Report reveals evolving supermarket trends in the UK

The UK produce market faces a challenging time. In 2017 the UK voted to leave Europe and the implications of this decision are becoming a reality.

With the weakening of the pound resulting in pricing increases, margins are tight and both retailers and suppliers are trying to mitigate the risk of a very unpredictable future. 

Despite all of this, the UK continues to be a successful market for fruit, vegetables and flowers, and a benchmark of innovation for Europe. Growers and suppliers are working incredibly hard to improve environmental factors, health implications and to constantly innovate in these areas. 

With all these changes happening, Innovative Fresh released a report that seeks to identify and facilitate opportunities for brands and retailers based on cultural trends, consumer preferences and behaviour, produce innovations, supermarket trends and sales patterns, the company explains:

Quality, Value, Convenience
The discounters now account for a significant proportion of the produce market, actively pursuing quality, value and convenience. At a time where retailers have had to redefine the concept of “value”, it is very clear that it is no longer simply about price. Balancing price with quality and convenience constitutes ‘value’ for the UK market.

‘Convenience’ as a concept is being reflected through the growth of small versions of large stores. People are shopping for the short term more than ever before due to huge time pressure and longer working hours. Social media and technology (particularly smart phones) makes information relentless and instantaneous, with technology increasingly demanding urgent responses to all things. This has transferred into culture, making us ‘time poor’ and requiring a ‘quick fix’ in just about every area of life.

Convenience formats reduce the average shopping time to 25 minutes, compared with an estimated 46 minutes spent on average in a supermarket (

In addition, online retailers are responding to the need for instant gratification. Tesco is taking Amazon on by trialling a one hour delivery service in London, to rival its own impressive logistics services.

Everybody wants to be “the best in fresh”. Fresh produce is the benchmark of UK supermarkets and defines the quality of the overall store. It is just about quality, but consistency of quality, as one bad experience with a piece of fruit or a vegetable, might write off an entire category for a

One retailer in the UK that really gets this right is Whole Foods, with lovely cafés, food to taste as you shop, abundant displays of loose produce, tactile displays, space around the fixtures, free fruit for children, a separate kitchen for workshops and demonstrations, lots of shelf signage and information, simple packaging that does not detract from the produce quality, and local farms used wherever possible.

From processed to pre-prep
As health consciousness increases and people become more aware of their food choices, we are noticing a shift in the definition of the famous ‘ready meal’. Instead, retailers have met consumers somewhere in the middle, between cooking from scratch with raw ingredients and putting something in the microwave. 

The result is pre-prepared raw ingredients - the marriage of convenience, health and freshness. This cord of three strands is not easily broken, as the rising market is demonstrating to us.

Companies like Bakkavor are finding more and more new ways to keep prepared products fresh. Whilst we have become accustomed to bagged salad over the years, we are now seeing a huge rise in pre-prepared fruit and vegetables, including chopped onions, mashed potato, pineapple, mango, sliced apples, and innovative products like ‘cauliflower rice’.

The ‘food-to-go’ market is taking particular advantage of these trends, with ‘grab packs’ of fruit, and combination offers on individual components for stir fry and salad mixes.
Re-imagined basics
Vegetables replacing carbohydrates has become a huge trend, with supermarkets like Sainsbury’s now selling as much ‘Courgetti’ as fresh spaghetti, at 30,000 bags per week. New ways of adding financial value to basic vegetables are emerging with trends such as ‘Courgetti’, ‘Boodles’, and ‘Cauliflower rice’ already on sale, and sweet potato tagliatelle and ‘squaffles’ (butternut squash waffles) soon to appear on the market.

Transparency in the supply chain
Customers demand the truth and are fed up with ‘marketing speak’. Many companies in the UK are creating ‘transparency strategies’, showing consumers where their products come from and publishing their ethical standards testing and results.

M&S in the UK has a huge ‘Plan A’ strategy, which is all about creating a sustainable future.

“Plan A is our way to help build a sustainable future by being a business that enables our customers to have a positive impact on well being, communities and the planet through all that we do.” - M&S Many stores have introduced more subtle measures, such as pictures of the farmers above produce, to show customers where their produce comes from.

The supply chain was once invisible, but customers want to know how their food is produced and where it comes from.

There is a lot of emphasis on seasonal produce and buying seasonally, but many consumers are not worried about country of origin, as long as British produce is sold when it is available.

Many customers object to excessive packaging, such as placing bananas in bags (they already have a peel), or small quantities of fruit and vegetables that are ‘over-packaged’.

It is increasingly important to talk to customers about food production, food miles, ingredients, health, ethics and value.

A personalised shopping experience
“Big data” is a phrase that we have all heard floating around for a long time. Dunnhumby founded the Tesco clubcard many years ago and all stores followed suit. Data is gathered in many ways, including AVA triggered content (cameras that record patterns and activity to calculate habits).

The aim of big data and the ‘digital foodscape’ for consumers is the personalisation of the shopping experience, with increasing accuracy.
The aim for retailers is market intelligence and efficiency.

Environmental packaging considerations
There is a lot of pressure on retailers and suppliers to consider the balance between a requirement for packaging and environmental concerns. This is a double-edged sword for produce, as innovative packaging can help to extend shelf life, thus reducing food waste.

However, excessive use of plastics is a problem. Many UK supermarkets are using pulp board trays (with plastic flow wrap), cardboard boxes, recyclable trays, and charging for carrier bags. Laser labelling has been around for a while, but is just being introduced to certain M&S and Sainsbury’s.

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