Retail consultant Karl McKeever on the role of visual merchandising in selling artisanal products

There has been a murmur of disquiet among mass consumerism in the past few years, with a growing throng of shoppers seeking out locally sourced, handcrafted and ‘alternative’ products and increasingly placing provenance above convenience or price.

As a result, the number of artisanal food stores is on the up – with more of us turning to natural, organic foods, with ingredients that can be traced to source.

Artisan bakeries that sell the idea of ‘fresh from the oven’ fit perfectly into this niche. From preparation to baking, they provide a demonstration of skill, care and expertise that reinforces the quality and honesty of the store and its products.

Artisan products appear more wholesome than pre-packaged goods, even though they could theoretically contain more preservatives. Supermarkets have embraced the opportunity, baking a variety of loaves in-store – largely sold unpackaged.

The key is presenting products in a way that is compelling, engaging, and that reinforces the fresh and ‘homemade’ narrative.

The good news is that getting it right can be achieved with relatively small budgets; wooden serving boards, gingham fabrics, traditional baskets and handwritten labels all present an authentic touch that compounds the shoppers’ desire to buy something not mass-produced.

Beyond the product itself, visual merchandising that delivers an artisan feel has expanded out into supermarkets. Lidl, for example, has invested in chalkboards and traditional wicker presentations for its in-house bakery section.

As a retail proposition, the ability to enhance the overall shopping experience by telling the story behind certain products delivers appeal beyond a simple price or convenience message.

This visual merchandising  (VM) strategy of playing on the ‘homemade’ can have further-reaching appeal beyond the product it directly sells, creating an artisan feel for the store that can enhance other available products.

However, any rise in ‘alternative’ products, which derive their popularity from being different from mass-produced goods, can themselves become commonplace, rendering their USP questionable.

The suspected tough economic climate that lies ahead may well see shoppers cutting back on luxuries, such as expensive artisan bread. Retailers may have to work harder on price as well as in-store VM if they want to maintain their artisan offering.