A good summer can help sales soar, but a bad one can kill them. Anna Metcalfe reveals how you can stock up on the top products, but not be left out of pocket if the clouds come
Whether it’s ice cream, soft drinks or barbecue-focused items, many categories can enjoy a tremendous peak in sales over the summer months, should the sun decide to shine. Big sporting events such as the Euros and the Rio Olympics can also accelerate this trend significantly. A wash-out, however, can have a decidedly different impact. So just how do you manage the summer opportunity and avoid either running out of stock on important lines or being left with a glut of the wrong products?
“Summer means holidays and hopefully, some sun. Consumers will be out on the road taking trips, camping, having picnics and heading to the beach. The forthcoming sporting summer is also likely to be a major opportunity for convenience stores, with many people spending time watching sport in the comfort of their own home,” says Simon Harris, business development controller at Palmer and Harvey.
It’s not just sporting events that can boost sales, though. Summer festivals and community events can all have a positive effect, especially if a retailer is en route to such an occasion or chooses to get directly involved in some way.
Nigel Paine, GB commercial director for out of home at Britvic, says: “The summer season is a key sales opportunity for convenience retailers, as the hotter weather drives shoppers into store. Thirsty shoppers will most likely be looking for immediate, cold refreshment so it’s vital that chillers are well stocked with single-serve formats throughout the day, with a range to satisfy all tastes.”
And the sales opportunity spreads across a wide range of categories, including spirits and sauces – don’t just think of soft drinks and ice cream.
Natalie Briggs, business unit director impulse and wholesale for Diageo, explains why spirit sales tend to rise sharply when the temperature reaches 19°C: “The emergence of the cocktail culture over the summer months and the rise of home entertaining opens up new occasions for spirits, with the category growing faster than total alcohol at 5.3%. This provides wholesalers with the perfect opportunity to tap into this trend by providing a whole host of spirit options for their retail customers.”
On the subject of sauces, Kyrie Merryman, senior brand manager at Hellmann’s, says: “During the barbecue season, we see a lot of consumers purchasing a wide repertoire of sauces and condiments to offer greater choice for themselves and their guests. We continue to make our products relevant to the barbecue season through communication, promotion and in-store visibility for the time between May and September.”
Whatever wholesaler you speak to, the same message comes through clearly – it’s all in the planning. And that, it seems, needs to be at its final stages right now.
James Russell, MD of Blakemore Wholesale Distribution, sums up how his company tackles planning for the summer months: “The summer season starts after Easter and that’s a little earlier this year. We develop a summer stock plan and talk to our key suppliers to look at the range and stockholding requirements for each relevant product – it’s a tried and trusted formula for Blakemore.
“Each supplier helps us to develop a sales plan and forecasts around key events occurring within the season. This system works very well for us and last summer, our outbound order fulfilment did not drop below 98% all season.”
Coupled with early planning, preparing to manage a higher stockholding on key products is also paramount. This is all part of offering excellent service to your customers, who will rely on you for a great deal of guidance and support. Blakemore, for example, claims that it holds a higher stock level than its competitors on key product categories such as soft drinks.
Palmer and Harvey’s Harris confirms the importance of high stockholding: “We have a million and a half worth of space, so we have the capacity that will enable retailers to rely on us for their stockroom. The right stock at the right time is always key, given the short life cycle of many barbecue lines such as sausages and beefburgers.”
Weather is one of the most significant challenges for any wholesaler, retailer or foodservice operator. Many large organisations work very hard to perfect their forecasting techniques, supporting this with extremely reactive logistics to get the right products in the right place at the right time.
Without this insight and agility, key sales opportunities can be lost in an instant and for wholesalers, customer loyalty can be affected. Be under no illusion – the weather matters.
“There’s a variety of weather forecasting techniques that Blakemore constantly uses to look ahead and understand if we have BBQ weather looming or something rather wetter. This essential forecasting needs to be teamed with solid stockholding and extremely good logistics,” says Russell.
Food retailers have a greater advantage in summer than other retailers, because they have the scope to change the range, hold stock for shorter terms and have more responsive supply chains. So spare a thought for summer clothes’ retailers when we suffer a wash-out week in June.
It’s clear that wholesalers need to get the summer season right to maximise its potential. This takes a great deal of planning, learning from the successes and failures of previous years, and continually seeking to do a better job. Suppliers will be very happy to get involved, as they generally understand teamwork with wholesalers is the route to success for retailers and foodservice operators, which ultimately means that everyone benefits financially.
You cannot underestimate the importance of understanding the weather, and investment in software and systems to forecast better will always have a positive impact, even if they cannot get it right all the time (the country’s leading weather forecasters can’t either, so you won’t be alone).
Consider also whether you should extend the summer period in your planning so that, should the hot weather fall outside the traditional months (as can often be the case), you’re ready to help your customers take full advantage of it.
Coupled with clear forecasting, ensuring an optimum supply chain is a must. If deliveries to your customers can be expediated or if your suppliers can react like lightning, you’ll be less likely to miss a key opportunity if your forecast of a heatwave was somewhat short notice. And this benefits everyone in the distribution channel, helping to build long-lasting loyalty from customers who rely on your quick reactions.