Feb 18th, 2021
9 mins

The outlook for UK retail – Five trends to focus on in 2021

by Nick Gladding, Senior Retail Analyst, IGD

After the tumultuous year that was 2020, what can we expect in the grocery sector in the year ahead? In this article, Nick Gladding introduces five themes which he explores in his webinar.

EU Exit – Deal adds to cost pressures

It was a nail-biting ride, but the signing of the Trade and Co-operation Agreement on Christmas Eve provides the sector with a much better outcome than the no deal scenario that many feared. The deal means that there will not be tariffs and quotas on qualifying or “originating” food and drink traded between the EU and the UK. Without a deal, new tariffs would have added significantly to prices for imported goods. Tesco suggested average food prices could have risen by up to 5%.  That said, no deal, however favourable, could replicate the trade benefits of being inside the EU. New border procedures and the requirement to prove that goods have been locally produced to qualify for tariff-free treatment will add significantly to business costs and put upward pressure on retail prices, fueling the drive for further cost savings. The deal certainly isn’t business as usual.

Recession – a polarising impact across households

With lockdown restrictions expected to be eased, what will be the impact on grocery spending as shoppers regain their freedoms? As government relief schemes are scaled back, unemployment is certain to rise. The UK workforce is already contracting, with 1 million fewer jobs than this time last year, and the losses are bound to increase as government support schemes are wound down.  As in the Credit Crunch of 2008, the impact is being felt most by young adults and the lower-paid workers – those with the weakest financial resources. For wealthier households, the position is typically very different. With jobs switching to working from home and outgoings greatly reduced, many have built up substantial savings over the last year. The challenge for food retailers will now be to step up communication on value to reach out to those on limited budgets while also providing inspiration for the more affluent to continue their higher levels of grocery spending when the foodservice sector reopens.

Changing shopping priorities – retailers update their strategies

Recent initiatives at Sainsbury’s illustrate this need to inspire shoppers while also competing harder on value. Last week, it launched its own Aldi Price Match to strengthen its appeal with price sensitive customers, building on a steady drive over the last few years to become more price competitive on key lines. At the same time, it has also pledged to triple its number of new product launches and speed up its innovation process to provide more choice for shoppers on the shelf. At Tesco, the focus is on nurturing the loyalty of its core shoppers by concentrating the best promotions through its Clubcard Prices scheme and building on the value improvements it has already delivered. Across the Big Four we’re also seeing a new wave of format innovation centred around compact formats that better serve local missions; Sainsbury’s has launched its Neighbourhood Hub stores and Tesco has opened up its first superstore in six years, in Penwortham, Lancashire. Meanwhile, Morrisons is taking its inspiring Market Kitchen concept to new locations to provide shoppers with a new reason to choose its stores.

The future of online – how should the channel be developed?

Following an exceptional surge in online sales triggered by the pandemic, the need to make the channel more profitable has become more pressing to protect overall margins. Key here will be to encourage more shoppers to use Click & Collect which we estimate is 6% more profitable than using home delivery. It’s more profitable still if micro fulfilment centres are used; our research indicates a 1.2% margin on each order is possible by making Click & Collect a sustainable long-term solution*. Retailers will also want to secure the loyalty of new online customers they have acquired during the pandemic. This could lead to the rise of the omnichannel loyalty schemes similar to Walmart+ in the US.

Sustainability – Climate change conference will heighten the need for progress

With the pandemic making people much more conscious of the links between their health and that of the planet, retailers are committed to progressing strategies on sustainability. Alongside actions to reduce plastics usage, expect a concerted drive to encourage shoppers to make better choices. The COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow in November is likely to impact shopper behaviour so retailers and suppliers should work collaboratively to meet the appetite for more sustainable solutions. It’s likely we’ll see a repeat of the Blue Planet II effect. Prior to the release of the David Attenborough fronted series, 28% of shoppers told us that their food’s impact on the environment was an important consideration to them. By the end of Blue Planet’s run, this was 40% – and it has remained at that level ever since.

*Source: Online profitability: opportunities for retailers and manufacturers, IGD Retail Analysis


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