Co-ops UK Retail Conference

It was good to spend Friday and Saturday at the annual Co-ops UK conference for members who are retailers, a great chance to share notes and build relationships. A good turnout of Co-op Council colleagues (some also wearing other hats) plus Gareth Thomas, Helen Grantham and myself from the Group Board and executive.

As usual one of the highlights was the presentation from James Walton, chief economist at the IGD (Institute of Grocery Distribution), with a masterly overview of trends in the marketplace and consumer attitudes.

Take home thoughts from his presentation included: * the impact of Brexit likely to be negative in short to medium term at least, with 40% of our food imported from the EU. * Consumer confidence is consequently at a record low ebb. * Although there is projected growth in grey sales over the next five years, most of this will be form inflation and a little bit to reflect population growth. * Convenience, discounting and online sectors would continue to grow whilst larger supermarkets woful continue to shrink. * Future shoppers will be much more conscious of both health and ethical issues – and even if they still excuse themselves when they consume less-ethical products they will not excuse big companies for ethical lapses. * Growth in plant-based diets seems likely to continue.

There were also useful sessions on trends in the funerals market (including a presentation from Alison Close of the Co-op) and a discussion of initiatives on food waste, tacking anti-social behaviour and making food provenance more transparent in local supply chains.

Encouraging local suppliers

Took a day out a couple of weeks ago to visit four small companies feeding products into our new local ranges in North Yorkshire. A wonderful chance to see how cheese, cakes, ale and burgers are made using local ingredients and recipes. The picture is me inspecting cheeses at Shepherd’s Purse. Thanks to the staff who took the time to explain about their businesses and production processes.

shepherds-purseCo-op is trying to bring more products from local small-scale suppliers into our stores – offering a choice customers tell us they want and also helping those companies to build their capacity to sell to other organisations too. It’s an important contribution we can make to the local community. The initiative is already up and running in Yorkshire and Lancashire, and soon to be rolled out to other regions. It adds logistical complexity, but is a great thing for us to do as an expression of the Co-op Way: and makes some really tasty products more widely available.