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Senior Asda staff seeking exit

enior Asda staff seeking exit
Photo: Asda

Reports have emerged of a mass exodus by Asda senior staff, after headhunters claimed they had been contacted by several executives of the UK retailer, according to The Times. Some Asda executives are said to be leaving as they can no longer participate in the share scheme of Asda’s previous owner Walmart. Asda has restructured its staff bonus opportunities to mitigate the loss of the Walmart share scheme. 

Staff can receive between 100 per cent and 200 per cent of their salary in cash bonuses, depending on their seniority. Asda chief executive Roger Burnley said that he had made the “personal” decision to leave following speculations that the new owners had been looking for his replacement since Christmas. Asda recently recruited Sam Dickson from Waitrose as a new vice-president and Carl Dawson from Marks & Spencer as chief information officer.

 

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Growth of online grocery sales slows in UK

Growth of online grocery sales slows in UK
Photo: Kantar

UK grocery sales were up by 7.4% in the first 12 weeks of 2021, down 3% compared with the same period in 2020, according to Kantar data. The reduction in the growth rate coincides with the anniversary of the first Covid-19 lockdown, which drove a surge in grocery sales. There are also signs that shoppers are returning to physical stores, as growth in online sales was also down. Online sales were 89% higher than this time last year, but the channel’s market share fell back to 14.5% from the record 15.4% recorded in February 2021.

Kantar’s head of retail and consumer insight Fraser McKevitt said: “Spring’s arrival signals the start of a really interesting period for the grocery market. The anniversary of the first national lockdown means we begin to compare grocery sales against the record-breaking levels seen in the early days of the pandemic and growth has perhaps not surprisingly dipped over the past four weeks as a result. This time last year, Brits were adjusting to schools and offices closing and making extra trips to the supermarket to fill their cupboards for lockdown. To put that into context, shoppers made 117 million fewer trips to the supermarket this month compared with those fraught weeks in March 2020.”

However, grocery spending remains considerably higher than pre-pandemic levels, and the Easter period may prompt a revival. 

“Warmer temperatures and lighter evenings mean many of us are planning outdoor get-togethers over the long weekend – 61% of people are looking forward to socialising with friends again and 23% of households are planning to dust off the barbecue if the weather is kind to us. There are signs of people making a special, even symbolic, effort this year and grandparents might be showing up with additional treats after 12 months of restrictions,” said McKevitt.

Tesco increased its revenue by 8.5% and captured 27.1% of the market, up by 0.3 percentage points compared with the same period last year.

 

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Hive types and timing crucial to optimise blueberry yields

Hive types and timing crucial to optimise blueberry yields
PRESS RELEASE

Bumblebees are an essential component of UK blueberry production. By introducing the correct hive types at the right time, pollination rates can be optimised resulting in higher yields and ultimately profits.

Early season pollinators

“By early March some crops on the South Coast of England started flowering, while crops North of the border in Scotland are still some way off,” says Tim Crittenden, Biobest UK’s Technical Sales Manager. “Early in the season, natural pollinators are few and far between. Coupled with the fact most UK blueberries are grown in enclosed polythene tunnels, means growers must introduce bumblebees to pollinate crops.”

Narrow pollination window

Blueberry crops have a narrow pollination window. While individual flowers must be pollinated within 4-5 days of opening, each bush has a pollination window of just 4-6 weeks.

Tim recommends growers monitor their crops carefully and introduce Biobest Standard Hives when 5% of flowers have opened.

“With a life span of 6-8 weeks, Standard Hives cover the entire pollination window,” he explains. “Then, when 20% of flowers have opened, we recommend also introducing Biobest’s Turbo Hives.

“More mature, each Turbo Hive contains over 200 workers and – as the name suggests – immediately gets to work boosting pollination rates during the peak pollination period. Turbo Hives have a slightly shorter lifespan of 4-6 weeks.

“If the bumblebees start biting the petals, that is a good indication the numbers are just above the optimum threshold.”

Dual hive strategy

“Implementing this dual hive strategy correctly pays dividends,” says Tim. “Good pollination leads to larger fruit with a higher seed count.

“The strategy relies on introducing the right number of hives at the correct time. Unique to each situation, it depends on a range of factors including geographical location, crop area, type of production system and age of the blueberry bushes. Biobest advisors are on hand to advise growers.”

