Having now entered the second half of our 12-month long mystery shopping project, Ashford in Kent, in the south east corner of England, was the latest destination (note, we had to combine this with visits to Aldi and Morrisons in nearby Maidstone).
Sainsbury’s was the clear winner this month, for the first time in our research project. It scored particularly highly for being well stocked for both fruit and vegetables, its range of produce, promotions, appeal, displays, cleanliness of stores inside and out and the helpfulness of its staff. In fact, Sainsbury’s recorded the second highest average score since this programme began and it has to be said, the store was outstanding.
Asda was well stocked with some unusual fruit and vegetables but the fresh produce was difficult to locate, tucked away at the back of the store and the store as a whole felt rather dark and gloomy.
The Ashford Waitrose is a new store and had a good selection of fruit and vegetables but was not very well stocked. The layout was a bit cramped and the popular free coffee machine was too close to the fresh produce section which led to some overcrowding.
Tesco was clean and bright and although the vegetables were well stocked, the fruit was in dire need of replenishment – there were two employees stocking shelves at the time of the visit, but it had been left to run too low, in our opinion.
Morrisons, on the other hand, had low stocks of a great deal of the fresh produce items and on top of that, there were boxes of produce under the counters that were in line to be unpacked. There was no evidence of any employees and it felt very disorganised, hence the low score. The store felt a bit grubby, it was dirty and untidy outside and around the entrance.
The Marks & Spencer, for a town centre store, had a very limited section of fruit and vegetables and a rather gruff and unhelpful member of staff.
Aldi was clean and bright and better stocked than Lidl but both stores had an appealing range of fresh produce. The staff were willing to engage in both stores.
Once again the Co-op was too small a store to compare with the other retailers but was clean and well stocked and scored reasonably well as a result.
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 can you claim to support British farmers if you keep reducing prices of fresh produce?”
The staff approached were rather vague and although some tried to be helpful they were clearly not briefed on answering such questions.
Cumulative Findings to Date
Vegetable and Fruit Displays
Morrisons retains the top position, scoring highest on the range, stock levels and attractiveness of display although for the last two months they have not scored so well.
Promotion of Fresh Produce
In terms of promotion of fresh produce, Morrisons are consistently have a larger range on aisle ends and have a greater number of gondolas displaying fresh fruit and vegetables than the other retailers. However, the store in Maidstone was untidy with lots of gondolas, many of which contained Christmas plants and nuts on this occasion.
This latest visit has meant that Sainsburys is closing the gap on the ratings achieved by Morrisons and has now overtaken Morrisons in terms of cleanliness and is ahead of Waitrose and M&S. Sainsburys now have just moved ahead in terms of helpfulness of staff.