Right now, business in retail and across the supply chain is very far from usual. Amidst the hell of this pandemic, the mantra of ‘business as usual’ should be followed by suppliers because that’s exactly what retailers need now more than at any other time in recent history. Effective communication, business continuity and your firm support is critical to them and critical to feeding the nation. Retailers need to hear how suppliers are working hard to not let them down and how they are pulling out all the stops to meet the unprecedented demand for food and drink.

At times of crisis the lines between trade and consumer communications do blur. Communication via the trade press is therefore critically important, it not only lets peers and customers know what suppliers are doing, it also helps get the message out to consumers.

Based on insights directly from retailers and the views of some leading trade journalists here’s why a proactive and positive stance to trade communications is exactly what’s needed.

Here are the five steps suppliers need to follow

  • Give reassurance

Retailers want to know how suppliers are managing the crisis. Suppliers need to give reassurances where possible that there is enough product in the pipeline and that they are working hard to ensure availability and supply.

Last week Warburtons came under some flak for prioritising its supply to the major multiples over its core convenience customers. Londis retailer, Atul Sodha took to Twitter to say: “I’ve had a grand total of 9 loaves through this crisis from a so-called family business – Warburtons. I’ve sold over 400 sliced loaves in 5 days from Cuisine De France from their foodservice offering. Big thank you to CDF for helping us to provide an essential to our community.” Atul is obviously disappointed by the lack of loyalty shown by Warburtons in his hour of need, so he has turned to another of his suppliers CDF and they’ve literally delivered! This isn’t something Atul will forget in a hurry when coronavirus has passed.  The actions suppliers take now will certainly shape attitudes and buying behaviour in the future.

Ronan Hegarty, News Editor, The Grocer and David Rees, Editor, Convenience Store recently shared their advice on what they think are the top things retailers need to hear from suppliers right now:

  • What is/isn’t available including new products
  • Reassurance of enough availability in the wholesale channel, or information if there is no availability
  • Details of how any range reduction will impact availability
  • Top down information detailing key lines for the coming months
  • Measures they are taking to ensure every channel gets its fair share. This is of particular concern especially as local shops are likely to become more important (less people/less crowded)
  • How ranges are going to be reduced and which key essential lines are going to be produced and from when

Our recommendation: Draft your COVID-19 response. Write trade press releases and get them out. Prepare Q&A’s. Update and adapt your messaging and response as this ever-changing situation unfolds.

  • Be Altruistic

Already there have been countless examples of retailers and businesses putting pure commercial gain to one side and instead showing real kindness and altruism. At the same time there have also been a few examples of retailers and suppliers seemingly doing the opposite and getting backlash for trying to profit.

Focusing on examples of altruism, our client British Honey Company quickly pivoted spare capacity in its spirits production to make denatured alcohol. It is currently prioritising deliveries of its hand sanitiser to the NHS. Another example is from Nisa, their independent retailers have stepped up community support to provide much needed funding to local good causes in their time of need. Stores have donated more than £65,000 through Nisa’s Making a Difference Locally charity to support them and their beneficiaries and ensure those most vulnerable are supported through these challenging times. Furthermore, hundreds of other supermarkets and convenience stores around the country are going the extra mile in many other selfless ways to deliver to and look after the elderly and vulnerable in their communities. This is rightly being applauded in all sections of the media.

If they haven’t done so already, now is the time for suppliers to consider how they can do more to support key workers, go the extra mile for retailers and support the vulnerable in society. For anyone unsure how to navigate this or undecided where their kindness and additional support might be best placed, then we can help. We have recommendations and ideas in place including sampling to key workers in hospitals and a network of independent convenience retailers who would value your support and/or products to distribute to their local communities at this time.

Our recommendation: Consider what help and support you’re able to give and where you can add the most value. Discuss ideas and together we can make plans and make them happen.

  • Continue to share news

Journalists will need a break from coronavirus reporting and retailers still want to consume other important and relevant news, so the message is simple, don’t hold back, just adjust the execution and recognise the context we are all living in.

NPD is a tough one. Suppliers will have spent months if not years in the development and planning of NPD and they want to give it the best chance of success. Unless what they are launching adds genuine value and meets a need during the current situation, then it’s probably advisable to park it. It’s something to look at on a case by case basis. Of course, any special packs, promotions or products that have been developed specifically to meet retailers’ and consumers’ needs during the coronavirus would be extremely well received – and we’re not just talking about hand sanitiser and paracetamol here.

That said, just last week we’ve seen news about the launch of Giant Skittles from Mars Wrigley, Tyrells launching a £2m advertising campaign and Lucozade Energy introducing a new Citrus Chill flavour. Perhaps the wheels were already in motion to affect a last-minute change of course, but I don’t think we should expect to see all NPD stop completely.

As I am writing this piece, news has just broken that some convenience stores have been wrongly told by police and local authorities that they can’t sell chocolate Easter eggs as they are deemed as non-essential goods. The Association of Convenience stores whose communications have been superb throughout this crisis have quickly stepped in to blame over-zealous enforcement officers for misreading the rules. Stores can indeed sell Easter eggs and other products that they would usually do. This further highlights that whilst life as we know it has changed dramatically, in an attempt to keep some normality, many of us will still be celebrating Easter and buying eggs in much the same way as we will be still be having BBQ’s at home when the summer arrives. Retailers can therefore expect to see demand for seasonal lines including any relevant NPD when these events and opportunities come around, so suppliers and retailers need to be ready.

Depending on when we do come out the other side of this – there is certainly going to be a plethora and rush to get NPD out into the market. That will bring its own challenges and pressure. Preparedness and contingency planning are therefore the name of the game.

Our recommendation: Create contingency plans for news and NPD. Prepare press launch materials so you are ready to go. Talk to us about creative ways we can help you to communicate other new news during this time including virtual press briefings and innovative communications to the trade.

  • Support forward features

Aside from 2020 features about the now postponed Olympics and Euros, the vast majority of features editors we’ve spoken to in recent days have said planned forward features will be going ahead – but of course support is needed from suppliers. Key seasonal events and occasions will still be happening, albeit no-one knows whether we will still be in lock-down or social distancing by the time they come around. The features are being written now for the months ahead, so with care and due consideration to the here and now, continuing to provide insight, opinion, news and advertising support for the key category features coming up is needed and encouraged.

Our recommendation: Work with journalists to provide relevant insights and trend data. Prepare your feature responses and arrange interviews as necessary. Put information into context of current crisis.


  • What you do today shapes your tomorrow in the new world

How you react, adapt and respond to the COVID-19 crisis now and how you communicate what you are doing will shape how retailers and consumers view and regard you in the brave new world. Priorities will almost certainly change, and plans will have to adapt, but those suppliers who do the right thing to help keep feeding the nation and fully support retailers, whilst planning ahead for the future will thrive.

Our recommendation: Work with us to navigate and be proactive through the months ahead. Support retailers to build partnerships to meet immediate needs and drive long term value.

 It’s business as usual at Jellybean. To discuss any of the points raised in this article or to find out more about how we can help – please contact:

Neil Brenson

Associate Director

Jellybean Creative Solutions.


Photo credit: Nisa Local, High Heath, Walsall