 

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Morrisons’ profits plunge in 2020

Morrisons’ profits plunge in 2020
Photo: Morrisons

UK retailer Morrison’s has announced a 50.7% fall in profits to £201 million for the year to January 31. The plummeting profits are mainly due to the additional £290 million in costs linked to the Covid-19 pandemic. A large contributor is an increase in staff absences, as well as the £230 million impact of handing its business rates relief back to the Treasury.

Like-for-like sales (excluding fuel and VAT) rose by 8.6% thanks to strong grocery demand, with the final quarter seeing 9% growth. Full-year revenue was up by only 0.4% to £17.6 billion. 

However, Morrisons’ online sales tripled during the year and its capacity jumped five-fold.

 

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Relentless growth of UK berry sector

Relentless growth of UK berry sector
Photo: British Summer Fruits

The UK’s berry sector has grown 600% in the past 25 years, according to a press release by British Summer Fruits, with the market for fresh berries now worth over £1.5 billion, compared to £206 million in 1996.

Nick Marston, chairman of British Summer Fruits, said: “With increasing calls for consumers to adopt healthier lifestyles and diets, our work to highlight fresh berries as a delicious, healthy snack and ingredient is extremely important. We also need to continue to drive consumer demand to support our UK berry growers and their growth ambitions by providing an ever-expanding market for their crops.”

The berry industry has seen significant innovation, including varietal developments, new growing techniques and the use of new technology. As a result, the self-sufficiency of the British berry industry continues to grow each year and the UK season now extends from May to November.

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UK consumers switching online in their droves

UK consumers switching online in their droves

 

According to NielsenIQ data, the number of British households shopping for groceries online has more than doubled in the last year, reaching 41% compared to 18% at the same point in 2020. Overall, online grocery sales are up 132% y-o-y, while sales at bricks and mortar stores declined by 1%. UK shoppers spent £1.5bn on online groceries in the four weeks ending 27th February 2021, with the online share reaching 17%. This is the highest ever share for online grocery sales in the UK and a 1% increase in share in just a month. 

Total till sales for February grew by 10.6% y-o-y, the highest growth recorded since June 2020, when sales growth peaked at 14%. The top-performing retailer is Lidl, which enjoyed 21.2% sales growth in the past 12 weeks, as the discounter continues to benefit from its Lidl Plus loyalty app. Next came Iceland (+17.5%), and Morrisons (+11.7%).

NielsenIQ’s UK head of retailer and business insight, Mike Watkins, said: “One year on since the pandemic began in the UK, it’s evident that a lot has changed in terms of consumer shopping patterns. Online grocery has now become a permanent fixture for many UK shoppers – it is now past the ‘tipping point’ and is at the ‘sticking point’. Consumers no longer feel like they have to shop online, but do so because they prefer to, particularly now that many retailers have expanded fulfilment capacities. Even when we exit lockdown and start to return to some normality, we anticipate that online demand will continue to grow ahead of the market.”

 

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Amazon opens first till-less stores outside US

Amazon opens first till-less stores outside US
Photo: CNN

Amazon opened its first cashless and no-tills convenience grocery shop in London on 4 March. The 2,500 sq ft Amazon Fresh store in Ealing Broadway features Amazon’s ‘Just Walk Out’ technology whereby customers scan their phones on arrival, fill their bags with products and leave without any interaction with staff or a self-checkout machines. Shoppers scan a QR code on the way in, then just walk out with their accounts automatically billed as they leave, thanks to a number of cameras and sensors in the store ceiling tracking customers and their purchases, according to the BBC.

The Ealing store stocks hundreds of own-brand products and well-known brands, and also serves as a collection and return point for goods bought online. Amazon says it has sourced many of its own-brand groceries from UK suppliers itself, with other items coming from Morrisons and Booths, with whom it has pre-existing ties.

Matt Birch, the former Sainsbury’s executive who now leads Amazon Fresh Stores UK, said: “The focus is just on creating a really easy shopping experience for customers.

A second London Amazon Fresh store is understood to be opening in Notting Hill Gate, with others planned in city centres across the UK in the future. Amazon also operates seven Whole Foods Market supermarkets in the UK and is expected to expand further in the UK retail sector by buying one of the larger chains. The company is also reportedly offering to sell its Just Walk Out technology as a service that can be installed in other supermarkets.

