Manchester was the latest destination in our 12-month mystery shopping project, leaving just Edinburgh and Newcastle to go on our round-Britain journey to analyse the fresh produce aisles of the major UK supermarket chains.
Marks and Spencer (M&S) was the top scorer this month but only finished marginally ahead of Waitrose, which in turn was closely followed jointly by Tesco and Aldi. M&S scored particularly high for its well-stocked fruit and vegetables, range of produce and aisle ends, for the store’s cleanliness and for the helpfulness of its staff. It should be said that during our time in the store, fresh produce staff were unavailable, but the staff that were to-hand were helpful in trying to find someone to help us with our questions. They also told us what time of day would be best to come in and get hold of a member of the fresh produce team.
Waitrose was a more than worthy second place, scoring well in most of the categories in Manchester this month. It marked highly for the extent of its fresh produce range as there was an impressive range of varieties when you walked down the aisles. The cleanliness of the store – inside and out – also stood out, as there was no litter in sight, and as with M&S, Waitrose was marked well for the helpfulness of the staff and fresh produce fixtures. The store itself was located on the outskirts of Manchester and was well laid out, with the fresh produce fixtures being located at the front of the store as you walk in.
Tesco’s store gave a strong showing and placed joint third. It scored well for the style of its fruit and veg packaging, the extent of its fresh produce range, the prominence of its fresh produce in the store – it's directly in front of you as you walk through the main doors, and its staff gave a good honest answer to our questions without any hesitation.
Aldi secured third place alongside Tesco; scoring well in terms of the attractiveness of its fresh produce display, style of packaging, appeal of in-store signage and cleanliness of the store inside and out. That said, the store did not score well for the helpfulness of its fresh produce staff as there were no floor staff available at the time. We felt there may have been a staffing issue that day, however, as it seemed there was a senior member of staff on the tills.
Sainsbury’s also had a very attractive fresh produce display and we were impressed by the effectiveness of its fresh produce promotions. The store scored particularly well in terms of the extent of fresh produce range stocked on the aisle ends, but least well with regards to the helpfulness of its staff, as the shop assistant was reluctant to converse with us about the topic.
Asda scored well in terms of its fresh produce being well stocked, the attractiveness of its fresh produce display and the fresh produce range on aisle ends. Lidl also scored highly for the fresh produce being well stocked, the style of its fresh produce packaging and the helpfulness of staff.
Considering the size of the store we visited (it was small), the Co-operative Food (the Co-op) scored rather well on the effectiveness of fresh produce promotions and style of fresh produce packaging on offer. There was no member of staff on the shop floor to ask the required question.
The helpfulness of its staff meant Morrisons scored very highly, along with the extent that its fresh produce stood out. However, the supermarket scored rather low across most of the other categories, particularly low on the fruit and vegetables being well stocked and on the attractiveness of the fruit and vegetable display. The cleanliness of the store inside was average, but underneath Morrisons’ unique market style displays, there were trays of fruit and vegetables being stored, which we felt was a bit of an odd place to store them!
As part of the mystery shopping research, England Marketing asks a different question of the fresh produce aisle staff each month.
The question this month was:
How is this year's English apple season going? How important do you think homegrown fruit and vegetables are to your customers?
Most of the staff approached were happy to give their views on the subject and therefore scored a '5' or '4' for their helpfulness. But the Sainsburys’ staff were reluctant to give an opinion. We would point out that Aldi and the Co-op failed to score in the category of helpfulness of staff due to there being no staff on the shop floor to ask the question.
There were varying answers to the question; Tesco, for example, felt the apple season has been bad this year, but Morrisons and Waitrose reported that the season is better this year than last, although Morrisons did not have many homegrown varieties in stock. Asda perhaps surprisingly reported that the floods had had an effect on the availability of the apples, whereas Lidl said it had had no problems with its apple supply, restocking the store every day.
Cumulative Findings to Date
Vegetable and Fruit Displays
Following disappointing stock levels at Morrisons for both fruit and vegetables, Lidl is now in the top position, particularly for its well-stocked vegetables but on a level pegging with Morrisons for fruit.
Although M&S is the leader in the attractiveness of display for both fruit and vegetables, it has to be said that some of the other stores, namely Tesco, Morrisons and Waitrose are not far behind.
There does not seem to be a big difference between the stores for effectiveness of promotions, although Asda is currently the leader, while Aldi and the Co-op have been the least effective.
Tesco, Morrisons, M&S and Waitrose are the four leaders for the style of packaging for both fruit and vegetables.
The Range of Fruits and Vegetable Available
Morrisons is still slightly ahead of Asda and Waitrose in terms of the range of produce available for its shoppers. The Co-op is trailing in this category but that could be due to its stores being smaller than the other retailers' superstores.
Promotion of Fresh Produce
In terms of promotion of fresh produce, again Morrisons continues to consistently lead in the rating for range of aisle ends. Morrisons, Waitrose and Asda all have a similar amount of gondolas within their stores. Aldi and Lidl have had the least gondolas promoting fresh produce during our mystery shopping project as a whole.
Morrisons is still the leader overall for its in-store fresh produce displays, despite achieving a low score in this category at Manchester.
Most of the stores are faring well in this category ,with Sainsbury’s and M&S ranking the highest for cleanliness in-store, although slightly less for cleanliness outside.
Waitrose, M&S and Sainsbury’s are the leaders in the category for the helpfulness of staff, with the Co-op and Lidl trailing behind.