There has been a renewed focus on the plight of the high street this week. At the end of last year Mary Portas published her insights, commissioned by David Cameron, and then earlier this week there was a lot of talk about Justin King and the content of his speech to the Guildhall, London.

It was reported that Justin was critical of the independent retailers for not changing with the times in the same way the supermarkets have and as such they were in some way at fault for the failure of their businesses. He was apparently going to talk about the fact that we no longer have time to browse the butcher and the baker and the greengrocer any more and that these sites should go to other non-retail opportunities such as residential housing. Instead he was to extoll the virtue of the out of town shopping centre.

This is interesting in light of a recent New York Times article entitled “Making over the Mall in Rough Economic Times” which was talking about the demise of the mall in the US where retail outlets are being replaced by schools, clinics, offices and churches.

In the end, Justin stuck to his marketing roots and focused instead on the change in customer relationship marketing through the improved connections we get with loyalty cards, smart phones and the internet. In his ‘Back to the Future’ speech, Justin also alluded to the investment they have made in bringing fishmongers, butchers and bakers into their stores to create that face to face contact. I agree with Justin that it is about personal connections but I still feel that a text to my phone or an e mailed offer is simply targeted marketing and I am yet to rave about the service or knowledge received from his rear service staff.

As I said before, I do think supermarkets do a good job but I also think that people have time to visit butchers and bakers and greengrocers but only if it is worth their while. My friend Howard at Echochamber has a theory called Einstein Time and the principle is that time is fluid. People will queue for something they really want and won’t wait if not. So it is up to the retailer to make it a great experience worth waiting for.

Last year I discovered Intelligentsia coffee in LA which competes in a world of fast instantly available coffee when people are at their most time pressured – on their way in to work. And yet, here people queue in a long line. Why? you may ask. Well it’s great quality coffee, a funky environment and most importantly, you get your own personal barista standing in front of you making that skinny, frothy, wet, whatever-you-heart-desires coffee at a coffee pod within the shop. They know that coffee drinking is a serious thing.

The Intelligentsia personal coffee service

One-to-one coffee making at the front two stations - see the ladies in blue and pink

As for greengrocers, there is still growth in local market stalls and whilst it is not quite the high street, the consumer is clearly seeking something that supermarkets don’t offer. The best example I know of a fruit & veg market stall is at La Boqueria in Barcelona, where standards are consistent and added value is a way of life. It was interesting to hear that Charles Wilson of cash & carry retailer Booker announced at the Guildhall this week the rollout of their dedicated greengrocers in 30 stores which is great, especially as I was involved in the training programme for this. Booker is doing exceptionally well, so we should be taking note if that is where they are investing their money.

Great greengrocering....at La Boqueria

Perfect VM every time

Fun with fresh juices

Prepared fruit La Boqueria way complete with fork

There are plenty of examples of great butchers, fishmongers and bakers too:

The butchery at Darts Farm, Devon

Eataly, Turin

Despite that, most are struggling to remain in the high street and the problem is clear to see.

Maybe the solution will be inspired by that recent TV series: The Fabulous Baker Brothers. I am still catching up since my return home, but it was eminently sensible to put these two skills together and I can only hope that these brothers and their adjacent outlets in Chipping Sodbury are flourishing. The show and the book were great.

So why not combine outlets on our high streets by buddying up? The Butcher & The Baker? The Baker & The Cheesemonger? The Fishmonger & The Greengrocer? It would double the personalised customer experience and halve the overheads for the retailer. Maybe this is the next generation of prepared food too, where we get the perfect burger pattie on sale adjacent to the ideal burger bun; the best raclette cheese with sourdough bread for the perfect cheese sandwich; fish & samphire; scallops & cauliflower. The list is endless. I am also seeing condiments, recipes, crockery…the works. You saw it here first!

Beautiful cheese ready for its ideal match

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