Responsible retailing builds customer and community trust

Apart from prices and good availability of products, another important thing customers look for in a convenience store is the trust which comes with responsible retailing

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Responsible retailing, customer and community trust
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Convenience stores played a major role during the pandemic through their services to customers and communities. The proper implementation of social distancing, regular sanitization in the shop, offering home deliveries – all these improved their social prestige. Apart from doing their regular business, being a responsible retailer is proven to be very important. Responsible retailing ensures everything from implementation of laws imposed by regulators, the safety of customers, to avoiding the sale of age-restricted products, illicit tobacco, and alcohol.

“There are many benefits to being a responsible retailer. Being a responsible retailer makes your store and your local community a safer, cleaner, healthier, and happier place to live, work, and play,” said Narinder Randhawa, national president, Federation of Independent Retailers (NFRN).

“On sustainability, not only is implementing eco-friendly practices in your store better for the environment, but it will also save your money in the long run. Being viewed as a responsible retailer is also likely to increase your sales as customers will trust you to supply them with a safe product that has been stored in the correct manner and is completely up to code.”

He warns, “You may also face consequences for not being a responsible retailer, most notably, you could be charged for failing to comply with the regulations that have been put in place.”

Andrew Goodacre, CEO of British Independent Retailers Association (Bira) says, “This has always been important to retailers, and especially independent retailers who are an integral part of the high street communities. Shoppers need to be able to trust their shops and know that the retailer is compliant with important regulations – food safety, product safety, customer safety, etc. For an independent, if this trust is broken, then it can often mean the end of the business.”

Responsible Retailing

Amish Shingadia of Londis Caterways and Post Office, explains how he ensures being a responsible retailer: “We follow a rigorous responsible retailing policy including sales of age-related products, Covid and health and safety. This includes online training done every six months. All staff are trained in bakery and have been trained in food safety. The store has a COVID-19 plan and risk assessment. This was congratulated by Horsham council during our recent inspection – resulting in a five-star rating.”

“The store has a plan for recycling and waste management, and energy and environmental sustainability. This includes recycling, free bags for life (paid by us) and supporting ‘Environmental PoS’ around the store. We use the ‘Too good to go’ app to reduce food wastage. We helped champion this with Bookers and we can provide evidence of this. This has helped save over 100 meals!”

He adds, “Caterways has worked with Vapebase to develop a vaping concept for retailers. We have had numerous meetings and helped them develop their concept. We have been their model store. Future work has been planned with them and their directors. Vaping is responsible as it helps convert smokers to the healthier vaping option.”

Apart from ensuring the implementation of rules and regulations, Shingadia also helps the communities, “Any food wastage or excess food is given to the local YMCA centre. Any produce that is safe to use, is put into our fresh baguettes. We conduct work experience for local school kids, as well work placements via the job centre. This helps them with their CVs. We highlight healthy good choices, including an extensive array of sugar-free goods. We give away free fruit on Fridays to school children. We have also trained apprentices with youths.”

Shingadia is a retailer (and former Asian Trader Award-winner) who has implemented a suite of responsible and ethical measures across his business – which all help to build and secure the business over the long-term

“Under request from members of staff, we have held meetings with PCSO’s, to whom we have reported several instances of repeated anti-social behaviour in our otherwise fair community, and to receive advice about training our new team members to be more cautious in the selling of tobacco and alcohol to those who are still underage.”

Shingadia is on local committees and works with local law enforcement agencies to ensure the responsible retailer status as part of the community.

“The store has LED lights throughout, doors on chillers, and an energy efficiency policy including smart meters to ensure sustainability. All cardboard and plastic are recycled via Bookers. We offer work experience for students. During this, they get to learn about health and safety, wastage, stock, margins, etc. These things prepare them for the working world. As we have a lot of schools around us, [and] this is part of our community outreach. The result of this is that we have seen a greater amount of repeat business and have added to the sense of community.”

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Government’s role

The government is taking some responsibility by imposing laws to protect the environment and the health of citizens. Retailers need to be aware of new regulations to ensure it is been properly observed from their side to avoid any further consequences. Next year HFSS restrictions and a Deposit Return Scheme will be implemented. This year the government imposed Natasha’s Law for food safety and Environment Law to tackle waste and increase recycling.

