Archives for posts with tag: Justin King

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 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

I’ve always been a fan of supermarkets and believe they have a necessary and significant place in the food retail universe. Maybe it’s all my years at M&S, but I think it is important to have a place that plays the generalist role for food shopping. This in theory gives the space for specialists like those I have been writing about. And each should know their place in the overall hierarchy so that they deliver against their proposition.

There has certainly been good progress in the supermarket world with great leaders like Archie Norman, Terry Leahy, Justin King and Mark Price really pushing the UK standards over the years. And then there are players who extend the boundaries even further. I remember making many a trip to the wonderful Wholefoods in the US as part of my old M&S role in order to bring back best practices to our teams. Whilst Wholefoods hasn’t translated commercially over here in the UK, there is a lot to be said for the retailing of the Kensington branch and I for one am a big fan of what they deliver in terms of customer experience.

So I was interested when friends in Cape Town were talking about a new supermarket opening. I visited Fruit & Veg City and their Food Lovers Market concept on previous South African trips but heard that this new opening in the less well off suburb of Tokai was a must see.


Food Lovers Market is the third incarnation of Fruit & Veg City which complements the original, produce based outlets and their FreshStop concepts at petrol stations. And it really does cater for the food lover adding an array of wonderful sections to their already impressive produce section.

VM to match Wholefoods

Quality VM consistently maintained

At times, their visual merchandising competes at the same level as Wholefoods, particularly on produce, and there are certainly lots of keen staff around to help you with finding things, tasting things and suggesting recipes. What’s impressive here is not necessarily the number of staff as labour is cheaper here, but their knowledge and skills which have been well trained. Take it from me, that is difficult and rare to consistently achieve in South Africa.

However, the most exciting thing for me is their ability to be spot on with the offer. That is, spot on trend, offering popcorn, bottle your own ozone friendly water, freshly made doughnuts on the bakery section (always the longest queue there) and semi prepared meal solutions:

Traditional popcorn unit

Bottle your own, ozone friendly water unit

Fresh doughnuts made at the bakery counter: batter into fryer into topping.

Always a queue for fresh doughnuts

Added value, prepared meats for this carnivorous nation

They are also spot on with some of the other sections they have created: spices, nibbles, a coffee beanery, bottle your own olive oil and of course biltong, as well as impressive rear service counters for cheese, meat, fish, deli, bakery, salads and hot food to go.

Bag your own spices

Everything you could want to nibble...and more!

Biltong bonanza

Cheese galore

Fish supper anyone?

The other thing they seem to have addressed here is value. The original Fruit & Veg City concept cut out the middle man by working directly with the farmers, having them deliver directly into F&V depots. It seems this same principle is addressed with all the rear service sections cutting out the production third party. This Tokai outlet was packed every time I went and as I said, this is not a wealthy area. My baker friend tells me that the unit price of their bread is crazy cheap, which probably explains the gang of customers waiting literally tongs in hand for the next batch of ciabatta to hit the counter:

Tongs aloft on the right hand side

Not everything is perfect here. The challenge with direct deliveries is consistency of quality which was not always there. I also found the rear service staff less capable than those on the shop floor. But there is still a lot to be taken from here and clearly it is working as there are now 60 Food Lovers Markets to add to the 60 Fruit & Veg City and 66 Freshstops already in the empire.

This is a food emporium worth seeing … but please don’t copy their spelling!

Grares anyone?