Experience-based retailing - explaining the growth of the experience economy within food retail.

Shoppers want memories not things!


Research undertaken by Barclaycard indicated that over half of consumers would rather spend money on entertainment and events than products. Respondents indicated that the setting in which they are served is as important as the food or beverage they are buying, indicating that providing the best quality produce or price is no longer sufficient to tempt customers.

Seeing produce being made immediately attracts attention. Award-winning leisure attractions such as the Beamish North of England Open Air Museum with its Victorian township has majored on this by providing a sweet shop with adjacent manufacturing facilities where visitors can watch toffee, fudge and boiled sweets being made, and have a taste of the finished product. Most of the visitors immediately head into the shop to buy some to take home. High street retailer, Fudge Kitchen, has used a similar approach throughout its 35-year trading history. Fudge Kitchen’s managing director, Sian Holt comments, “We have always had an element of retail theatre, producing fudge in front of our customers. We have seen a change in reactions to that from where people used to stop for about five or 10 minutes, now they are stopping to watch the entire process and asking questions afterwards.” Recognising an opportunity, Fudge Kitchen began looking at ways it could expand its experienced-based offer. “We set up fudge making experiences. One of the biggest issues we had was to persuade our insurers to cover us, because of the health and safety issues. Such experiences had not existed before. We used to do a couple a month, now we are doing upwards of 10 a week across our stores. It increases brand awareness, interest among customers and we get a lot of repeat business. It is a great way of retailing, tapping into the day out experience, retail in its leisure aspect. We feature strongly on TripAdvisor, and are usually in the top three attractions in the heritage towns in which we operate.”


At Turnips in London’s Borough Market, actively engaging with the public has enabled them to develop new markets for hitherto wasted produce. Charles Foster says, “We supply Michelin restaurants who only want visually perfect products. This results in a lot of rejected produce. We employed a chef and created a seasonal pizza and risotto offering which is cooked and sold directly at our stall. It gives us something to talk about to customers and encourages them to try the produce. It inspires customers to buy unusual produce such as black garlic aioli or exotic mushrooms. We used to have 26% waste, we are now down to around 5% and are making a profit on the produce, giving us higher margins that help make our retail business pay, and elevating the business to a new level.”


Producers are equally convinced of the value of providing experience-based events, especially when it comes to building a brand or introducing a new style of product. For NOVELTEA, creating a customer experience was essential to develop sales. Apart from offering in-store sampling or at festivals, they utilise eye-catching props such as displaying the product in a tea chest, as well as collaborating with other complementary brands to create a memorable, interactive experience. NOVELTEA’s Vincent Efferoth explains, “Following the success of a pairing event on the main event stage at the Yorkshire Dales Cheese Festival, we held an exclusive event with Paxton and Whitfield to pair artisan cheeses with our unique alcoholic teas. Currently we are developing a unique ‘tea tasting’ event with a Newcastle tea brand.”


On the road
Retailers are also investigating ways of taking their retail offer into new locations, thus creating brand awareness and developing sales opportunities within a wider market. Festivals are a key target. Artisan retailers increasingly trade at food, music, wellness and arts festivals. Caterfest Concessions Management has announced plans to develop themed food areas at festivals to showcase artisan food and retailing. Paz Samah of Bad Brownie says, “Music festival pop-ups now account for 15% of our annual revenue so they’re hugely important to our marketing strategy. They give our customers the opportunity to meet us, offer feedback and share their ideas for future brownie flavours, playing a vital role in shaping and growing our business.”


The Co-Op has linked with festival organisers to become the first food retailer to operate pop-up supermarkets at the Download, Latitude, Reading, Leeds, Isle of Wight, Creamfields, Glastonbury and BellaDrum music festivals this summer, thus catering for hundreds of thousands of festivalgoers. Yet these are stores which are not just supermarkets – they offer experiences too by providing in-store DJ’s playing music relevant to the festival. Last year, the Co-Op’s first festival store in Leeds included a DJ playing music in-store at 2am in the morning, creating a lively atmosphere linking into the festival theme. Customers loved it, and started dancing in the aisles and forming a large conga line. Scenes of customers doing the conga around the Co-Op went viral via the Unilad website reaching 2.2m people, and was shared 4.3k times across Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp.


Food festivals are an instinctive choice for specialist food retailers but choosing the right ones is important. Dan Bliss of Paxton & Whitfield believes that it is “better to engage with local food festivals than national ones. We’ve seen bigger returns by doing this.” Lack of a food festival in an area should not be a deterrent, in fact it can provide an opportunity. Faced with exactly that situation in Stratford-upon-Avon, Paxton & Whitfield’s store manager simply liaised with other local food brands to create a very successful festival.

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