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Tara Mei is an international serial entrepreneur and the co-founder of the UK’s largest community of food and drinks founders, Bread & Jam. She is a winner of The Grocer’s prestigious Top New Talent award and has successfully supported the growth of thousands of emerging food and drink brands through the launch of international accelerator programmes and cutting-edge industry conferences and workshops. During the pandemic, she launched Mahalo: the fastest growing distributor of emerging brands to the speciality independent sector, supplying Selfridges, Fortnum & Mason, Farmdrop, The Conran Shop and hundreds of independent farm shops and delis across the UK.
One business success
- I was delighted to launch Mahalo during the pandemic and the growth that we have experienced over the last year has been incredibly exciting. Our revenue and customer base have grown consistently month on month and I am proud to be actively supporting some of the best emerging food and drink brands by providing an affordable and collaborative route to market. The appetite for innovative, small batch brands has never been stronger and equally, it has been a privilege to supply hundreds of independent retailers and play a part in helping local businesses flourish. The sheer number of new openings within the speciality retail sector stands testament to the nation’s enthusiasm for shopping local.
Two challenges for the sector
- There is a chronic personnel shortage across the board and businesses will have to invest more in developing a strong company culture if they are to remain competitive in attracting the best team. More people have begun to realise the impact of the inflexibility of pre-pandemic working styles on their mental health and working from home is here to stay. Businesses must consider how to develop their teams with remote workers and invest in technologies that allow them to maintain a healthy work-life balance without affecting the health of the business itself.
- Costs are rising and the Covid excuse has lost its shine. Prices have increased across the supply chain and the consumer will begin to bear the brunt. Small producers will have to work harder and more creatively to capture their attention. The agility of emerging brands may have provided a fruitful headstart for them during the pandemic but now, the big boys have caught up and consumer compassion is wearing thin.
Three forecasts for the sector
- Sustainability will continue to play an important role in buying choices and subsequently in new product development. As discussions about living a more sustainable lifestyle become commonplace, the values that are currently positioned as unique selling points will become the status quo and set the foundations for any business launching into the food and drink industry.
- Alternative routes to market came into their own during the pandemic and show no signs of slowing. Crisis breeds innovation and as hospitality learned to diversify and discovered new revenue streams, in turn, producers shifted their efforts away from traditional retail routes to market. Selling online direct to consumers will continue to become an increasingly important channel for emerging and established food brands.
- Functional foods, once the mainstay for health stores, have begun to penetrate grocery and speciality channels as consumer expectation of the food they buy goes beyond basic satiation. Ironically, as the world slowed during the pandemic, consumers found the time to consider how they could make the most of the time they did have. They began to make more considered choices about the food they ate and the impact it had on their bodies. Taste is becoming less important.