Know your stuff – retail is detail

Simon Latham Blog, Retail

I was pleased to see a significant number of major retailers (including Tesco, M&S, ASDA & Sainsbury’s) and the BRC come out publicly expressing their concern about a “no deal” Brexit, citing significant disruption in the supply chain and a somewhat depleted choice of fresh foods for customers.

As an avid Twitter user, I particularly enjoyed reading the many diverse responses to the retailers’ concerns – ranging from the “project fear” missives to the “about time” ones. However, what really struck home was that there is a massive range of knowledge (or lack of it) concerning the food chain – particularly for fresh foods from a significant chunk of the “tweeting” population.

Many do not understand seasonality and what type of environment is best to grow and rear things well. We cannot (yet I believe) have edible British apples and pears all year round. We do not grow bananas – unless we share the bunch grown in Kew Gardens and we do not grow a whole load of exotic fruit and many vegetables.

In previous roles, I bought fresh produce, meat, fish, poultry, eggs and horticulture for three major multiple grocers. Each role was amazing in its own right – I loved the trips to Chile, RSA and NZ when buying fruit, although I seem to remember the trips to Scunthorpe for poultry less fondly!

It was drilled into me and my peers that we had to “know our stuff” or as Lord Sainsbury originally said, “retail is detail”. As an example, when buying Royal Gala apples, I had to learn where the fruit came from and when. The Southern Hemisphere (SH) apple season runs from March until late August, early September and during each season – fruit is first picked in countries further east moving westward as the season progresses. So, during the Northern Hemisphere season fruit is available from Eastern Europe first – from countries like Poland & Hungary and then would ripen in countries further west starting with Germany, Austria, France and then the UK.

To buy 1 apple variety over a year, you need to visit 2 hemispheres, at least 8 countries and 80+ growers. Now multiply this by 20 apple varieties! And then there are pears… Overall, the fresh food supply chain is a complex jigsaw that had to be understood to ensure continuity of supply from country to country appearing to be seamless at the shelf-edge.

At 4C, we have a wealth of experience of delivering great benefits to retailers in the fresh foods, ambient grocery and non-foods arena’s. With the uncertainty that surrounds Brexit, we have advised several businesses and helped construct plans for a multitude of scenarios. Our team includes several incredibly experienced ex-retailers ready to come to help your business. We like to get stuck in and will work with you to facilitate easily implementable solutions – we will get those Royal Gala to your shelves!