Thank you to #AskArena for another fascinating virtual event, discussing the road to recovery for Wholesale. Here are some of my take outs from the session:

Consumer Attitude

TWC carried out a consumer survey to establish consumer opinion as we approach April 12th.

There is huge eagerness to return to hospitality together with expected nervousness, but what is clear is the tremendous industry support being demonstrated across the board from consumers.

  • 39% will use hospitality outlets only after receiving 2 vaccine jabs. This goes across all age groups.
  • 23% happy to use hospitality from April12th – regardless, with more joining after the other lockdown milestones passing.
  • 70% will still have some concerns around safety when eating out when hospitality sector opens.

Technology will obviously play a big role in reassuring consumers – things like booking online, paying online, reducing human contact are likely to continue for some time. Consumers acknowledge service may be affected but that’s expected.

Many consumers have said they will ‘splurge’ when hospitality reopens, with some saying they would be happy to pay a deposit and higher prices. Consumers are also likely to consider paying a monthly subscription to build up credit at a local hospitality outlet or even to make a charitable donation.

Finally, there is a keenness for the continuance of meal kits, takeaway services, operator delivery etc and many consumers want outdoor eating and heating all year round.

Wholesaler Response to Lockdowns

Across the board, the biggest focus areas for wholesalers during and after the first two lockdowns have been safety, protecting the business, fair allocation to customers and creating opportunities to serve the nation.

Each lockdown has been very different and has resulted in a number of challenges such as supply during the panic buying (lockdown 1), and stock waste following the immediate closure of the industry (lockdown 2).

Key challenges for the re-emergence out of lockdown 3 are similar, customers want quality of products, availability, value and safety. But the experience of previous lockdowns now creates additional customer demands such as smaller minimum order quantities, more frequent deliveries and extended credit. In addition, they are looking to wholesalers and suppliers to provide insight, menu advice and support to maximise their reopening.

The Way Forward

Wholesalers need to demonstrate flexibility and agility to service their customers and need that same flexibility and agility from their suppliers. Inability to forecast and fluctuation in demand from customers is a given, so supplier understanding is key.

Insight and innovation will be in great demand as consumers are expecting a high standard – something different to what they have been achieving at home. In addition, sustainability, HFSS products, allergens and packaging will come back to the top of the agenda very quickly.

Wholesalers should listen and be responsive to any shift in demand and marketplace spend, to ensure the right range is available in the right categories. For example, food to go and convenience has seen massive change through investment into technology. Also, some suppliers and wholesalers introduced B2C offerings which may stay. These could be considered fantastic strides forward for the industry, that have simply been propelled by the pandemic, and are unlikely to disappear.

Ultimately there is optimism. A feeling that although things will look very different due to consumer habits changing, spend will return to previous levels fairly swiftly, albeit through different channels within hospitality.

Don’t miss out on the #AskArena events – take a look at the upcoming events here.