Rise of independents: how food and drink businesses can benefit
Posted: Mon 21st Jul 2014
As a food writer and organiser of food and drink events, I have seen a definite shift in consumer and media interest towards the independent, home-grown food and drink sector.
The public is increasingly keen on local products, and small brands with character. Here's how food and drink small businesses can make the most of this new passion for independents.
Why the appetite for independent food and drink?
Several factors have conspired to shake the long-standing trust in chains and big brands. In the food industry, scandals like the horse-meat saga reminded consumers that low-price, mass-produced food comes at a price.
During the recession, the widely discussed demise of the British high street was brought into sharp focus, as we saw local shops being boarded up across the country. This also sparked a public sympathy with independent entrepreneurs.
A study last year showed that over 60% of consumers want to see more independent food and drink outlets in their area.
How can businesses make the most of the independent food trend?
Restaurants, mobile traders, coffee shops, artisan producers, micro-breweries and local distilleries are all perfectly placed to take advantage of the public enthusiasm for supporting local food and drink small businesses.
1. Use local suppliers - and shout about it
For the savvy, discerning food buyer, it's all about ingredients and where they come from. Research shows customers want to know if your pork is sourced from a Herefordshire farm, or that you only brew beer using English grain.
Using local suppliers often simply makes sense in terms of cost and convenience, but in the current climate you can turn it into a major selling point.
2. Get active on social media
The return to traditional, quality-focused food-buying is perfectly complemented by the modern rise in social media. People are obsessed with their food and what it looks like. Trends like #foodporn, which sees millions upload images of food every day, are evidence of this.
Meanwhile, small businesses are communicating directly with their customers on Twitter and Facebook, building relationships in a way that traditional marketing never made possible. And content doesn't have to be complicated. Langleys, a traditional gin distilled in Birmingham, gives its fans behind-the-scenes insight with an image-led weekly update.
3. Tap into the street food revolution
The trend for casual yet high-quality food sold from mobile vendors is in full swing. Not to be confused with your average burger van, street food is as much a social event as a culinary phenomenon, with atmosphere and carefully-sourced ingredients on the menu.
For restaurants and artisan food producers, popping up at fairs and markets could be a creative and lucrative outlet. The Nationwide Caterers Association (NCASS) provides advice to businesses wishing to explore this avenue.
4. Build links with local journalists and food bloggers
Never underestimate the power of good PR. Building relationships with journalists and bloggers in your area is likely to bring dividends in terms of publicity and revenue. Invite them to try your new menu, or send them product samples and news updates about your business. Many blogs like to run competitions - in this example Don Diego, a Spanish tapas restaurant, has teamed up with a food blog to promote its offer in this way.
Ahmed Ahmed is director of publishing and events company, River Court Media, and the organiser of Birmingham Independent Food Fair.