A number of years ago, there was talk of the death of independent shops. It was believed that the likes of high street butchers and greengrocers were going to become extinct in the wake of supermarkets. The pull of supermarkets was based around price and ease of being able to buy everything you need from one place. However, more recently there has been a resurgence in demand for local, independent food shops.
The Millennial Effect
I moved to East London last year, and found myself surrounded by many independent shops, butchers, fishmongers and greengrocers. One only needs to take a 10-minute stroll through Hackney to realise that independent is in vogue. As someone with a keen interest in food and produce, this has been fantastic. I cherish my Sunday afternoon walks to the butchers to pick up something for a roast, and I love the huge selection of fresh veg in my closest greengrocer.
I am not unique in my love of all things independent, and my fellow millennials have played a large part in making small businesses and shops popular again. As a generation, millennials are food-focussed and very conscious of quality. Taste is no longer the only factor to consider, and food choices are influenced by politics, health concerns and personal ethics. We care where food comes from and what it is packaged in, and transparency is vital. As the largest working generation at present, millennial tastes have a huge impact on the food industry. Of course, millennials are not alone in this shift towards local and independent shops, however they are arguably the most visible due to social media usage, and I believe they have played a large part in the step away from supermarket chains.
Why Do People Love Independent?
There are several reasons why people may choose to shop in a local, independent food shop as opposed to a large supermarket. As discussed above, a huge part of this comes down to transparency and traceability. People like to know what they are eating, and where it has come from. Supermarket goods are supplied from all over the world, whereas many smaller food shops often focus on locally sourced produce. This can put consumers’ minds at rest and also aligns with the desire that many have to reduce their carbon footprints. If the steak you buy from an independent butcher’s was sourced from a farm 5 miles down the road, you are reassured that it has not contributed to excessive carbon emissions through shipping and transport.
As well as locally sourced products, independent farm shops and delis often stock products that people are unable to find in the supermarket. A rise in craft breweries, small cheesemakers and niche food start-ups mean there are a huge variety of products other than large household brands found in supermarkets, and many people enjoy discovering them.
Enterprise For London has also found that people enjoy the customer service and sense of community that comes with shopping at independent stores. When shopping in smaller food shops, customers have a lot more interaction with shopkeepers and can expect a more personal service. Further, the high street butcher or fishmonger feels like the centre of a community, and people feel a sense of loyalty towards their local shops.
What Has Changed With COVID-19?
As much as we are all tired of talking about coronavirus, the pandemic has greatly impacted shopping habits. The reasons already outlined for choosing independent stores are now compounded by post-pandemic mentalities, and we find new reasons for wanting to shop locally.
AHDB reported that in the first 12 weeks after lockdown, an extra £45 million was spent at butcher’s shops. This represents an uplift of 39% from 14th June. Similarly, The Guardian reported that independent grocery stores experienced a 63% surge in trade as people shifted to local shops during lockdown. A fishmongers in Notting Hill even reported a 200% rise in sales during the nationwide quarantine. These numbers staggering and are concrete evidence of a huge change in shopper behaviour resulting from COVID-19.
So, what were the reasons for the changes? Unsurprisingly, a main reason was fear of crowds. Naturally, this led to a huge spike in online shopping, but it also caused people to want to shop at much smaller establishments than a typical supermarket. Many small shops only allowed one or two visitors in at a time, which increased consumer confidence. Also, you can often see how many people are in a smaller shop just by glancing through the window. This allowed people to decide whether to enter or not if they were concerned about contact with others. Similarly, supermarkets were often in the press for having extensive queues. Many people felt that these could be avoided by shopping at their local, independent stores. This way they could save time and avoid others simultaneously.
Product availability was another reason for the switch to local independents. There were many cases of shortages in staple products at big supermarket chains, and several items had restrictions placed on them. People found that availability was less of an issue when visiting their local farm shops or butchers, and this impacted shopping preferences.
So, the pandemic has added to the myriad of reasons why people prefer to shop at independent shops. However, will this surge last once the effects of COVID-19 wear off? The YouGov Consumer Tracker, conducted in April, found that half of customers say they will proactively seek out British product once restrictions are eased. This could suggest that many people are still prioritising local produce with low food miles.
Perhaps the pandemic has served to cement a love of independent shops based around sustainability, quality, traceability, and customer service. ELLIE BALDERSON, MARKETING