NOVEMBER DIGITAL EDITION – Blooming healthy Lidl expansion and Blakemore results confirm industry’s strength

Welcome to the November issue of The Grocery Trader. While Brexit rumbles on, Britain’s grocery industry is in blooming good health, with Lidl, the UK’s fastest growing supermarket, progressing plans to invest £1.45bn here over the next year. It has just exchanged contracts on a 34-acre Peterborough site, for a new 754,000 sq ft RDC, its sixth in 12 months and largest in the UK to date, creating 500 jobs.

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In its centenary year Britishowned A.F. Blakemore has reported sales of £1,299.7m for the year to 30 April, up 1.4%, and profits at £7.4m, consistent with last year’s £7.5m. Chairman Peter Blakemore called it “a good, solid result” during a time of intense change in food retail and wholesale. As the lines blur between retail and wholesale, Blakemore currently operates 291 retail SPAR stores, serves 763 independently owned SPAR stores and runs 13 cash & carry and delivered depots.

Raisins to be angry, parts one, two, three. In some quarters of the UK media, dried fruit is being portrayed as the villain of the piece, with the Daily Mail among others quoting British dentists who allege that raisins are bad for your teeth and worse than sweets.

The true story is in fact very positive, as revealed at last month’s National Dried Fruit Trade Association Conference, supported by California Raisins, who are behind a lobbying campaign to state the case, as we report in this issue.

Breakfast’s position as the most important meal of the day is under threat, according to nut butters producer Meridian Foods. Around half of us spend less than ten minutes on breakfast and the average time is just 13 minutes, the chilled exceptions being consumers over 55 and people in the South West. It makes the food to go opportunity even more important for supermarkets and convenience format stores.

In these pages we have features on Table Talk, looking at sauces and condiments and The Lite Stuff, covering low, no, free from and other alternatives. On the Lite Stuff front, 20 years ago a gluten free loaf cost as much as £7 in a health store, but Tesco is now selling a 400g sliced gluten-free loaf from Juvela, the leading gluten-free prescription bread brand, for £2.80.

In our Table Talk feature, Heinz Tomato Ketchup sales fell 13% last year as consumers experimented elsewhere, but the ‘big red one’ continues to dominate sauce sales. New products focused around hot and spicy flavours or otherwise inspired by world cuisines are doing well, but have not changed matters drastically.

The food and drink industry has always had its eyes on the future, but Brexit is making it even more important. As we went to press a Food and Drink Wales Industry Board conference, entitled ‘Invest in Skills: Invest in Growth’ was set to grapple with future skills shortages in a post- Brexit food and drink industry. A second such conference is planned for February.

Finally, social media is changing the way Nisa Retail’s shoppers and retailers keep in touch. The consumer facing Nisa Locally Facebook page has seen a 29% increase in fans over the last 12 months and there is a 46% increase in @NisaLocally Twitter followers. Corporate Twitter account @NisaRetail followers are up 40% year on year, with a 4,236% increase in interactions.