Ever since I came into the trade 35 years ago, the independent sector seems to have been losing trade in traditional seasonal confectionery (Easter and Christmas), to the point where some years ago it was tempting to just relinquish this trade to the multiples who, we were told, loss-lead on the whole range.
It has certainly become harder and harder to maintain a range of these products in the cash & carry as retailers despair of the hugely unfavourable comparisons with the multiples. But what makes it particularly galling is that this is an area where we have conclusively demonstrated an ability to reinvent our offering - only to have our success thrown back in our face.
Some six or seven years ago, facing the normal pressure of Christmas trading, we decided to utilise our then fledgling retail club, Go Local, to try to reintroduce Christmas confectionery both to independent retailers and consumers. We started with large tins of chocolate. We negotiated a competitive retail price for our retailers. Even in the first year, the offer surprised us, our retailers and our suppliers with the exceptional take-up, and subsequent years built on consumers’ preparedness to revert to shopping locally knowing that a fair price was available.
We varied the brand offered, and the concept was a massive success. Having proved that this worked for all parties, we relished the opportunity to continue this important development and to build on it with Easter eggs and selection boxes.
” Some indies had to resort to buying tins from the mults to sell at no profit”
Unfortunately, and for no obvious reason it seems, the three major confectionery suppliers not only did not see a new opportunity but withdrew the support for large tins from our sector. We could not achieve anything near a competitive offer on tins and one supplier withdrew all bonusing on selection packs.
This halted a successful sales opportunity for our customers but also massively damaged consumer perceptions and buying habits that we were in the process of changing.
This double whammy meant that some ultra-professional independents who would not normally do so had to swallow their pride and buy tins from multiples to sell on at no profit just to ensure customers were not let down.
I am at a total loss to understand how it makes sense for suppliers to withdraw a demonstrable success from the most dynamic area of retail this Christmas - convenience retail.
Whether this decision was made in error or with total knowledge of the consequences it is a tragedy, which if not turned on its head forthwith will cause untold and unnecessary damage to the interests of all concerned.
Steve Parfett is chairman of AG Parfett & Sons