Newcastle was the final destination in the year-long mystery shopping campaign conducted by England Marketing exclusively for Produce Business UK.
Waitrose was the top scorer in Newcastle. The winning store was actually one of the “little Waitrose” formatted stores, but situated in the fairly upmarket area of Gosforth and actually not so little! It was extremely well stocked, much better stocked than some of the other recent Waitrose visits and the store was exceptionally clean and fresh overall. Our researchers felt that it was quite a new store and maybe this explained why parking was a problem. This exercise has not considered parking as one of its key criteria – the changing face of Great Britain might mean this is an element to consider in the future.
While Waitrose returned to the type of form it showed at the beginning of the mystery shop cycle, Lidl in Newcastle was given the lowest average score yet, achieving only 1.81. The store was admittedly in quite a run-down area of the North East city, but stock levels and the standard of the on-shelf displays made it feel rather like a different country. To compound that feeling, the employee spoken to explained, when asked about organics, that no one ever asks for them in this store!
Sainsbury’s, Asda and Tesco all scored pretty well on all elements in Newcastle. The Sainsbury’s fresh produce manager was particularly helpful and charming when our researcher was questioning him about organic produce. The Tesco was light and airy with lots of space dedicated to fresh produce – the shelving was generally a bit lower and so it was easy to navigate around the spacious area. Noticeably, the new Tesco Farm brands were very evident.
Morrisons, whilst maintaining a good cumulative score for the whole year, slipped back again – the fresh produce area was quite untidy, with empty boxes on top and below the displays and the fresh produce special offers were overwhelmed by a display of cheap toilet rolls and loads of bakery products on tatty tables butted up against the fresh produce displays!
M&S achieved a lower score than of late; despite this being quite a new Simply Food store, the fresh vegetables were hard to locate and we felt the range was quite limited.
Our visits have concluded and we have compiled a final report for launch at The London Produce Show and Conference. The results will also be published on this site on the main day of the event – June 9, 2016.
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:
I have read that the Soil Association say organic produce is becoming more popular; what exactly is organic produce?
All but the staff in Tesco and Aldi seemed quite well informed on exactly what organic produce is and gave what we felt was a reasonable explanation – that it is produced without chemicals. The fresh produce manager in Sainsbury’s went as far as to say they had seen an increase in sales of organic produce to the point where the store displays organic produce within each sub-category rather than in a separate organic section. He also gave a plausible explanation as to why it is more expensive; without chemicals there can often be more waste so the produce is in shorter supply. The third tick in the box was he was persuasive enough that our researcher purchased two packs of tomatoes to go home and “taste the difference”!
Cumulative Findings to Date
Vegetable and Fruit Displays
The Range of Vegetable and Fruit Available
Morrisons is still slightly ahead of Asda and Waitrose in terms of the range of produce available for its shoppers. Co-op has continued to trail in this area but inevitably is due to the fact that the Co-op stores are for the most part, much smaller.
Promotion of Fresh Produce
Morrisons still has the highest rating for displays on aisle ends although its aisle ends are of a very different format than the other retailers. Noticeably, the number of gondolas had continued to reduce over the 12 month period.
The quality of fresh produce in Morrisons still stands out as the best, with its low format market stall approach to displaying fruit and vegetables. Asda is now the leader for signage in the fresh produce areas – its store had introduced some attractive and very clear black signage, which makes the navigation around the fresh produce section very straightforward. Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and M&S are still the cleanest stores and overall they have had the most helpful and well informed members of staff.