Marrying a potato grower introduced Jan England to the world of food and farming more than 20 years ago. England used this platform of practical experience, as well as her skills at polling shoppers and consumers, to build her market research firm.
England Marketing Limited, located in Warboys, United Kingdom, some 80 miles north of London, has become well-recognized among supply chain professionals. England’s encyclopedic knowledge of the industry has also led her to leadership positions within the industry, including serving as vice chairman of the food, drink and agriculture special interest group of the Chartered Institute of Marketing.
At our online sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS UK, readers were first introduced to England Marketing, of which England is managing director, when her year-long Mystery Shopper survey was serialized on the website each month.
The England Marketing team visited 12 U.K. cities to rate stores of nine major U.K. retailers on factors such as the presentation of fresh produce, attractiveness of displays and promotions, among others.
We talked with England about the implications of her research, her take on major issues affecting the U.K. produce industry in the past year and her recommendations to help keep fresh produce suppliers ahead of the curve.
Q. Your Mystery Shopper Report, which published in 2016, provided many instructive points for retailers to “up” their game. What would you say are the major implications of this research for high-volume buyers and sellers of fresh produce in the United Kingdom?
A. Collaboration is a word that is bandied about at retail, and specifically in fresh produce; in my view, it’s all talk. Retailers don’t collaborate with their suppliers. If there was a bit more money to be made, suppliers could come up with innovative and creative ideas.
For example, consider we are all told we need to eat 5 or 7 or 10 portions of fruits and vegetables a day. Retailers aren’t necessarily making that easy for the consumer, apart from some, like Aldi, that are putting a selection of produce on sale each week really cheap. Tesco is following suit; you can buy a big bag of carrots for 29 or 39 pence.
These retailers are competing on price; they are not encouraging people to try new ideas and mix and match as much as they could be. In this regard, retailers need to be enthusiastic about fresh produce rather sell it cheap to lure people in. This type of collaboration could really be a win-win situation for the retailer and the supplier.
Q. One of the points you made in your Mystery Shopper research was that stores scored lower because some in-store colleagues were unable to answer questions about produce. It appears there is an opportunity for suppliers to provide usage suggestions and meal ideas about their products that retailers can use in-store to sell more produce.
A.I think there could be more information at the point of sale. I appreciate it’s expensive, but more ideas at display-level would go down well because what’s happening in the U.K. is a move toward providing ready-meal formats. A lot of supermarkets are going the route of providing meal ingredients all in one place. This is especially true of convenience stores, which are targeted toward young working people who want to grab something on their way home. My opinion is this hasn’t come through into fresh produce. You’ll find the meat and sauce, but the fresh produce isn’t always there.
Q. We hear a lot about Millennials. On one hand, they don’t have the cooking skills of past generations. On the other, they are more interested in food than their parents and grandparents. What is the implication of this for suppliers?
A. There are so many single-person households in the U.K., something like 30 percent of the population. I think that if there were smaller pack sizes of a variety of fresh produce, people would buy more.
Q. Two hot topics in the U.K. and Europe this past year have been Brexit and immigration. How do you see these two factors affecting fresh produce suppliers?
A. The big issue for suppliers is a desire to see an exemption for produce pickers from Eastern Europe, because they are seasonal labor rather than immigrants. I think everyone is sweating now because nobody has made any decisions yet about seasonal workers, and we’ve relied on them for many years.
I think Brexit has made people start thinking about where food comes from a little bit more. Millennials are looking for more local stuff, while the older generations are buying British because that’s what they’ve traditionally done. British, however, is still not the key point of buying fresh produce.
Q. What do you foresee in the future and what would you recommend to fresh produce buyers and sellers?
A. First, focus on better quality. Secondly, make a bit more organic produce available and place it alongside the conventional so people can see all the choices available. Third, I think having unusual or slightly unusual fruits and vegetables that aren’t particularly well recognized should be made available with some explanation as to what it is and how to use it. Fourth, I think buyers and sellers need to be keyed into the rise of convenience shopping. And lastly, I think produce suppliers should be aware of the rise of Aldi and Lidl, and why they are gaining market share