2017 – A Year in Review

Despite the result of 2016’s EU referendum, we still have little indication as to what our newly independent status will look like. One thing is for certain – confidence has definitely been shaken. Pre-vote consumer confidence had peaked with spend up across the board, but with consumers now drawing back and spending less (but still expecting more!), what does that hold for our customer-centric industry?

The booming casual dining channel, growing at an unprecedented level in recent years, has come to a gradual halt, impacting the ambitious expansion plans for many familiar brands. One cuisine that has particularly fallen victim is burgers. Only a year ago, gourmet burger joints seemed to be popping up on every high street, with optimistic plans to expand exponentially. The reality has been very different, with the likes of Ed’s Easy Diner bought out of pre-pack administration at the end of 2016, seeing the closure of 26 of its 59 restaurants. Barbeque group, Grillstock also fell into administration in November, and in October, it was reported that Byron could be the latest chain to be sold in a cut-price deal – with 13 of its sites loss-making and a further 12 marked for review.

It’s not all doom and gloom for casual dining – this week Nando’s reported sales uplift of 13% driven by organic growth and increased sales associated with global new restaurant openings. And our love of all things Italian (particularly pizza) shows little sign of slowing, as Zizzi announced a trial take-away concession within selected Sainsbury’s stores.

Undoubtedly, the biggest winner of 2017 has been delivery, with the likes of Deliveroo and UberEats changing the way we do take-away. Although still fairly limited outside of major metropolitan areas, this dynamic service is worth keeping an eye on as we move into 2018.

Retail has also seen its share of ups and downs. The collapse of P&H shocked many at the end of November, as the business cited ‘challenging trading conditions’ for the loss of 2,500 jobs. The news comes at a time when the grocery wholesale market is in a period of transition, as Tesco wins approval of its Booker takeover and the Co-op’s buy-out of Nisa has won the backing of shareholders. Who knows what 2018 will hold for this consolidated market?

As a former P&H commercial director reports in last week’s RN magazine, the biggest lesson to be learnt is complacency. He claims the business made a mistake in prioritising multiple accounts for miniscule margins, instead of the thousands of vibrant and conscientious independent retailers who need help and support from their suppliers, to drive their business. The high volume, low margin model of the wholesale channel won’t change overnight but hopefully it will encourage more collaboration and engagement with end users – the life-blood of the channel.

With many lessons to be learnt, let’s hope the failure of some can help to inform the success of others. Here’s to 2018…. whatever it may hold!

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