Today’s Group Monte Carlo conference report

Today’s Group Monte Carlo conference report

Wholesalers and key national brands gathered this week for the Today’s Group annual conference which this year took place in the stunning city of Monte Carlo.

Attendees enjoyed an intensive line up of industry-leading speakers combined with a variety of networking opportunities to ensure they maximised their time on the business trip.

Day one: conference highlights

Kicking off the proceedings, Today’s chairman Mark Windebank told delegates that wholesale presents a significant opportunity for business – the channel is expected to grow by 1.6% to £32bn by 2016. Today’s presentations, themed around ‘Partnerships for Success’, explored how to work better together to capitalise on this growing market.

Him!’s Jill Livesey kept delegates up to speed with the latest retail trends driving the market, reporting that the average consumer visits a c-store 3.8 times per week, picking up an average of three items with an average basket spend of £6.39. Just 18% of that spend is on impulse which, considering the impulsive nature of the channel, presents a significant opportunity to do better. Jill emphasized that there is potential to offer retailers more support with planning and placing promotions which can take up to six hours per week.

Digital platforms

 The importance of digital continues to grow and digital platforms have been a key driver in Today’s partnerships with customers and suppliers. Retail director John Kinney told delegates that the Plan for Profit App, launched earlier this year, has been a huge success with suppliers’ promotions being viewed half a million times. Plans are under way for the development of a consumer facing app and loyalty schemes to build on this momentum.

Savage & Whitten’s Michael Skelton continued the digital theme with his emphasis on the importance of EPOS and data, which has helped to save his retailers many hours every week while ensuring that margins are accurate and up to date. 60 of the group’s 110 symbol group retailers have the system and the goal is to have 75% of retailers complaint by 2016.

Keeping up with the nation’s changing palate also presents opportunities for wholesalers and retailers. With 40% of the UK population now classified as ‘ethnic’ the importance of an ethnic or world food category in convenience retail continues to grow. In a colourful and vibrant presentation, Sanjay Wahdwani, managing director of world food specialist Wanis showcased a new look for the group’s own-label Caribbean range Tropical sun and gave delegates an inspiring talk on the growth of the business since its inception in the 1960s.

Focus on foodservice

 Representing a £10bn opportunity for wholesalers over the next five years, the foodservice sector is an important area for wholesalers and was given particular focus in today’s programme. David Sabin at Today’s reported that brands within the foodservice arm of the business have enjoyed up to 58% growth. Sales via the foodservice division have collectively grown 5% over the past year.

Premier Foodservice’s Simon Millard outlined key opportunities for members, particularly around nursing homes due to the UK’s aging population and schools following the introduction of free school meals this year.

Jim Cummiskey of Glasgow-based Failte Foods shared some of the group’s latest developments, which has helped to secure new wins with schools and local authorities. Following the launch of a new fresh fruit and vegetable division, Failte has now doubled its fresh produce offering and has relocated the category to its own 18,500sqft site within Glasgow fresh fruit & vegetable market. The next step for the team will be to launch a fresh meats butchery in 2016.

Education and best practice

 Director of the Scottish Wholesale Association (SWA) Kate Salmon and chief executive of the Federation of Wholesale Distributors, James Bielby, updated delegates on the excellent work the associations have been doing towards education, lobbying and training.

James urged wholesalers to act fast and apply for Alcohol Registration via the Government Gateway Scheme while Kate highlighted the huge success of SWA’s Essential Negotiator course, which will make a return in 2016.

Other key speakers included representatives from the Today’s Group team, Coca-Cola Enterprises, Treasury wines and Weetabix who all shared their exclusive category advice and expertise.

The day was wrapped up with the Today’s Annual Supplier Awards hosted by Reggae Reggae sauce founder Levi Roots, who also presented a members-only session inspiring delegates with his incredible journey from humble begins to multi-million pound success.

Day two: speed-dating

Following an evening of excellent food and drink in some of the finest restaurants in Monte Carlo, delegates gathered for speed dating sessions, which gave members and suppliers the opportunity to meet and discuss business and develop ‘Partnerships for Success.’

For Andrew Wild at Wild’s Premier Drinks, speeding was a valuable way of meeting higher-calibre representatives from key on-trade suppliers like Heineken. “We don’t get to see that level of supplier very often back in the UK.”

