EXCLUSIVE: Cost-of-living crisis is an opportunity for indies, says Spar MD

Independent retailers can use food to go to their advantage during the cost-of-living crisis, according to Spar UK managing director Louise Hoste. 

The symbol group’s boss told betterRetailing that changing customer habits due to squeezed incomes could play into the hands of retailers. She said: “We’re seeing food services as an opportunity. 

“What we’re starting to see is people are going to eat out less, so there’s more opportunity for them to eat in. 

“They could get the meals for eating in from a convenience store. It could be a pre-prepped ready meal, or frozen meal, but it could equally be a food-to-go meal. It’s an opportunity for convenience stores to take right now.” 

Similarly, Hoste highlighted opportunities around alcohol relating to events such as the football World Cup. 

She added: “I think alcohol is going to re-emerge as another opportunity. People may not be able to afford to go out for a drink. They’ll recreate what they got used to during the pandemic. 

“One of the pieces I really remember in lockdown was the demand around bigger packs of beers, which historically would have never sold in a convenience store. 

“People were buying them and we’ve now retained many of those customers.” 

Asked how the firm is supporting retailers to cater to this demand, Hoste said it was looking at refrigeration and digital shelf-edge labels. She told betterRetailing: “It could be improving store infrastructure through refrigeration or lighting. 

“We’d also look to add shelf-edge labels or in-store video screens. At the same time, we’re looking at using robotics to help retailers manage functions such as accounts payable-type activities. 

“Where we can’t add value by using a human, can we automate this? We’re starting to look at how we can do this more.” 

Hoste added that the company’s field teams were working with retailers to manage their costs. 

She said: “Our business development managers and wholesalers are working hard with retailers to offer advice and guidance on best practice, whether that’s how to be more efficient in the store or working smartly. 

“This involves examining how to save hours. Do they have the ability to spend capital and invest in chillers and lighting so they can reduce their energy bills? 

“A big part of this is supporting retailers and trying to guide them.” 

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