The future of food: Q&A with Ugly Drinks CEO and Attest

Attest teamed up with The Grocer and Ugly Drinks to answer your questions about the latest consumer trends in the UK F&B sector.

Curious about the D2C opportunity for F&B brands? Interested to know what the future looks like for frozen foods? Wondering how changed working habits will impact food-on-the-go? 

Attest teamed up with The Grocer and Ugly Drinks to present the findings of our recent UK consumer study on grocery shopping. The webinar attracted hundreds of viewers and some great questions from industry professionals (you can watch it here).  

To find out what people wanted to know, and how these questions were answered, continue reading below. Sam Killip, Head of Client Expertise at Attests explains what the research tells us, while Hugh Thomas, CEO & co-founder of Ugly Drinks, gives the brand perspective. 

What are British grocery shoppers hungry for in 2021?

Fresh insight from 1,000 UK consumers looking at changes in behaviour and attitudes.

Download now

How do you think food-on-the-move categories can transform for the future with the change in customer working habits, particularly in city centres?

Charlotte Cullen, Business Development Manager, Marks & Spencer

Sam: “Long term, it’s very up in the air. We have seen over the past year the attitude to working from home fluctuate. We are seeing now that some people are really missing the office experience and we might see a return to office life and therefore a need for food-on-the-move in a way perhaps we thought we wouldn’t six months ago.

“One thing that food-on-the-go does provide, whether you are working in an office or not is convenience. We can see from this research that convenience is a top three influencing factor for a third of consumers. I would say a lot of food-on-the-move is convenient. So maybe looking at how that kind of food can become D2C is something worth exploring – we can all make bland sandwiches at home – but is that what we want? 

“One trend that will affect this category moving forward is the move to plant-based products – more than a quarter of consumers are now buying plant-based alternatives. These tend to be flexitarians as well as vegans. Other product innovation areas are add-ins such as probiotics or protein.”

Hugh: “As a beverage brand, we normally meet consumers in that grab and go, food service environment, where someone tries that one cold can for the first time. Whereas now, with the way the retail environment has shifted and less of those lunch grab and go occasions, we’re more multipack focused, which as a new brand is quite a big leap for a consumer. That’s a challenge for all emerging brands, whatever category they’re in, that we’ve all had to face in the last 12 months, which is why online has been a really interesting place.”

In your opinion, is a direct-to-consumer model for grocery sustainable and profitable for small players?

Ashish Padhi, Director, My Native Chef

Hugh: “Ugly’s take has always been omnichannel. We believe in every channel, whether that’s retail, food service, online, offline, marketplaces, so D2C is part of a portfolio of channels that we sell with. We launched direct-to-consumer only both in both the UK and the US because that was within our control. Tools like Shopify have made this so much easier and creates consumer trust. 

“It’s really about understanding the unit economics of a product and thecategory you’re in. Certain products and categories make a lot of sense online, others will have finer margins to play with. You have to take into account the cost of acquisition, the cost of the actual unit that you’re selling, and then the shipping. For us, shipping something like water is more expensive than we’d like it to be but in the UK, the country is small and you can make these things work. In the US, the distance products are travelling changes and therefore our unit economics are different. So it really depends on the price point you want to sell at.

“Subscription is hugely important for us; bringing people into the Ugly world and keeping them there. Once you’ve acquired someone, getting them to purchase again without having to acquire them again is massively cost effective in terms of unit economics. We’re always trying to think of ways to improve our subscription service and make it as convenient and rewarding as possible. That’s where the best subscription businesses work.”

Sam: “Personalisation is becoming critical. D2C and subscription allows us to declare our needs and preferences so we can buy something that is tailored, even curated, for us. The previous fear of mismanaging and ordering too much or too little is being handled much better with the flexibility of ordering and the removal of commitment. For those of you old enough to remember the strict terms of a certain music club – great bargains but impossible to get out of  – I think there has been some work to dispel that impression.

