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Industry thought-leaders address London Produce Show

13 June 2014

A packed ballroom in the Grosvenor House at the London Produce Show & Conference last week heard 11 different perspectives from around the globe on the UK marketplace and its challenges.

Delegates enjoyed a sumptuous breakfast before the panel discussion which was led by Perishable Pundit Jim Prevor. Chris Mack, chairman of the Fresca Group who later that day won the FPC Fresh Award for lifetime achievement sponsored by Florette, told the audience that the UK is witnessing a rate of change unprecedented in the fresh-produce and retail arena. He said: “We are seeing a polarisation in the marketplace and the best people, will be those with a long-term strategic plan. Those that will struggle will be the ones who have knee-jerk reaction to the change.”

Gary Marshall chairman of Covent Garden Market Tenants Association and managing director of Bevington Salads believes that the biggest growth opportunity is through targeting primary-school children. “It’s a trend that you have got to get kids buying into. You have to educate children, and I am not talking about cartoon bananas, but get them trying and tasting the produce, giving their families discount vouchers for their local shops. The future is children buying into our produce.”

Meanwhile, retail anlaysts Andrea Felsted, senior retail correspondent with the Financial Times and James Anstead (pictured second from bottom) a director of equity research at Barclays each took a different tack. Anstead sees the growth of the discounters in the UK positively. “They are increasing the number of the lines they stock and increasing their quality. That is a big growth opportunity.” Whereas Felsted said she believed the UK marketplace is witnessing the demise of a regular, large shopping trip. “We are seeing the death of the weekly shop. Most of the standard shop will be commoditised and shoppers will be buying at the discounters or online. I think produce will return to the high street and to farmers’ market etc.”

The audience was keen to hear lessons to be learnt from the Wal-Mart experience in the US marketplace and how other retailers dealt with the rapid rise of the retail behemoth. Bruce Peterson, former vice-president of perishables told delegates: “The real challenge is to understand what your value proposition is. If it’s price and if someone else is moving in on that, then you’ve got a problem. If you look at the US market, you can see that some retailers did have a knee-jerk reaction.” He pointed out that while Wal-Mart’s every-day-low-pricing strategy was tied in with offering branded produce at those low prices, the UK is very different with retailers largely selling own-label produce that makes comparing quality and value very difficult.

But the UK market is not just about retail and Marshall pointed out that London’s three wholesale markets turnover £2 billion annually. New Covent Garden tenant and foodservice supplier Tony Reynolds (pictured bottom left) said: “We have seen massive growth in eating out. The boom began in London, but it has gone national…We are focused on supplying the foodservice market directly, we need to keep focused – we don’t want to water that down…and for produce suppliers, the message is we want to talk to more people. The invitation is to come and join us.”

Unsurprisingly sustainability was also a major theme with show ambassador and chef Valentine Warner (pictured bottom right) and Organic Farm Foods md Adam Wakeley (pictured bottom centre) on the panel. Doug Gilchrist, head of supply chain at Gather & Gather said when producers are deciding on which principles to hitch their wagons they have to focus. “Sustainability and supply chain go hand in hand. It’s about ethical trading, having your own values and sticking up for those values.”

It was Warner who had the last word however expressing his concern for the issue of food waste: “We are binning food and we don’t have the right to do that.”


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