Thursday, 23 April 2009

The Rise and Rise of the Packed Lunch, and a Chilling Comment from Tesco

In another example of people rapidly changing behaviour to save money, we learn from TNS, the market research company, that 28million of us ate a total of 4.2 billion packed lunches in the last twelve months. That's a growth of 6%, or 226 million more lunches.

Making your own sarnies is definitely a lower cost option, with an average spend per lunch box of £1.30p. Each box contains an average of 3.4 items, being the sandwiches, and a combination of a drink, packet of crisps and a sweet treat. Sometimes a piece of fruit is added, but usually alongside the treat as opposed to a replacement for it.

Packed lunches are now a way of life for those in the workplace, particularly young adults, as well as for schoolchildren. But we are generally quite conservative about what goes into the sandwiches. 69% of us stick to the same two types of filling, and cheese and ham remain the most popular.

There are two other lunch box trends which reflect the drive to cut costs. Alot more leftovers are being used, like pasta, and rice to make the lunch more filling. And there is less of a drive to include healthy products, which tend to be more expensive and less substantial.

TNS does not say this but the fact that so many more packed lunches were eaten during the coldest winter for decades when most bodies would be crying out for warm nourishment, highlights the efforts people will make to balance budgets.


Much has been written about Tesco's annual results with most commentators rightly finding much to admire, despite the business losing market share. However, analysts will soon knock the company if share loss continues, and Tesco itself will be smarting from being second best to competitors. The following statement from Sir Terry Leahy should produce a chill in the heart of every Tesco supplier:-

"In the coming year we expect to trade the business harder.....investing more in cutting prices, sharpening promotions, and putting even more affordable products on our shelves".

So the question is who will pay for the price reductions, and who is monitoring that Tesco trades fairly with all its suppliers as it delivers the promised price cuts. Another reason to support appointment of a supermarket watchdog with teeth.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Internet Grocery Shopping - How Big Will it Get?

This week saw another salvo in the internet grocery shopping war with Waitrose scrapping its delivery fee on orders over £50. MD of Waitrose Mark Price, interviewed on Sky News, reckons that online grocery shopping it could be worth £13bn, or 10% of food bought, and he is planning to grow Waitrose’s online sales from a current £70m to £300m in the next 4 years.

Mr. Price is not alone in planning a big future for online. Sainsbury’s delivers 90,000 online orders per week , has seen sales grow by 40% year on year, and has marked the area out as a development priority. Tesco in their 2008 annual report said sales had grown by 31%. ASDA recently revamped their website. Ocado, who are an online venture only, part owned by Waitrose, have committed to matching Tesco on the price of its prepacked products, meaning it often undercuts Waitrose in store prices. The bullish views about the future are supported by the IGD, who estimate that the market was worth £3.5bn in 2008 and will double in size to £7.1bn by 2013.

So what do we know about online grocery shopping now, and why might it grow?

At £3.5bn the market is still small, despite being available for at least 8 years. According to TNS the market research company, speaking at a recent Meat Outlook conference, online sales account for 2% of Tesco’s till roll, about 0.6% of ASDA’s, and about 0.5% of Sainsbury and Ocado.

TNS also tells us that the heaviest on line shoppers are those with children 0-4 years old, 6.5% of this age group shop online. The lightest shoppers are retirees, of whom just over 1% shop online. High earners, of whom 7% shop online, are over 4 times more likely to shop this way than lower income groups.

Again, these are small numbers, so in an age of increasing technological savvy, the presence in other sectors of tried and tested models such as Amazon, and the faster times that broadband presents, what might be stopping people from using the internet to grocery shop?

Well, its got a bit of a bad reputation for reliability of delivery service, and quality of products delivered. Consumer magazine “Which” did a small but widely reported survey at the end of 2007 which said that online groceries arrived with very short shelf lives, less than those to be found in store. More recently, Mumsnet, the social site for mothers with young children, gives real life examples of the issues, showing a thread from last month where mums talked about banana yoghurts being substituted for bananas, wilting fruit and veg, and deliveries not turning up when promised. These mums concluded that the quality of experience varied a lot not just between different supermarkets, but from different stores within the same supermarket.