For SOS wholesale’s Neil Heseltine, the session gave him access to new suppliers that will help him to develop his petcare offer. “We haven’t previously had a face-to-face meeting with Mars Petcare yet so it’s a great opportunity for us.”

The sessions were also useful for newcomers to the channel. Representatives from both Mars Foodservice and JTI, relatively ‘fresh’ into their roles, used the speed dating and conference to turbo-charge their visibility and relationships with Today’s key members. JTI’s Paul Stock said, “It’s a great way to meet all the ‘movers and groovers’ under one roof.”

Tom Hinchliffe at Taylors of Harrogate – which is up 41% with Today’s members this year – says that attending the conference is a critical way of making sure he gives his customers exactly what they want. “Hearing first-hand from wholesalers what they need from us is the best feedback I can get.”

Day three: conference highlights

Following a fabulous evening at the famous Zelo’s restaurant in Monte Carlo, delegates gathered today for part two of the conference programme, which focused on on-trade, digital trends and featured keynote speaker Gerald Ratner.

On-trade focus

Head of Today’s on-trade division Francesca Sabin kicked-off the programme outlining the lucrative opportunities presented by Today’s on-trade division, which has a collective turnover of £550m and supplies 19,000 outlets.

Francesca is working on further developing the support offered to members and is considering the introduction of on-trade specific speed dating and a promotional club.

Stephen Watt of Whyte & Mackay followed on from the on-trade theme, urging delegates to consider improving the spirits shopping experience for customers. Consumers want to be engaged and informed – wholesalers and their customers must respond by utilising social media to establish what is popular on a local level together with educating staff to offer customers advice with premium lines.

Craft beer exports

Launching a specialist Scottish beer export business Craft Beer Clan last year, Simon Hannah of JW Filshill has successfully diversified into new lucrative markets while adding new interest to his core business.

Simon explained that the conference theme ‘ Partnerships for Success’ means something very different in Asia, where social media is controlled and Twitter and Facebook are banned. Effective relationships are about respecting different cultures not just about transactions. By embracing new ways of doing business, Simon’s new venture has been able to thrive.

Back in Glasgow, Simon has invested in technology to make huge improvements to the core business, saving £30K worth of false claims per year. 50% of Simon’s team have been with the business for at least ten years or more. To achieve ‘Partnerships for Success’ the knowledge and experience of his staff is blended with the aspirations of his suppliers.

The digital age

Denys Short of health & beauty specialist DCS has used the ‘three F’s’ to help drive successful partnerships in his business, which has doubled from £10m to £20m with Today’s Group over the past four years.

Denys says that the digital era has driven consumer expectations for ‘Fast’, immediate information while ‘Flexibility’ allows his business to adapt to the needs of the customer. ‘Flowing’ represents the constant availability of products.

DCS introduced a new sister company Enable 16 years ago, to look after the digital side of the business, appointing managing director Andrew Butt to head it up. Following Denys’ presentation, Andrew showcased the group’s latest development, Deal Track, to delegates, which has simplified promotional agreements with suppliers.

Andrew explained that with digital marketing, personalisation is critical and can increase redemption rates by up to 80%. With that in mind, the business has helped develop a new personalised Today’s weekly digital member bulletin.

Focusing entirely on the true meaning of ‘effective partnerships’ Peppi Cremona from AB InBev explored what great relationships really look like in business. It does not always require trading, he explained. Integrating your suppliers’ communication into yours is critical together with taking a long-term view.

How not to loose a billion pounds

Businessman Gerald Ratner rounded up the day with an inspiring presentation on how – after growing his jewellery business to £1.2bn with profits of £121m and losing it all overnight – he managed to build his business back and is today the UK’s largest online jewellery retailer.

Mark Windebank closed the conference, thanking event sponsors, wholesalers, suppliers and the team at Today’s for a hugely educational and inspiring event.

Day four: Bond night

For the final night of the four-day conference guests were treated to a glamorous James-Bond themed finale at the truly spectacular, roofless, Salle Des Etoiles in the Monte Carlo Bay hotel. The compere for the evening was the BBC’s ‘Voice of the Balls’ Alan Dedicoat, known for his work on ‘Strictly Come Dancing’.

Members and suppliers enjoyed a tutored whisky tasting with Whyte & MacKay’s Master Blender Richard Paterson and an exclusive performance of James Bond anthems from X Factor’s Rebecca Ferguson. It was an incredible end to a fantastic conference.


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