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The impact of the pandemic and supply chain disruption had led retailers to take a ‘more conservative approach’ to buying, claimed British Berry Growers

Berry growers have accused retailers of being overly cautious in their buying strategies and passing up the opportunity to sell more produce.

Growers enjoyed a bumper Jubilee and this year’s strawberry harvest is expected to be bigger than usual. However, the impact of the pandemic and supply chain disruption had led retailers to take a “more conservative approach” to buying, suggested Nick Marston, chair of industry body British Berry Growers.

The situation had not returned to “normal” this year, he added, as BBG’s members reported retailers were buying less and were “a little less willing to really promote berries in the way they used to”.

Rob Harrison, commercial director at grower Berry Gardens, backed up the comments. “We have seen a trend driven by uncertainty around volatile sales performance that has resulted in a cautious approach to store wastage risk,” he said.

“As a result, the impact has been a reduction in retailers pushing stocks into stores, which has left shelves empty for significant periods.”

Marston suggested buyers were applying this approach to multiple categories as customers grew more willing to accept out-of-stocks.

“Retailers always react to what their customers react to, so if their customers react really badly to finding out-of-stocks, then retailers will make very sure they haven’t got any,” he explained.

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“I think people, rather than retailers, have got used to out-of-stocks… And I suspect retailers are less bothered by it because their customers at the moment are less bothered.”

This concern around broader availability was reflected in The Grocer 33’s annual mystery shopper competition data, which last week revealed average average weekly product availability was down 41% across the major multiples over the past year.

“I think there is big opportunity for any retailer who wants to really concentrate on availability and service level again and I think they could steal a march on their competitors,” said Marston.

“At the end of the day the big multiples are all pretty well the same in terms of their offer, their pricing and everything else. They need to differentiate themselves in some way and it just strikes me that that is an opportunity,” he added.

“We all need to see some stability return to help retailer and consumer confidence return and help ensure consumers can access fruit at whatever point in the week they are shopping,” said Harrison.