After the recent cold snap stopped normal life for many, EDFM’s John Eastwood took a look at the effect on the independent trade and found some clear reasons for cheer

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We don’t need reminding that at the end of February and the beginning of March, the whole country experienced bitterly cold, often sub-zero temperatures accompanied by heavy snowfall. 

But what effect did this have on independent retailers? EDFM data from a sample of more than 3,000 independent shops shows sales during the seven days ending 3 March were more than 6% higher in value compared with the average level of the previous four weeks. 

The conditions in many parts of the country made driving to the supermarket difficult – or in some cases impossible – so neighbourhood stores came into their own, particularly in rural communities. 

Stores in the London area saw little change, with shops inside the M25 showing a slight fall of 1.8% in value. But stores in Wales and the West Country showed rises of 12.3% and 11.8%, respectively. Independents in suburban areas or in ‘on the move’ locations close to rail or bus stations thrived, and sales soared in rural villages, proving how invaluable local stores are to many communities.

Turning to sales in individual sectors, high-volume product categories all remained relatively stable while the snow was on the ground. 

Local shopping replaced supermarket trips, leading to soaring grocery sales, with frozen food, canned goods and biscuits posting the highest rises – 52%, 43.7% and 41.9%. Cereals, bread and hot drinks also rocketed by 30.5%, 30.1% and 20.1%, respectively.

While the overall growth in sales value was very much influenced by exceptionally high grocery sales, alcohol sales were also up by more than the average, at 10.1%. Wine topped the list, with 19.7% growth, ahead of spirits, cider and beer.

Crisps and snacks sales also grew, by 4.4%, with larger sharing packs and multipacks showing much higher sales. Meanwhile, confectionery sales were up by almost 14%, firstly thanks to the normal pre-Easter seasonal build-up and secondly because confectionery, particularly chocolate, is comfort food in cold weather.

Lastly, tobacco sales grew slightly, by 0.6%. Cigarettes sales were virtually unchanged, while rolling tobacco grew by just over 3%. 

By 3 March, the thaw had started in most of the country. Supermarket trips became less of an expedition and life briefly got back to normal for most people. 

The result for independents was an inevitable fall in sales to below the level achieved before the Beast from the East struck. But it is also possible that stocks in independents were low because supply had been disrupted by the previous week’s weather. 

Overall, my conclusion is independent retailers deserve hearty congratulations for the way they served local customers during this disruption. 

John Eastwood is a data analyst for EDFM