Trading during the pandemic

In April, students’ unions were invited to attend Communities of Practice to discuss ideas on trading through the Covid-19 pandemic. Over 85 members joined the calls to share ideas and actions for a sustainable return strategy, to retain as much commercial activity as possible, and engage with students virtually as well as physically where possible.

Here’s a summary and outcomes of the sessions which you may find useful for your students’ union:


The groups agreed the need for members to support listed sandwich suppliers and the Meal Deal so that students’ unions would receive the retro payments and pricing they are accustomed to. 

It was also agreed that now more than ever, it’s important that members support the programmes and suppliers who have committed to supporting members not only on price, but with additional funding too. The deals ensure that students’ union retail outlets have great deals and can compete with branded convenience stores on food-to-go.

It was suggested that those students’ unions who have not previously considered Retail Plus should revisit the programme, take advantage of the deals by buying stock when products are on promotion, then selling after the promotion ends to increase margins. 

Licensed trade - suppliers supporting the consortium

Molson Coors, ABI (Budweiser Brewing Group). LWC and Diageo have cemented their support to the consortium and its members during this very challenging time and discussions regarding funds for the year ahead have taken place. In view of their continued support, the group agreed that students’ unions should support these suppliers (and other major suppliers) through their purchasing and compliance to Licensed Trade plus and the Cocktail & Spirits programme to ensure funding and price is sustainable for members.

Brands and ranges for 2021 still reflect the need for a category ladder of choice and wil drive volume to the suppliers in the programme. As in previous years, product selections have been made based on the latest category insight.

An opportunity to offer a Licensed Trade Meal Deal comprising of a branded beer and hot food is now available. Details on how to sign up for this valuable cash funding is available on Connect. These funds support margin and enable you to offer a competitive deal to your students without the risk.

CGA and market insight

Trading Support have increased the level of data received from CGA with up-to-date insight posted regularly on a private Workplace Insight and Strategy group. CGA have recently launched a market growth monitor, illustrating how businesses are reopening and what’s happening to trading patterns. If you want access to this information, please email 
Trading Support are now able to generate reports using CGA RISE, a tool that is much used by pub groups. This data tool helps you with an estate planning strategy allowing you to identify whether a given format will be profitable in your location. The report price benchmarks your local competition, looks at segmentation in your area to pinpoint your ideal local consumer and helps you decide where to expand efforts. Your report will help you to re-evaluate and re-launch your offering and help you to make evidence-based decisions. If you have any questions about RISE, please get in touch with Jo Heuston.

Delivery model and APPs

Several students’ unions addressed the topic of delivery models and were concerned that the commission expected by the three main aggregators is not only expensive but not sustainable. Operators generally offer their own solutions with aggregators as an additional channel for takeaway and delivery; the new life line of hospitality.

With the number of new companies in the ‘app provider’ space, members asked Trading Support to look at sourcing a list of strong and reputable providers to help unions navigate choosing the right partner. Trading Support put forward several providers on the Insight & Strategy Group enabling unions to read through the proposition offered by each. A group deal has been negotiated on a web-based service provider Wi5, with students’ unions such as Royal Holloway, Leeds University Union, UCL and Strathclyde choosing this provider. 

With the need to understand who is in your space and manage the time they spend there, Trading Support have offered a group deal on Open Table, the bookings management service. Cardiff and Bath Students’ Unions are both running this system from Welcome Week to help manage table availability and turnaround, as well as create forward bookings and understand the average amount of time students are spending in venue.

Trading in a virtual world

Here’s some ideas that were discussed at the Communities of Practice on how students’ unions will be back up and running in the new normal. 


Click & Collect and contactless payments are not just for the hospitality sector, they are as relevant for your retail space too. Many unions have introduced online stores for clothing to limit the contact and capitalize on trade. Click & Collect on essential grocery boxes and items is the most popular option for students looking to use this channel on campus, followed by hot food and drink.

Food and drink

Click & Collect and pay-at-table are now expected service elements. If you’re currently a sit-down venue, offering take-away food and drink menus will be a life line in the event of a local or national lockdown. It will allow you to keep trading, minimize contact and offer a valuable service to your students.

Offering the Meal Deal via Click & Collect will minimize queues in store. You also don’t need four walls to sell the Meal Deal. Is there a space in your union where you could create a pop-up opportunity and offer an additional streamlined food to go service?

Streamlining menus will allow for fewer staff in small kitchen and serve spaces. However, be careful of stripping menus back too far as market data shows that ‘treat mentality’ and favourites are very much in the consumer mindset when visiting an outlet; cut back too far and you risk disappointing core consumers.  In streamlining, ensure you still have strong levels of choice but look at efficiencies on ingredients that will mean you can be agile to pivot your business to the market conditions. 

The introduction of customer service hosts is now standard practice on the high street and within students’ unions too. More emphasis on front-of-house service means control over seating guests, track and trace requirements, managing queues and social distancing. Open Table is a tool that can help you with this and add data collection to ensure you’re capturing as much custom as you can and building a database of customers you can market directly to.

Consider turning your outlet into a new proposition. If your venue can’t work in the current climate, look at how you could use the space differently e.g. A late-night venue, opening in the day for coffee, light bites and quick meals.

General good practice tips

Training is a key point of discussion and ensuring staff are fully trained has never been more important. Trading Support were asked by members to negotiate a central deal for CPL training and the portal is now live with 13 member unions signed up with access to 44 standard courses across hospitality, health and safety and GDPR compliance along with health and mental wellbeing courses. Tracking how your staff feel about being back at work in this new world is also of key importance as they are the frontline of service delivery. CPL enables you to do this via a messaging and survey function. For more information on CPL email Jo Heuston.

If you’re worried about navigating Covid trading guidelines, you can also call upon Shield Safety who offer the ‘Safe to Trade’ scheme. This initiative provides an independent audit to members and enables you to display a certification to your customers that your venue has all the desired checks in place to be safe to trade. As part of your membership you have access to a discounted rate on this scheme.

Ensure your marketing teams are supporting your commercial outlets with messaging. Are they helping you to communicate the steps you have put in place to ensure staff and customer safety? Communicating these steps to your customers is vital to ensure they are reassured and know how to use your venues. Make sure you’re using social and digital channels to get these messages across.

Engage with your Trading Support team and the Commercial Development team and ensure your offering is supporting the student movement by supporting your consortium. By working together and harnessing volume collectively we will weather this pandemic and emerge as a strong collective student movement on the other side.