Before you launch your brand in the United Kingdom, it’s important to know what’s going on in today’s U.K. retail market as it may differ from the markets your brand currently has a presence in. Whether the British market is familiar territory or completely new, here’s a deep dive into understanding the U.K.’s marketplace, retailers, and how your brand can understand a new set of consumers.
Understanding the U.K. retail market
Over half of the £456bn industry is dominated by supermarkets, presenting a lot of opportunity for food and beverage brands looking to expand into the U.K. market. For years, the “big four” retailers have been Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, and Morrisons, but discount supermarkets like Aldi are quickly expanding in the market. Now that Aldi is outperforming Morrisons in terms of the country’s grocery market share, the “big four” are no more.
As we’re seeing in many countries, rising costs due to inflation are changing consumer behavior and the U.K. market is no exception. Inflation of grocery prices is up 14.4%, causing consumers to gravitate even more towards private label or store-owned brands over name brands to cut down their weekly spending costs. It comes as no surprise that the second largest group of retailers after supermarkets are discounters, which hold about 20% of the market share, followed by online and convenience retailers.
Getting discovered by British retailers.
Today’s retail trends in the United Kingdom aren’t so different from those in the United States. We’re seeing trends like sustainability, social commerce, omnichannel shopping experiences, and flexible payment plans take off among retailers and their consumers. Give yourself the biggest advantage by understanding where British consumer behavior differs.
Before approaching a U.K. retailer, make sure you have a retail activation plan in place, understand customs regulations, have chosen a good distributor, understand the competitiveness of your category in this new market, and are up to date on your sustainability credentials. Most important of all, know the retailer’s target shoppers.
Want to hear more tips for selling products to U.K. retailers and understanding British consumer behavior? Check out our Global Insights: How to Get Discovered by U.K. Retailers webinar with Andrew Cole and Sean McCurley from Bridgethorne Ltd.
What are the top U.K. retailers looking for?
In our recent webinar, U.K. retail market experts shared their insights on the top U.K. retailers, as well as the retailer’s individual key strategic initiatives moving forward. Here’s a snapshot of what the top U.K. retailers are looking for:
Tesco – As the largest retailer in the U.K., with control of almost 25% of the retail market, Tesco is a leader in driving business innovation. Creating an omnichannel shopping experience with its online presence and driving customer loyalty with its Clubcard have been large priorities for the retailer. Brands hoping to attract the attention of Tesco buyers need to have healthy and sustainable products that protect both the environment and the well-being of their customers. Tesco is also focusing on elevating diverse voices as supplier diversity and inclusivity continue to trend in most global markets.
Sainsbury’s – With more of an affluent customer base, the second-largest retailer in the U.K., Sainsbury’s, has shifted away from a price war with its competitors by focusing on differentiating its product offerings. It’s always interested in brands that can bring something new and innovative to its stores’ shelves, even if it’s just a healthier, more sustainable option than what’s currently available on the market. Sainsbury’s knows its customers are willing to pay more per item if the value is there.
Asda – The U.K.’s third-largest retailer, Asda, prioritizes three key strategic initiatives: better planet, better lives, and better business. It strives to protect the planet, create an inclusive environment for their employees, and make the healthier choice easy by providing its customers with affordable and nutritious options. Brands looking to break into the U.K. market that can offer healthy and sustainable products at an affordable price may spark Asda’s attention.
Overall, our retail experts named plant-based, no/low alcohol, sustainable household, world foods, meal kits/boxes, healthy snacks, and vitamins/supplements as the highest growth categories in the U.K..
Sustainability in the U.K.
Sustainability in the U.K. is huge right now. This is not only because of the rising consumer demand for sustainability but also because the U.K. government has instituted much stricter laws and regulations for retailers when it comes to reducing food and packaging waste throughout the supply chain, as well as their carbon footprints. Retailers are relying on the suppliers they work with to help them with their sustainability goals, and those that can meet them become top choices for the retailer. Here are a few government initiatives to be aware of if you plan to expand into the U.K. this year.
The Plastic Packaging Tax – On April 1st, 2022, the U.K.’s Plastic Packaging Tax took effect to financially incentivize businesses to use recycled plastic, taxing all plastic packaging manufactured or imported into the U.K. that is not at least 30% recycled plastic. Rather than pay a fine, retailers will look at their suppliers to make sure the correct packaging is being used.
Net Zero by 2050 – The U.K. became the first major economy to pass a net zero emissions law, requiring it to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. This initiative requires U.K. retailers to be transparent about their plans to meet this goal, and retailers will be asking the same of the brands they onboard.
HFSS Regulation – New rules for how high fat, sugar, and salt (HFSS) products can be sold went into effect in October of 2022, with more regulations to come in January of 2024. This regulation was created to encourage healthier diets and manage obesity. Brands with healthy alternatives to popular HFSS products have become easier for retailers to sell.
While many sustainable food and beverage brands exist in the United Kingdom, there is a large gap in the availability of sustainable health, beauty care, and general merchandise products. Sustainable household cleaning and pet products are being especially sought after by major retailers and their consumers.
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