Sustainability, e-commerce key drivers reshaping UK market

Exporters must exert more effort to know the trends in their target market and tailor their products around these, according to a trade expert assigned in Europe.

Michelle Fatima Sanchez, special trade representative at the Philippine Trade and Investment Center (PTIC) office in London, advises enterprises to research the ongoing market trends and influences, and study how they can make their products “more suitable” to consumers’ tastes and preferences.

In Europe, the big trends today are e-commerce and sustainability, said Sanchez in a recent talk on an e-forum. The online shopping market is huge and growing rapidly as more and more people turn online amid the pandemic. This is particularly true for the UK, which Sanchez said is the third largest e-commerce market globally and the biggest in Europe.

In connection with the e-commerce boom, she said Filipino entrepreneurs can look at tapping into the growing trend for home deliveries and subscription boxes, the latter involving the recurring delivery of niche products as part of a marketing strategy.

“Snacks can be part of the subscription boxes that are being offered online on a monthly basis,” said Sanchez, who gave her presentation at a webinar organized by the Philippine Exporters Confederation, Inc.

Aside from websites, she also urges exporters to maintain a social media presence to boost the online presence of their company and products at relatively minimal cost.

“Some consumers actually just do a search and some buyers would go to us because they saw something online. So it’s good to at least get your products out that way,” she explained.

UK consumers are quite price conscious, too, and in response, the large UK supermarkets have established the “price match guarantee,” in which they guarantee to match the price offered by “discounters,” or sales outlets that compete with the big players by offering goods at discounted rates.

Exporters should also note that most British consumers are sustainability advocates. This has given rise to the popularity of frozen foods, which not only provide consumers convenience but also helps them to minimize food waste and access food products off-season.

Another trend gaining momentum is the “plant-based” movement, which encompasses not just food and drinks but also cosmetics and other non-food products.

“Plant-based” is no longer a niche sector or patronized by just vegetarians. “Now the bigger market is flexitarian,” said Sanchez. Flexitarians are people who can eat all kinds of food but sometimes opt for plant-based food products to help the environment or acquire healthier diets.

Plant-based burgers are catching on in the UK, for example, Sanchez said.

“The Philippines definitely has a potential to be part of this market” that is increasing becoming mainstream, she continued.

“Free from” is another important buzzword for the food sector, a term used to describe foods devoid of ingredients that could trigger allergies in some people.

“It’s not just gluten-free anymore, it’s not just sugar-free anymore—it’s free from any possible allergens that could hurt people,” she said.

This also requires enterprises to indicate what ingredients, processes or equipment, if any, were used that could possibly cause allergies.

Packaging is also being heavily influenced by sustainability issues, and many European consumers will now reject even products they like for using plastic or too much packaging.

“The consciousness for plastic-free packaging is growing right now,” Sanchez observed. “It’s probably good to consider that when you think about packaging for your products.”

The move toward zero-emission vehicles in Europe is also another future development that exporters need to prepare for, and this early they should look at becoming part of the supply chain for e-bikes and other eco-friendly vehicles, said the trade official.

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