To tackle waste and increase recycling among other measures, the government has now passed the Environment Bill into UK law. It aims at protecting and enhancing the environment for future generations. It has measures to clean up the country’s air, restore natural habitats, increase biodiversity, reduce waste and make better use of resources. The law envisages a more circular economy, incentivising people to recycle more, encouraging businesses to create sustainable packaging, making household recycling easier, and stopping the export of polluting plastic waste to developing countries.

Commenting on the different laws coming into effect, Goodacre says, “I am bound to say that this is why all retailers should join as an association like Bira. With all the distractions of running your own business, it is very difficult to also keep up to date with the many regulations that exist. At Bira, we place a lot of importance on keeping members informed about important regulations and any changes to the law.”

NFRN National President Narinder Randhawa explains. “As a retailer, it is crucial to stay up to date with key dates regarding restrictions and regulations. Via its political engagement team, the NFRN regularly keeps its members up to date with upcoming changes to the retail industry. While the Deposit Return Scheme has been delayed indefinitely, the restrictions on HFSS are likely to take place next year and affect many independent retailers.”

HFSS restrictions

The government calls obesity one of Britain’s biggest long-term public health problems. One of its moves to tackle obesity is to restrict the promotion of foods and drinks high in fats, salt and sugar (HFSS) by October 2022.

In November 2020, Britain proposed a ban on online advertising of unhealthy foods as part of its efforts to tackle obesity and improve public health. In its plan, store promotions on such products cannot be advertised, and unhealthy promotions will not be allowed at checkouts, shop entrances, or at the ends of aisles from October 2022.

“HFSS restrictions – From April 6 2022, all symbol groups or businesses with 250 or more employees which offer pre-packaged or fresh food on-site will be required to visibly display the kilocalorie (KCAL) and energy content of all products which meet the criteria. This labelling must also include the statement “adults need around 2,000 kcal a day”,” explains Randhawa.

“HFSS (layout changes in shops) – The department of health and social care has confirmed plans to introduce promotional and display restrictions on all high fat, salt and sugar products sold in stores by October 2022. Display of HFSS products will be prohibited within specific areas and promotions, including ‘2 for 1’ offers will be restricted.”

The government has exempted convenience stores which are either under 2,000 square feet in size or run by a business with fewer than 50 full-time equivalent employees. But franchise or symbol group stores deemed to be part of the larger brand-owner business – such as Spar, Nisa and Costcutter – are not exempted.

The measures by the government aim to support people in achieving and maintaining a healthy weight and improve the nation’s overall wellbeing. The policy focuses on the products that are significant contributors to sugar and calorie intakes in children and that are heavily promoted.

The HFSS rule includes location restrictions at store entrances, aisle ends and checkouts and their online equivalents (homepages, landing pages for other food categories, and shopping basket or payment pages). The location restrictions will only apply to stores over 2,000 square feet – specialist retailers, such as chocolate shops, are exempt from the location restrictions

Under HFSS rules, volume price restrictions will prohibit retailers from offering promotions such as “buy one get one free” or “3 for 2” offers on HFSS products and free refills of sugary soft drinks will be prohibited in the eating-out sector. Prepacked food and drink in the following categories will be restricted if they are considered HFSS: soft drinks, cakes, chocolate confectionery, sugar confectionery, ice cream, morning goods (for example, pastries), puddings, sweet biscuits, breakfast cereals, yogurts, milk-based drinks with added sugar, juice-based drinks with added sugar, pizzas, ready meals, meal centres, including breaded and battered products, crisps and savoury snacks, chips and similar potato products.

Earlier, the government had planned to enforce the restrictions on promotions of HFSS foods and drinks by April 2022 but later it extended to October 2022 to allow more time for retailers to make the necessary changes to store layouts, which could be considerable and wide-ranging.

Deposit Return Scheme (DRS)

Another regulation by the government to protect the environment is the DRS Scheme. The Scottish government plans to introduce DRS in 2022. It will require consumers to pay a 20p deposit on each glass, can or PET container purchased, which is then reimbursed when the empty is returned.

DRS regulations passed by the Scottish parliament in May 2020 paved the way for drinks producers and importers to nominate a scheme administrator to fulfil the DRS obligations on their behalf. In 2017, the Scottish government first announced its ambition to introduce a deposit return scheme in Scotland to increase recycling rates and reduce litter.

