Overcoming challenges

The inescapable savoury snacking story of the past few months has been retailers losing access to the majority of Walkers products towards the end of last year. 

Supplier PepsiCo attributed the lack of availability to an IT system upgrade that disrupted logistics, and a fi re at a major factory. The shortage saw retailers looking for different ways to keep their crisps shelves stocked. 

Although many retailers suffered from the lack of van sales and rep visits, Julie Kaur Duhra, of Jules Convenience, was more fortunate, reaping the benefits of being more nimble than her nearby multiple competition. “I’m fortunate that I pick up from a cash and carry, so the Walkers shortages didn’t affect me, and I had so many customers come in for my crisps. I’ve got a Tesco and a Lidl half a mile away from me, and their deliveries weren’t coming through. I was well stocked – even the Walkers rep was surprised,” she says. 

Her experience shows how vital certain key brands are for shoppers when they know they can get them nearby. She also found success in other brands when she had to deal with gaps in her shelves. “McCoy’s have taken off for me. When I couldn’t get as many lines of Walkers as I’d need to fill the shelves, I introduced them. I cut them down to one flavour when Doritos and Nik Naks came back, but I’ve had customers ask for them, so I’ve got them back in,” she explains.

Big-format boost

Singles was the last pack format to be made available, which is perhaps a symptom of wider trends encouraged by the pandemic. The shift to home working led to an increased desire for larger packs, and while hybrid working models and the return of schools has meant there is a theoretical place for singles, PMPs have retained their newfound importance. 

It’s part of a value perception, says Alan Mannings, of The Shop on the Green in Chartham, Kent. “Big bags are definitely selling best. They see the big bag for one as opposed to paying 55p for a smaller bag, so for a bit more money they get a lot more crisps.” Kaur Duhra also primarily sells £1 PMPs to students from a nearby college. She says: “The college kids love them, and they all have £1 to throw at you.” 

Despite the return to commuting for many people, they have brought their preference for larger snack formats with them. Meanwhile, at Jay’s Budgens in Crofton Park, south London, Pratik Patel finds having a multipack offering important to serve parents who stock up for the week ahead for their children’s packed lunches. Overall, according to Scott Snell, vice president of customer at Pladis UK&I, singles aren’t the growth area even in a post-lockdown world. 

“Last year, moments of ‘togetherness’ became a key part of the nation’s routine, with shoppers spending more evenings indoors at home – and this continues to ring true. “Larger packs continue to drive signifi cant volume growth – with sharing packs and multipacks growing by 17.8% and 11.7%, respectively. This means that snacks in larger, sharing formats are must-stocks.”

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Opportunities to expand

As sharing formats gain more market share, and consumer spending in the category increases, it’s in this area of your store that you could drive shopper premiumisation and experimentation. 

“‘Together Time’ is the largest category opportunity due to the size of the sharing occasion,” says Matt Collins, trading director at KP Snacks. “Consumers have understandably spent more time at home in recent years, fuelling an increased desire to make at-home occasions feel more special. 

The sharing segment is the largest in the category, worth 1.4bn and growing strongly at 6.9%. “Snacks are a hugely important part of the sharing occasion. 49% say snacks are a must-have for an evening in,” he adds. 

It’s here that Patel found success with higher prices and healthier options, the latter of which are increasingly important with this year’s upcoming high fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) legislation. “We do Manomasa crisps for around 2.50 a bag and Torres Spanish for 4 a bag,” he says. “We also sell a lot of Eat Real crisps and baked crisps such as Popchips. “We will need to adhere to HFSS, but the market has gone that way naturally.”

Available versus adaptable

According to Collins, the crisps, snacks & nuts category is worth £3.5bn and is growing by 4.6% annually, with shoppers spending an extra 100 compared with last year. Even with the loss of a key brand, as seen last November, retailers should be able to give their shoppers a varied crisps-and-snacks offering that will leave them satisfied. 

Hussan Lal had only stocked Walkers crisps at his St Mirren Food Store in Paisley prior to the shortage, but has now permanently diversified his range. “Golden Wonder started to supply the cash and carries,” he says. “When you have no option, you bring in what you can, and sales picked up.” Although he has brought Walkers back, barring some flavours such as Tomato Ketchup, Golden Wonder lines now have a permanent place alongside them.

Kaur Duhra and Lal’s divergent experiences of the Walkers shortage show there are different ways to turn a lack of a popular product into an advantage, either by nimbly making your store the only one offering it, or by exposing your customers to previously unconsidered brands. This is where making sure to replace key flavours can be helpful, even if it’s with a different brand. 

For example, KP’s decision to launch its McCoy’s Sizzling King Prawn in a 1 pack is driven by sales of prawn flavours growing nearly four times as fast as the ridged-crisp category itself. See which flavours sell best for you and examine your wholesaler or cash and carry’s offerings to have potential replacements lined up in the event of usual sellers being unavailable.

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