Retailers that are still relying solely on sugary treats are missing out on a massive opportunity to cash in on health trends. Toby Hill speaks to Kent retailer Kate Mills to find out how she meets the demand
Healthier eating is among the most influential trends to shape convenience shopping during the past five years. Shoppers want to cut down on their sugar, salt and fat intake and a growing number of people are adopting specific diets, such as gluten-free or vegan.
Nineteen per cent of consumers expect to spend more on lactose-free, yeast-free or gluten-free products in the next six months, while the number of people following a vegetarian diet has risen by 26% over the past three years.
“I’m really seeing a trend towards healthier eating, and vegan and gluten-free diets is part of that,” says Kate Mills, owner of Heath Stores in Horsmonden, Kent.
“If I am delisting similar products and one is vegan, and one not, then I’ll choose to keep the vegan one,” she says. “I don’t have a massive vegan range, but we have plenty of local and artisan products that fit the bill.
“Last week, someone wanted to make up a hamper for a vegan friend. We easily found enough suitable products.”
Healthier diets bring challenges and opportunities for convenience retailers, whose business model usually lies in stocking a broad range, rather than targeting niche needs. But when stocked well, niche products offer great margins and a point of difference.
Make more from impulse purchases
In Kate Mills’ store, the biggest growth area in healthier products lies in snacks and sweets.
The best way to harness this demand, Kate says, is to do just the same as you would with other impulse lines, such as sugar confectionery; use secondary siting to place the products at the till, tempting people to grab them as they queue up to pay.
“We have included lots of healthier snacks at the till, and they’re very popular. People like having the option to choose something healthy,” she says. “We sell brands such as Nakd and Graze, and we’ve also started putting little snack packs of olives, nuts and dried fruit in the bays.”
Kate has noticed a similar trend in children’s confectionery, too, with many parents keen to coax their offspring away from full- sugar sweets.
To help them with this, Kate has displayed healthier options among conventional sugar confectionery, such as Bear dried fruit packs.
“We have a sign saying that we have sweets available containing less than 100 calories, which directs the parents to these healthier options,” Kate says. “However, we display them in the treat area, so children still feel like they’re getting something special.
“It works very well – as long as the parents make sure the kids believe it.
"My gluten-free range is all price-marked at £1. We have £1 cookies, digestives, rice cakes, chocolate rings, wafers and fibre biscuits"
Offer healthier drinks
Shifts in customer buying habits haven’t just affected food. Drinking preferences have changed hugely, too, says Julie Duhra, owner of Jules Premier Convenience Store in Hadley, Shropshire.
“People used to grab sugary drinks, but now we sell lots more water and sports and protein drinks,” she says.
Stores must offer a comprehensive range to maximise sales, she adds. “I make sure we have two sports caps, a cheaper own-label option, and branded screw tops such as Volvic and Glaceau Smartwater,” she says.
“The sports caps are particularly popular – we have a gym, school, college and offices nearby, and people from all those places will buy water.”
As well as bottled water, sugar-free sports drinks such as Lucozade, and protein milkshakes such as Happy Shopper and Boost, are also excellent sellers,
with gym-goers and office workers alike.
"People used to grab sugary drinks, but now we sell lots more water and sports protein drinks"
Meet the free-from crowd
As well as broader trends towards healthier eating, customers are increasingly pursuing specific diets, whether because of allergies, health or ethics.
Perhaps the most dramatic rise has been seen in the number of people now following a gluten-free diet.
But with so many products containing gluten – including, of course, some of the most basic staples, such as bread – how do retailers tailor their ranges to suit their customer base?
“We have a gluten-free area, with biscuits, snacks and cereals,” Kate says. “But I don’t stock gluten-free bread or flour – it just doesn’t sell, I’d sell one loaf of bread a month. Sometimes people come in distress shopping and ask me for it, and I have to explain that they would need to buy it more regularly for me to stock it.”
Mills believes that much of the gluten-free trend has its roots in the broader movement towards healthier eating, particularly among women looking to consume fewer calories. This, too, represents an opportunity for savvy retailers.
“My range of gluten-free pasta sells well, as it’s good for people who are aiming for a low-carb diet,” she says.
Elsewhere in the country, some retailers find that offering gluten-free products gives their store a helpful point of difference. Jasdev Jatana, owner of Family Shopper Subway in March, Cambridgeshire, has a two-metre section for gluten-free products and a one-metre section for sugar-free products, sourced from Squirrels Wholesale in Luton.
“My gluten-free range is all price-marked at £1. We sell £1 cookies, digestives, rice cakes, chocolate rings, wafers and fibre biscuits,” he explains.
“We go through 10 cases a week and they give our store a point of difference, as there’s nowhere else nearby selling these products.”