“Most likely to be interested in shopping with D2C brands is the younger age group. 48% of people aged 18-40 say they’re likely to in the next six months (versus 34.3% of people aged 41-66). What’s really interesting is that those consumers who tried shopping with a D2C food or drink brand for the first time during the pandemic are now firmly converted; a massive 74.6% say they’ll shop again in the next six months.”

How do you think e-commerce will look in the future? Do you think the trend to online will continue more?

Elaine McCulloch, Customer Manager, Hain Daniels

Sam: “It will be interesting to see who is left to convert in this current wave. If you haven’t used online yet, what would persuade you to do so a year in? I think we have probably seen the big shift and we are going to go back to seeing the smaller incremental changes in shopping behaviour that we would normally see, had the pandemic not happened. It will depend on what retailers do to further the cause of online shopping. I think the two roles of convenience and pleasure are going to be key here. 

“What I’m really interested in seeing is what happens to the high street. Now we have experienced life without the choice of visiting non essential shops, will we have missed it enough to reengage or not. I don’t think consumers have made that decision yet. I think a lot will depend on how well online retailers fix the current frustrations, like not being able to get a delivery slot or difficulty with finding products.”

Hugh: “I agree there’s certainly room for improvement in terms of helping people find products online. From a brand point of view, we’re always optimising and tweaking the imagery, the copy, the keywords and doing everything we can, but there are barriers to that. As a small company there are a lot of pay-to-play opportunities, which do make discovery harder for us. It’s been a case of us moving very quickly to optimise every touchpoint, getting consumer feedback, understanding how algorithms work – even things like stock levels in warehouses can impact how algorithms work on something like Amazon. 

“Really making sure that every part of our supply chain is optimised for online has been a big part of it. There’s a lot of work in the background that allows the frontend – what you actually see on the website – to be more obvious. It’s been a real learning process for us and for the retailers too, as people shift to it. Two years ago it was a very small part of our conversations with retailers but now it’s top of the agenda.”

Do you think the growth in previously unloved categories such as frozen and ambient will continue?

Alison Hughes, Insight Category Manager, Meatless Farm Company

Sam: “We have seen people – particularly women – stocking up on long-life foods, including canned and pantry goods (up 19.9%) and frozen foods (up 11.4%). It’s what we would expect; that Brits would want fully stocked cupboards and freezers at a time when they could be required to quarantine at any moment. 

“What I think is really interesting, and we’ve seen from other research that we’ve done, is that in some ways this has been a big testing bed for retailers. So, the less loved categories – frozen, pantry, canned – people are using them again and perhaps their preconceptions of what they were like is not what they are like now. so, I suspect that, yes, we will see a return to these goods going forwards.” 

How are organic products doing? Are people more eager to go organic and pay a premium or is it still out of reach for most in terms of price?

Clare Pope, Owner, Hoot & Holler PR

Sam: “When asked “do you actively try to do any of the following to be more environmentally friendly?” 18.2% say they buy organic/naturally grown food and drink. This was compared with 38% saying they buy locally produced food and drink – and 37% buying in season produce. The figure dips a little bit again for those that have seen a drop in income. However, we can see that 11% are looking to start buying organic/free-range in 2021. Those that do like buying organic are more likely to be in the under 40 age group and are far more likely to be buyers of plant-based meat alternatives.”

Hugh: “Ugly has always run with affordability at the front of mind, we’ve always wanted to make health affordable. We’ve worked our unit economics back from what price point the consumer can afford for a healthier beverage. But there are challenges and we’re playing around with promotional dynamics. We’re offering multibuys more than we were previously, testing out different mechanics online, which has been a really nice testing bed for us – whether that’s been, buy one flavour, get another free or buy two flavours… we’re playing around online to see what works. Then that can possibly be rolled out into retail.” 

What are British grocery shoppers hungry for in 2021?

Fresh insight from 1,000 UK consumers looking at changes in behaviour and attitudes.

Download now

Bel Booker

Senior Content Writer 

Bel has a background in newspaper and magazine journalism but loves to geek-out with Attest consumer data to write in-depth reports. Inherently nosy, she's endlessly excited to pose questions to Attest's audience of 125 million global consumers. She also likes cake.

See all articles by Bel