Circularity Scotland is being funded by a combination of companies and trade associations representing their broader drinks producer and retail members. If approved by the Scottish government, the company will seek to work with companies throughout the supply chain – producers, retailers, hospitality and wholesalers – to help deliver a scheme ultimately expected to collect more than 90 per cent of drinks containers in Scotland.

The previous NFRN national president, Stuart Reddish, commented, “As the first retail trade association to support the introduction of DRS in Scotland, we are delighted that we have reached this important milestone in the introduction of a scheme. Our members – news and convenience retailers across Scotland – will be working in their communities to provide return points and to help Scotland achieve its target of a 90 per cent return rate.”

When the Scheme was announced Donald McCalman, interim director of Circularity Scotland, said that the DRS would provide huge environmental benefits for the country and accelerate the Scottish government’s commitment to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2045.

On 17 November 2021, the Scottish Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity, Lorna Slater, was expected to announce a further delay to the scheme, which had been slated to launch in July next year. However, the minister advised that the scheme would be introduced “as soon as practically possible,” blaming Covid, VAT, Brexit and tough trading times for retailers.

Commenting on the announcement, Narinder Randhawa said: “The Scottish government has bottled a decision on DRS today. Lorna Slater announced that she is still working on a timescale for the launch of DRS and will announce a date in due course. This is not very helpful to retailers who need certainty if they are to plan how their businesses will handle the introduction of the scheme.”

The NFRN was the first retail trade association to support the introduction of DRS but has stressed the importance of getting a scheme that works for all retailers – large and small – as well as achieving its aim of increasing the availability of high quality recycled plastic, metal, and glass and decreasing the number of these items being discarded as litter.

The implementation of DRS Scheme in Scotland is set for next year. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has also launched a new consultation in the implementation of a deposit return scheme (DRS) for England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Responding to the earlier consultation in 2019, Defra has said that it would hold a second consultation on the proposed regulatory framework for introducing a DRS through secondary legislation, including more detailed proposals for the nature of any such scheme.

However, the latest consultation would also seek to “explore further what the continued appetite is for a deposit return scheme in a ‘post-Covid’ context,” in the backdrop of the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. The government said it anticipates that the introduction of the scheme would be in late 2024 at the earliest, instead of the current target of 2023, as a result of the pandemic impact.

Natasha’s Law

On October 1, a new food allergen law, popularly known as Natasha’s Law, came into effect in England, under which food prepacked for direct sale (PPDS) needs to be labelled with the full list of ingredients and allergens. As of now, the law is applicable in England and will not be legally required in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Once the impact of the legislation is apparent, the rest of the UK will likely follow suit.

With one in four Britons said to be living with allergies, the newly-implemented Natasha’s Law is deemed a big moment in the history of food safety. Experts claim that on average ten people in Britain die every year from food-induced anaphylaxis, of which a significant percentage are triggered by food allergies. Since there is no cure for food intolerance or allergy, those who suffer from these conditions have to observe a strict avoidance diet, where a minor slip-up of might result in a drastic, sometimes even fatal turn of events.

Randhawa explained what is expected of retailers from the enforcement of Natasha’s Law: “Any food you sell that is prepared on-site and pre-packed for direct sale will need to be labelled with the name of the food and a full ingredients list with allergens specifically emphasised. Ingredient and allergen information provided must be accurate and presented in a suitable format. All ingredients found in a product must be listed including any sub-ingredients (e.g. spread on sandwiches, salad dressings).”

He warms, “Breaches of any of these regulations bring the potential of a penalty, ranging from a fine through to the loss of a licence or a prison sentence. The extent of the punishment depends on the circumstances and where your business is located.”

Goodacre urged all retailers to join an association for guidance and advice. “Retailers should speak to suppliers, who will also be bound by the regulations. All too often people turn to Google for answers, and whilst there is lots of good information on the internet, it is not always correct. If the retailer wishes to check the regulations on-line, they should always use the official government sites,” said Goodacre.

Selling of Age-restricted Products

The sale of age-restricted products is primarily concerned with alcohol and tobacco, but also includes items as varied as knives, lottery tickets, vapes, DVDs and video games, lighter refills containing butane, petrol, aerosol paint, fireworks, party poopers, and Christmas crackers. This responsibility plays a big part in shaping a local shop’s role in their community. Retailers certainly deserve a part of the credit for the falling prevalence rates for smoking and drinking among teenagers.

