Groceries Code Adjudicator, Christine Tacon has given an update report on progress so far – and revealed the results of her supplier survey on retailer behaviour.

The YouGov survey of more than 500 suppliers and trade associations was published yesterday at the Groceries Code Adjudicator conference in London, and revealed that a surprising number of suppliers have little knowledge of GSCOP – despite all the column inches dedicated to it in the trade press and how busy Tacon has been over the past year raising awareness of the code and her role.

The results found that 13% of direct suppliers said they were unaware of the code and another 21% said they knew it existed, but knew nothing more.

Given that Tacon’s ability to do her job effectively relies on people coming forward to raise concerns about potential breaches of the code, this degree of ignorance is clearly too high.

She is keen to improve the situation and told delegates at yesterday’s conference that she wants to see levels of awareness rise above 90%. She said there was also a lot of work to do to build confidence. Even though she has a legal duty to protect the anonymity of suppliers, the survey suggested fear of retribution was the main reason why some were reticent about coming forward.

But there was a sense that Tacon has made progress. More respondents thought the relationship between retailers and suppliers had improved in recent years than thought it had deteriorated and that was a view echoed by a number of the suppliers I spoke to yesterday. As outlined at the event by the code compliance officers at Tesco and Morrisons, the retailers have stepped up efforts to train buying teams on the code. Tesco has even introduced an element of competition, setting teams against each other to finish training first.

Tacon has also secured an important victory in persuading eight of the 10 retailers covered by the code to restrict forensic audits to the current and last two financial years (it remains to be seen why Waitrose and Sainsbury’s have not agreed to this). It had been known for retailers to look back as far as six years to find evidence of overpayment and then bill suppliers six-figure sums, so this agreement is a big step forward.

Overall, there is a feeling that the appointment of the adjudicator has made a difference. The industry is now taking notice of the code and other countries are looking on with interest. The delegate list yesterday included large numbers from countries such as The Netherlands, Belgium, Norway and Australia. It won’t be surprising to see others adopt the UK approach in the coming years.

You can read our exclusive interview with Christine Tacon, available to subscribers only, here.

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