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?