Scottish Grocers Federation Conference: Issues and Opportunities

Just over a year ago, I did my first F2F presentation in a long time, when I presented at the Scottish Grocers Federation annual conference in Glasgow. This was apparently one of the very first such events held in Glasgow as we all sought to recover from the pandemic. The presentation was on convenience stores and the pandemic, and I concluded by noting the exceptional performance of convenience stores during Covid and the ways in which local and convenience had become more important and more valued over the last few years.

Last week saw the return of the conference to Glasgow again for the 2022 edition. No need to speak this time, so I could simply enjoy and reflect on what was presented and said. A packed conference reflected on the current state of affairs for Scottish convenience stores and on the opportunities and challenges ahead. The main business session was built around technology and data, but it is perhaps fair to say that issues other than that dominated the conversations.

In the conference pack, as has become normal, there was the latest edition of The Scottish Local Shops Report. This 2022 version updated the data and information from previous years and as ever is a source of important information on the sector in Scotland. The scale and impact of the sector is obvious and in briefly presenting the report Dr Pete Cheema, the CEO of SGF, noted the expansion and growth of the sector over the last year and the ways in which consumers had continued to value and support their local convenience stores.

That positivity was heard in discussions with retailers and was evident on the floor of the conference where, for the first time, producers from the Scottish Grocers Federation, Scotland Food and Drink and Scottish Government “Go Local” programme were present, showing off their local Scottish produce to the retailers. There was a lot of interest in this, both in terms of the Go Local programme itself (and for transparency I am on the Project Board) and the opportunities it presents, but also more generally in recognising some of the many excellent smaller producers we have in Scotland, who could make a point of difference for local convenience stores. Certainly, the early data from the project are very positive about the impact on producers and suppliers in getting more local product into convenience stores. This approach builds local communities, supports local businesses and provides local consumers with great products.

However, there are also clear head winds for the sector, and indeed for retailers generally. There was much shaking of heads after the UK government’s “special fiscal event” a few weeks ago (and the UK Government Minister did little to allay concerns) and about its impact on consumers and business. One of the other reports in the conference pack was on Crime in the convenience sector and this remains a major concern. Energy prices and the ability of consumers and businesses to afford to spend and operate was a running conversation, and the lack of clarity for convenience stores around energy costs, beyond the six-month announcement, was preying on people’s minds. Some of the increases in energy costs were so obviously business killers.

One topic though was almost an ever present. Deposit Return Schemes are meant to come into operation in Scotland next year. In the exhibition hall there were a number of operators of reverse vending machines and other systems and possibilities. On the conference platform, a number of speakers mentioned the difficulties being faced (and on radio) and of course there is now an active legal case about the degree to which the scheme adheres or not to being “cost-neutral” for convenience retailers. This one will rumble on for a little while one suspects.

In closing the conference, Tom Arthur MSP, the Scottish Government Minister for Public Finance, Planning and Community Wealth noted the importance of the convenience retail sector and that its success very much aligned with the programme from government for strengthened communities and local resilience, and that SGF were a key part of the work under the Government’s Retail Strategy. But he also could not have failed to hear the concern the sector had about DRS, crime and costs. There is an alignment here, but some choppy waters need to be navigated in the next 12 months.

About Leigh Sparks

I am Professor of Retail Studies at the Institute for Retail Studies, University of Stirling, where I research and teach aspects of retailing and retail supply chains, alongside various colleagues. I am Chair of Scotland's Towns Partnership. I am also a Deputy Principal of the University, with responsibility for Education and Students.
This entry was posted in Community, Consumers, Convenience, Convenience stores, Cost of Living, Costs, Crime, Deposit Return Scheme, Energy Costs, Food Retailing, Go Local, Local Retailers, Producers, Retail Strategy, Retailers, Retailing, Reverse Vending, Scotland Food and Drink, Scotland Loves Local, Scottish Government, Scottish Grocers Federation and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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