 

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Freshfel Europe welcomes UK announcement to postpone new import requirements for EU exports in response to sector’s request

Freshfel Europe welcomes UK announcement to postpone new import requirements for EU exports in response to sector’s request
PRESS RELEASE

Over the past months Freshfel Europe has been advocating in cooperation with its members for more flexibility from the UK when it comes to the obligation for EU fresh produce exports to the UK to carry phytosanitary certificates from 1 April. Today’s announcement by the UK government about the adjustment of the timelines in the introduction of controls for EU imports, made in a written statement by RT Hon Michael Gove, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office, is therefore warmly welcomed by Freshfel Europe and the fruit and vegetables sector as a crucial relief to enable the sector to smoothly adapt to Brexit in the ever-challenging context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

In today’s announcement, the UK agrees to postpone the introduction of phytosanitary certification obligations for most fresh produce, considered low risk plant products, until January 2022, when documentary checks will start to apply. Physical checks at Border Control Posts on fresh produce will only be applied from March 2022. Freshfel Europe General Delegate Philippe Binard emphasized that, “Freshfel Europe has been voicing strong concerns over the last months and we consider that this postponement is essential to ensure the supply of the UK market and the continuation of trade flows through the Channel, across which the EU27 exports over 3 million tonnes of fresh fruit and vegetables a year”. Currently EU supply represents 40% of the UK’s internal demand for fresh produce.

Following this welcome news, the sector further calls EU and UK authorities to make the most of this extended 9- month transition to speed-up preparations to ensure the smooth running of operations in 2022. The challenge remains enormous – over 750,000 phytosanitary certificates will be required on an annual basis to sustain EU-UK trade in fresh produce, a substantial economic and administrative burden, and a threat to the capacity of the industry to continue ‘just in time’ operations if administrative procedures are not sped-up. Freshfel Europe Director for Trade and Market Access Natalia Santos-Garcia Bernabe, highlighted that, “In Freshfel Europe and FPC’s letter to the RT Hon Michael Gove, the sector reiterated the need for electronic certification transmission between the EU and the UK to be up and running before the end of the year through the e-Phyto hub”. The postponement will give more time on both side of the Channel to work on digitalization and the successful introduction of electronic certification in 2022.

 

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UK organic sector reports record growth in 2020

UK organic sector reports record growth in 2020
Photo:Creative Commons

The UK organic market grew 12.6% in 2020 and is now worth £2.8 billion, according to Soil Association Certification’s Organic Market Report 2021. This is the highest growth rate seen in 15 years, with over £50 million per week spent on organic food and drink during 2020. 

The online channel has fuelled much of this growth, with e-commerce sales up 36.2% in 2020. This channel now accounts for almost 25% of total sales. Meanwhile, sales of organic items in supermarkets increased by 12.5% per cent, with fresh produce sales up by 15.5%. Organic carrots performed best in this category, with sales soaring by 17.2%.

Sophie Kirk, senior business development manager, Soil Association Certification, said: “The unprecedented crisis of 2020 has brought immense challenges for organic farmers and the entire food supply chain. So it’s heartening that in times of crisis, more people are supporting home – grown organic produce, with many British organic products such as eggs, cheese, carrots, beef and lamb benefitting from strong sales growth through supermarkets this year.”

The UK organic market is on track to be worth £2.9 billion by the end of 2021, with many new organic shoppers expected to remain loyal to the sector.

 

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Sainsbury’s vows to match Aldi in price war

Sainsbury's vows to match Aldi in price war
Photo by Sainbury´s – Aldi price match

UK retailer Sainsbury’s has thrown down the gauntlet by announcing  it will match discounter Aldi on hundreds of popular items. The around 250 items will include both own-label and branded products and focus on a range of lines from fruit and vegetables to meat, chicken and dairy. The initiative includes savings such as a five pack of Fairtrade bananas, lowered from 80p to 69p; a six-pack of kiwi fruit down 18p at 67p; celery 7p off at 43p; 220g of Imperfectly Tasty Green Beans down 6p at 69p; 1kg of Imperfectly Tasty Carrots 5p off at 40p; 1kg of Imperfectly Tasty Baby Potatoes down 30p at 65p; and 1kg Greengrocer Berry Mix 11p lower at £2.39.

Chief executive Simon Roberts said: “We are making great progress delivering our Food First plan and I’m determined that in these tough times, we do even more to help our customers save money. Our new commitment to match Aldi prices on hundreds of our most popular products will mean our customers can be confident that they are getting the quality they expect from Sainsbury’s at great prices.”

Sainsbury’s also has a Price Lock campaign, with the price of around 2,500 everyday products fixed for at least eight weeks.