At the other end of the scale, IGD did some research with over 60’s and found that they would use the internet more if the sites were easier to navigate around, security could be guaranteed, quality would be consistent, prices were equal to those in store, delivery charges reduced, and the sites made easier to navigate around.

On the subject of growth potential, it is clear that supermarkets are working to address the issues, particularly making the sites more user friendly. Tesco’s idea of drawing attention to a cheaper version of what might first be selected is a great one, and far easier than walking up and down the shelves looking for the best buy. Sainsbury’s offers hundreds of recipes and allows you to buy all the necessary ingredients with just a click. The supermarkets are also making sure that there is no price disadvantage to shopping on line.

One key challenge for them all is to communicate more clearly and consistently the benefits of online shopping, particularly to key target groups such as mothers who must find it a struggle to organise all the paraphernalia needed to go shopping with a young child, and to older groups who may welcome the benefits such as having heavy shopping delivered to the door. Interestingly many of the Mumsnet mums were so committed to the benefits of online that they were prepared to shop around until they found a store they could rely on. But not everybody will be prepared to do this, so the other key challenge for supermarkets is to ensure total consistency, making every online shopping experience a good one.

Solve both of these and online could easily achieve 10% of all food buying.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Consumers and the Credit Crunch - Latest Views on Food Buying Behaviour

In the words of Justin King of Sainsbury, speaking during a business performance update last week - “the consumer is in a bad place just now”. Which is not really surprising, given the amount of depressing economic news.

Nevertheless, both Sainsbury and Morrisons, who also gave a business update last week, feel that food is one of the last things where consumers are prepared to trade down. A view echoed by the IGD (Institute of Grocery Distribution) who say their research indicates that “Economising is not the same as down trading”. Sainsbury’s “Basics” range is indeed up 60% year on year, but it still accounts for only 3% of total sales. Sales of their premium “Taste the Difference” range are “off the pace”, which is corporate speak for falling, but the range is still 2.5x as big as Basics, and the sales decline is attributed to a drop in the market for ready meals, rather than a flight from quality. Morrisons “The Best” premium range is up by 5.3%
So there is still a search for good food, and a Times Populus survey (26th March) put quality as equal to value for money when it comes to choosing a store. But its not quality at any price. Instead, people are far pickier about what they buy and energetic about finding the best deals.

The search for good deals is leading to much shopping around. The days of convenient one stop shopping have given way to two and even three stop shopping and both Morrisons and Sainsbury claim an increase in numbers of shoppers in their stores. What this suggests is that the traditional way of categorising stores is dead. No longer can we say Sainsbury and Waitrose upmarket, ASDA and Morrisons downmarket, and Tesco in the middle. Its much more individual than that now with each shopper asking whether the quality /value equation at a particular store at a particular time is right for them. Looking at the crystal ball I’d say that the next big strategic challenge from supermarkets will be how to build loyalty. Meanwhile value offers will become increasingly innovative.

Once in the store, what the shopper buys is changing. The aforementioned ready meals market is plummeting, and TNS (Taylor Nelson Sofres) the market research company tells us that frozen foods are growing by over 9% year on year, enjoying a change in status from poor relation to a wise choice due to cheaper prices and far less waste.

The IGD as well as the supermarkets tell us that there’s a lot more cooking from scratch going on, apparently herbs and fresh pasta are flying off the shelves in Morrisons. And there is a return to families eating together.

There are mixed views about whether ethical purchasing is taking a back seat. The decline in the organic market has been reported to death (sales down 15% in the last three months, bread down 31%, vegetables down 10% according to TNS), but as is being acknowledged even by the Soil Association, the issue here is that consumers can’t get their heads around why organics in general are worth a premium. Animal welfare issues though remain important to consumers. Sainsbury stressed again last week that this is something shoppers search for, and IGD research confirms it. The question of course is where this welcome concern about animal welfare will go next and there are reports that Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall is turning his attention to dairy cattle.

So in summary, the recession is leading to changes in what and how shoppers buy. They are not prepared though to sacrifice quality, and will shop around to get it at the right price. Equally they are prepared to support ethical products where they clearly understand what it is that they are paying for.