Why is Co-op putting supermarkets up at music festivals?

Co-op is stocked and ready for the festival crowd

Thur Aug 2 2018


For 15% of festivalgoers, running out of supplies is their biggest bugbear. It comes in fourth, behind people filming performances on phones in front of them (23%), bad weather (31%), and queuing (38%). That’s according to Barclaycard research into giving customers great experiences1.

Co-op can’t control the weather or what other festivalgoers do, but it can help with queue times and supplies.

We spoke to Co-op’s Partnerships and Events Manager, Alasdair Fowle, and Director of Marketing and Communications, Amanda Jennings, to find out why they’ve got pop-up stores at four festivals in 2018.

It’s so exciting for Co-op and festivalgoers that you’re appearing at festivals this year. Tell us what people can expect…

Alasdair: A 6,000 square foot Co-op store in each of the campsites at Download, Latitude, Reading and Leeds festivals. Each one will stock popular items in bulk. For example, if we know people want lemonade, we’ll sell lemonade, but only one type. So there’s choice, but not within each product group.

Instead of hauling crates of beer and bags of food into the campsite, along with heavy camping gear, they can travel light and stock up on site. It’s about making the festival experience as good as it can be for everyone.

Amanda: As well as stocking everything we know festivalgoers want, we know their experience has to be excellent too. That means doing everything quickly so they can get back to the music and everything else the festivals have to offer.

To make sure it’s easy and quick for people to find and pick up what they want, we have unrefrigerated stock on open pallets, not shelves. To speed up queues, we have contactless-enabled card readers and incentives to pay by card. And to make sure everyone has a positive brand experience, we have friendly staff on hand to help around the festival store.  And hopefully we’ll surprise a few people, in a good way! I don’t think many people will be expecting to see a supermarket in the campsite.


“We make sure it's easy to find whatever people want.”

Amanda Jennings, Director of Marketing and Communications, Co-op Food 

Amanda with a Co-op pop up


Why 2018 for this big move into the festival space?

Amanda: It’s critical for us to be where our customers are; being on the high street alone isn’t enough anymore. Festivals are an opportunity for Co-op Food to use our customer and retail knowledge and enhance experiences at temporary events like pop-ups and festivals. We know that by retailing in a festival campsite, we’re offering an essential service for festivalgoers on site, which complements the existing offering from all the food traders at the festival.

Alasdair: We’ve been retailing at a small-scale family festival in Scotland for a few years. After doing a lot of consumer research, we decided we were ready to go bigger, reach new audiences and bring Co-op to life for a younger audience on a bigger scale. 


Paying with Barclaycard at Co-op


How do you choose what products to sell at festivals?

Alasdair: In stores, we follow a ‘right range, right store’ policy. It’s critical to get the right products for the demographic and geography of the store. The same is true for festivals. Some attract a young crowd; some are aimed at families or people just as interested in food as music, for example. We need to know all this so we’re giving people what they want.

In stores, we use stock and payment data and reports to get the range right. That’s only part of the process when choosing stock for festivals.

The value of using payment data

For Barclaycard Business customers, observing consumer spending trends in their industries can help to improve product and marketing strategies, which can result in better customer engagement and spend.

Barclaycard has access to a wide amount of payments data from debit card and credit card spend, to consumer loans, mortgages and more, thanks to being a part of Barclays PLC.

We analyse this data to look in detail at UK consumer expenditure habits so we can observe, forecast and pass on insights around consumer spending trends. 


We start the research process by speaking to colleagues who attend festivals about what they buy and expect. This is a real mix of ad hoc conversations and structured focus groups. Then we cross reference the insight with data from our stores that are close to the festivals we’re retailing at. Payments data tells us which products spike in popularity when the local festivals are on.

Apart from doing a lot of research in advance, we can also take requests from customers at the festivals about what products they want, and if we think there’s enough demand, we can make changes to stock as quickly as the next day. Obviously that’s not possible with all products, but we hold safety stock in warehouses, so if we can pull from that to give customers what they want, then we absolutely will. 

“If we spot trends, we make changes to our stock.”

Alasdair Fowle, Partnerships and Events Manager, Co-op 

Festival goers at a Co-op pop up


Why is a payment partnership so important to pop-ups?

Alasdair: Retailing in a field comes with operational risks. We’ve got a responsibility to keep customer’s payment details safe, just as we do in store, and to do that we need to work with a trusted payment processor.

It’s also critical for customer experience that the card payment system is reliable, experiences maximum uptime, and allows contactless card and digital wallet payments. Apart from non-cash payments being more convenient and faster for customers, they’re better for us as a business.

We prefer card payments over cash because they’re faster at the till and cash is difficult to manage in a field with no existing infrastructure in place. 

Alasdair’s top tips for festival retail success

  1. Know your customer at each festival
  2. Understand what the customer at each festival wants
  3. Adjust the activation tailored to each festival accordingly


[1] A nationally representative survey of 2,000 British adults was conducted by One Poll between 27th June – 2nd July 2018.

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