The Grocery Trader - Editor's Comment

This Issue

Volume12 Issue3

Here comes The Easter Bunny - 01/03/08
As the mornings get lighter and spring is on the way, there's a distinct lift in the national mood. The cold weather might not have gone completely, but people are positively perkier. Even the M25 looks more attractive. The morning this column was written, on the stretch near Heathrow Airport sheep were running in a line in the fields, as though copying the cars on the carriageway: they're definitely in the mood for spring.

It's been a bleak couple of months since New Year at the point of sale. Across Britain retailers great and small are hoping the Easter weekend, which kicks off on Thursday March 20th, will see a return to consumers spending freely again. The big wish is for the sunny mood to bring out the shoppers - and critically their wallets and purses - starting in the supermarkets.

So, welcome to the Grocery Trader's March issue. We're matching the mood and going with the flow with three features to raise your spirits. In our Organic feature, you can catch up on the latest news in this important area of the food and drink market. In Baby & Kids, the message is 'Little people, large opportunity': think food, drinks, medicines, feeding equipment, bath time and beyond. In our biggest feature in this issue, our Warehouse & Logistics Focus, you can update yourself on what's new in the back of the store in supermarkets and distribution centres - warehouse equipment including pallets, warehouse trucks and materials handling; warehouse IT, including barcode and RFID technology; supply chain technology; vehicle safety and security. Definitely worth a read!

Going back to Easter, serious churchgoers still like to bend the knee all through, but in marketing terms they're a niche market: for the vast majority of Brits the Easter weekend means four glorious days of freedom to see friends and family, be with your favourite people and do your favourite things, which for skinnies and fatties alike includes plenty of eating and drinking.

With Indian food firmly established as one of Britain's favourite cuisines, the chances are pretty high of people having a curry either out or at home some time over the Easter break. Geeta's Foods' prosperity is testimony to founder Geeta Samtani's passion and continuing enthusiasm for helping UK consumers experience the real taste of India. In our interview Anita Samtani, Geeta's daughter and a director of Geeta's Foods, speaks to The Grocery Trader about the tasty profit opportunity.

Have a good month, and a happy Easter!

Charles Smith.
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Sorry, no more cheques, please - 01/02/08
Welcome to the February Grocery Trader. It's been a gruesome few weeks since Christmas. Thankfully, the current severe weather is seasonal and will pass: the financial climate looks like staying stormy somewhat longer.

Recession or boom, older people know all about surviving on little cash. Many will be thrown by Tesco's decision not to accept personal cheques after 25 February. The move follows similar announcements from Marks and Spencer, who chuck out cheques on 1 March. Tesco and M&S join a long list of retailers who have stopped accepting them, including Asda and Sainsbury's.

Phasing out cheques means quicker service and improved security for big spending, busy customers, but it's problematic for the elderly, many of whom like to use cheques and cash. ATM provider Bank Machine says most people are still in favour of keeping cheques, and goes so far as to call the move 'a threat to freedom of choice.'

Encouragingly, Tesco say their stores will display prominent notices to warn customers of the forthcoming change, and promise to brief staff to advise older customers about alternative payment options.

Senior citizens' champions Help The Aged's spokesman told this column that their policy department are talking to the retailers at the appropriate level, and calling for them to be sympathetic. In the charity's words, many older people struggle with Chip & Pin and aren't immediately familiar with using them, so it's important for retailers to be flexible.

January was always going to be a bumpy ride for adult consumers of all ages, with post-Christmas credit card bills and the rest. But faced with rising oil, utilities and food prices and increasing economic uncertainty, many consumers will be cutting down for some time on spending.

Fortunately there are still plenty of shoppers who like to treat themselves, their friends and families to good food and drink, even in difficult times. So warm the cockles of your tills with this issue's features, including BBQ Time, looking at the essentials for a great Barbie, and Easter Celebrations, talking about getting ready to profit from the year's first big Bank Holiday break.

In tough trading, attractive packaging is even more critical in helping products win purchasers. In this issue we've got an interview with Nampak Cartons, who are going all out in 2008 to further develop their packaging business, supplying retailers in particular with packaging for chilled and frozen food, and the ever growing food to go sector.

Happy reading, and have a successful month.

Charles Smith.

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Good Times, Bad Times - You Choose - 01/01/08
Happy New Year, and welcome to the January 2008 Grocery Trader. We hope you are refreshed and in good health after Christmas. The big question is, are we heading for a recession and if so, how do we come through in good shape?

For venture capitalists, the answer is to pick companies with potential and bring in the talent to realise it. In our interview with Whitworths, we hear from Will Carter, the new Chief Executive. An ex-UB and KP McVitie's marketing expert, Will's brief is to give this beloved British food business an injection of 21st century consumer marketing and category management.

In classic recessions, a previously growing economy slows. Production dwindles, consumer and business spending dries up, companies sack staff to cut costs, and unemployment rises. Older readers have been here before of course, and today's lean, mean businesses are the result. Are we going there again, and what will it be like this time? How many costly layers of management can you slash without killing off a company?

You can argue that we've asked for a recession by letting a consumer culture develop where everything is done on the cheap. In parallel we have businesses paying bottom dollar wherever, whenever, oblivious to the consequences.

In our business, the inevitable result of every day low pricing means food and clothes sold at absurdly low prices. Seemingly, it's a ratchet mechanism that can't turn back - but like climate change, we must address it or face disaster.

Meanwhile we have to make a living. Even after redundancy, people still think positively about starting businesses. The attraction is the buzz of setting up an enterprise and the prospect of better returns than an ISA. Thanks to Dragon's Den, everyone with an idea is encouraged to believe they can be a millionaire - if you listen to Theo Paphites etc, it's "just" a matter of doing your homework and being bold.

Speaking of giving it your best shot, we've got two features in this issue to inspire you. Big Night In is all about treats for sharing. Banish the post-Christmas blues: encourage your shoppers to get sociable and start spending again. In Ethnic Food & Drink, we look at cuisines from around the world that are becoming increasingly important as we become more multi-cultural. There's a world of exciting products for your shoppers to explore. Have a great month!

Charles Smith
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