Research conducted by the Guild of Fine Food this month has identified some key trends emerging in independent food and drink as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, with producers and retailers reporting contrasting results. Having surveyed over 200 fine food businesses, 53% of retailers witnessed a year-on-year sales increase of at least 10% during March, while nearly half of producers saw a loss of 26% or more during the same period.
While highlighting this striking divide in fortunes between independent retailers and the producers who supply them, the research also provides an indication of morale levels within the industry at large, reporting that 95% believe they can survive the current pandemic. With many adapting fast to nimbly adapt their offerings in response to unrelenting pressure on national delivery services and ongoing product shortages, these delis, farm shops, cheesemongers and producers are displaying great resilience as they continue to provide a vital lifeline to people in their local communities.
As retailers and producers attempt to navigate their businesses through this unprecedented economic and social environment, the Guild of Fine Food’s research has also indicated limited use of government support across the sector, with many reporting difficultly in accessing this assistance. The £330bn loan pledge was rated as “not at all useful” by 62% of respondents, while only around one in ten (87%) have applied for the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) via their bank and 80% have not claimed on their business interruption insurance. However, the data did reveal that 35% of producers and 62% of retailers have or intend to furlough employees.
John Farrand, managing director of the Guild of Fine Food, commented: “The key metric for me is that two in three retailers are seeing an increase in new customers. While it’s easy to focus on the more troubling, and perhaps anticipated, statistics to have come through, I’m greatly encouraged by the ongoing optimism and resilience of our industry. As it’s widely reported that independent food shops are seeing healthy levels of trade from new shoppers, this should in turn give our producers a lift as they re-stock. What we all need to work on in the next couple of months is how to keep these new customers coming back, throughout the lockdown and beyond.”