The The Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) takes a leading role in supporting its members to retail alcohol responsibly. This includes working with retailer members on schemes and initiatives designed to reduce underage sales, producing guidance for the responsible retail of alcohol, and working to raise standards of alcohol retailers across the UK.

There are many groups formed by the partnership of associations and retailers to curb the underage sales of alcohol and to spread awareness on reducing underage sales. The Retail of Alcohol Standards Group, established in 2005 by national retailers, aims to eradicate underage alcohol sales. Its work today continues to focus on driving down underage alcohol sales, primarily through the Challenge 25 Scheme, addressing underage drinking through Community Alcohol Partnerships, and promoting high standards among alcohol retailers through its Guidance for the Responsible Retailing of Alcohol.

The Community Alcohol Partnership (CAP) is a partnership of local authorities, police, schools, retailers, neighbourhood groups and health providers, working together to prevent alcohol-related harm to young people and improve the quality of life for residents.

It launched a campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of ‘proxy sales’, where adults buy alcohol for under-18s during Alcohol Awareness Week from November 15-21. The campaign used some innovative ways of engaging local residents and getting the message across that it is an offence in the UK for any person to buy or attempt to buy alcohol for anyone under 18, and anyone found doing so is liable to a £90 fixed penalty notice or possibly a conviction.

Shops displayed posters and information leaflets were given out at local licensed premises, warning about the harmful impact of underage drinking on young people, including its consequences for their health and its influence on antisocial behaviour in the community.

After alcohol, illegal tobacco sales is a major problem that continues to harm teenagers and communities. The selling of illegal tobacco enables local children to smoke, brings crime into communities and undermines local shops. Most shops do not sell illegal tobacco, but figures do show shops have become a source for illegal tobacco sales, with a minority of traders prepared to break the law.

In November, Trading Standards officers found and confiscated a safe containing illegal tobacco products from a shop in Wood Green, Haringey in London. The seizure of the products, worth over £1,500, followed an operation linked with London Trading Standards Week, when Trading Standards teams from Haringey Council carried out a range of enforcement actions throughout the week, including test purchases to catch out shopkeepers illegally selling tobacco products to children.

More than five million illegal cigarettes were seized from local retail outlets in the first six months of the year as part of Operation CeCe, a joint initiative between National Trading Standards (NTS) and HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to tackle the illegal tobacco trade.

The illegal tobacco market as a proportion of the overall tobacco market has almost halved since 2000. In 2017/18, HMRC figures show illegal tobacco made up 9 per cent of all cigarettes and 32 per cent of hand rolled tobacco, compared to illegal tobacco making up 21 per cent of all cigarettes in 2001 and 60 per cent of hand rolled tobacco in 2005-06.

Although the figures state that the numbers have declined drastically but the illegal sales through local shops continue to be a big threat. Only a responsible retailer will be committed to playing their part about truly caring for society and winning the hearts of local communities.

NFRN’s suggestions on how to be a responsible retailer

  • No matter how busy you are, always check a customers age when selling age restricted products. If in doubt, don’t sell, but do keep a log of refusals. With alcohol, keep an eye out for proxy purchasing, when an adult attempts to purchase on behalf of a minor.
  • There are ways to reuse the items you cannot recycle. A quick google search will help you find local areas in which you can recycle unusual materials. Items like crisp packets can even be upcycled to create survival sheets and bivi bags for the homeless.
  • Consider sustainability when refurbing your store. Switching to LED lights in your store can majorly reduce your carbon dioxide emissions. Double-treating your store to ensure heat is kept in will reduce your heating bill.
  • Listening to your customers and employees is a great way to learn new ways to increase the sustainability of your store.
  • Make your staff aware of leaving taps running and leaving lights on in rooms that are not currently in use (i.e., the stockroom, toilets).

Precautions to avoid breaking the law while selling age-restricted products

  • training your staff and keep records of all training
  • asking staff to sign training records to confirm that they have received the training
  • ensuring that staff are aware of proof of age cards and ask for them if they are unsure of a customer’s age
  • displaying the statutory warning notices for cigarettes and fireworks.
  • considering other warning notices for customers and reminders for staff.
  • keeping a refusals register and instructing staff to record when they refuse to sell a restricted product
  • refusing to sell to anyone whose age you are unsure of.