With UK food and drink retailing facing the most seismic changes in a generation, it was certainly fitting that industry think tank IGD chose ‘disruption’ as the theme for its recent annual convention. More than 500 of the industry’s great and good (and yours truly) gathered at London’s Park Plaza to hear what changes would next be bestowed on the retail landscape.  The rise of multi-channel shopping, the impending death of the out-of-town hypermarket, a further proliferation of online and click & collect, and the continuing rebirth of convenience retailing were all given their moment in the spotlight.

But while market-leader Tesco attempted to mask its current woes by sending its in-house technology guru to predict that we’d soon all be sharing our shopping aisles with stocktaking robots, Sainsbury’s was conspicuous by its absence, Asda supremo Andy Clarke skirted around his current number one nemesis, and it was left to Morrisons to pluck up the courage to utter the dreaded ‘D’ word – ‘discounters’. iIt certainly wasn’t lost on anyone that the “elephants in the room” – as the editor of a leading trade magazine noted to me from the comfort of the press bench – had not come to the party.

Yet far from being absent, the presence of Aldi and Lidl – and even Poundland and B&M – was very much felt in every speech, even when left unspoken.

“New dynamics” and “embracing change” may have been among the Convention’s typical buzz phrases, but only Morrisons was brave enough to grasp the nettle. Incoming Morrisons Chairman, and former Tesco executive, Andrew Higginson, hit the nail on the head when he inferred that the major supermarket retailers were now boring shoppers with a plethora of over complicated in-store offers, while Morrisons Chief Executive Dalton Philips urged delegates to “confront the reality” of the new retail landscape.

But it’s not just the discounters that are giving the supermarkets a run for their money. I challenge you to go into any good symbol store these days – Nisa, Budgens, Londis, spar, Costcutter and the like – and not be impressed by what you find.  My local Budgens has some of the best fresh produce I’ve seen anywhere, while my local Co-op sticks to good old-fashioned simple pricing offers to draw in the locals. The new Aldi nearby is currently the talk of the town, Riverford and Abel & Cole vegetable boxes are now a regular delivery, and the online shopping delivery vans of all the major retailers are increasingly in evidence. This is purely indicative of the way we’re shopping, too. For the Mowbray household, Tesco online or Asda is our current favourite for the bulky stuff, Sainsbury’s or Waitrose are the preferred options for cured meats and the like, it’s the Co-op or the village shop for top up, the fishmonger for the freshest fish, the butcher for the best locally sourced meat, the local mill for Saturday morning bread, and the local hardware store for bulbs, cloths, mops and brooms.

It’s invigorating. I take pride in telling cashiers that I don’t carry their particular store card because I am a “promiscuous shopper”. And I can’t wait to add a regular trip to Aldi into my shopping repertoire.

This is the new world order, and only those suppliers that embrace this change are likely to prosper.

Now there’s food for thought.

Simon Mowbray

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