Unitas urges suppliers not to overlook independents

Wholesale group Unitas has urged suppliers not to overlook independent convenience, as the sector is tipped to be “the channel for growth this year”. 

Speaking to RN at the company’s annual tradeshow in Liverpool on 9 March, Unitas managing director John Kinney said he had stressed to suppliers during a briefing that independent retailers were set to outgrow supermarket convenience. 

He said: “We see independent retail as the channel for growth this year. There’s disproportionately high growth in convenience according to the latest research from analyst IGD, with people shopping little and often.” 

Kinney explained that as the increase in demand in convenience stores during the pandemic continues to fade, independent retailers will see growth as customers prioritise value in the cost-of-living crisis. 

He urged suppliers to provide more transparency on price increases for retailers, as a number of brands squeezed the profit on price-marked packs (PMPs) last year. 

He added: “Customers need to be seeing value in stores, and you have to be protecting that value. PMPs are the way to communicate this. 

“We understand suppliers face their own pressures on costs. We ask that they communicate in advance when there are these issues. 

“We want little and often, we want PMPs and we want promotions. For suppliers, you’ve got to make sure you’re protecting this channel. 

“If suppliers don’t have a strong independent channel, they’ll lose out to multiples.” 

Improvements for stores 

To help communicate the importance of independent convenience to suppliers, Unitas launched its Brand Box scheme in 2020, enabling retailers to introduce samples of new products into their stores for free. 

The scheme has performed well, according to Kinney, with Unitas due to introduce it to its foodservice and hospitality customers. 

The company is also set to expand core lines in its Lifestyle own-label range by the end of the month. 

Unitas saw an increase in retailers choosing to shop around at cash and carries instead of using delivered wholesale, as they were seeking the best deals for their stores amid rising overheads. 

However, Kinney warned a reliance on this approach could lead to retailers stocking a number of unknown lines at inconsistent and uncompetitive prices. 

Commenting on store expansion, Kinney said the company added 100 retailers to its Today’s, Lifestyle Express and Day- Today symbol groups last year. He added that a focus was to visit members and help refresh store layouts and ranges to cater to changing customer demand. 

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