The second visit in the series of our 12-month Mystery Produce Shopper project saw the research team visit Leeds, where Waitrose came out clearly on top based on our defined criteria.
Waitrose scored particularly well on the way its fresh produce stood out within the store, the range of produce on the aisle ends and the overall cleanliness.
There were joint runners up in June – Morrisons, which scored most highly for the level of stock across its fruit and vegetable aisles, and Asda, which was marked well for the helpfulness of staff and range of the aisle ends.
The supermarkets that were rated the lowest were Aldi and Lidl. The areas in which they both scored particularly badly were the effectiveness of promotions in the fruit and veg aisles, and for the range of product at their aisle ends. Aldi was also marked negatively for the helpfulness of its staff as our mystery shoppers failed to find any staff to help them at all.
The effectiveness of in-store messaging and appeal of signage for fresh produce was noticeably much lower in Leeds than in last month’s mystery shopper visits in Cambridge, and this was the case across all supermarkets apart from Lidl. However, Leeds supermarkets generally scored better for the helpfulness of their staff.
As part of the mystery shopping research, our researchers ask a different question of the fresh produce aisle staff each month. For June, we went with the topical: “As Wimbledon is on a week later this year, will you still have English strawberries and where will they come from?” and noted the responses with interest.
Although some supermarkets – Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda, Morrisons, M&S and the Co-op – knew that the stores were selling English or UK strawberries currently, not many could confirm that these would still be sold during Wimbledon. Those that could were; M&S, Sainsbury’s and Asda, however they could not confirm the specific location the fruit would come from.
Waitrose particularly prides itself on its sustainable sourcing methods, so it was perhaps surprising at this point in the supply calendar not to find locally sourced fresh strawberries on shelf, and even more so that floor staff were not able to confirm that local strawberries would be available.
• We commissioned England Marketing to undertake a rolling programme of in-store mystery shopping visits across the top nine UK food retailers; Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Morrisons, M&S, Waitrose, Co-op, Aldi and Lidl.
The mystery shopping cycle will feature a visit to one store in each chain, in a different region each month, as the research team both gathers first-hand insight on the presentation of the fresh produce in-store and also tests the knowledge of the staff working in the fresh produce aisles with topical and reasonably straightforward questions.
In doing so, we hope to highlight best practice and also pinpoint areas of weakness. If this information is used effectively, then we will be going some way towards achieving our objective as a publication – to make the fresh produce industry more robust and improve the industry’s sales.
Whilst we understand that rating the appearance of a supermarket aisle can be subjective, England Marketing will be carrying out all of this research and has been tasked to introduce as much science as possible into the process. Using a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is the lowest mark and 5 the highest, the researchers visiting the stores are fully briefed on the scales for data collection and have been given detailed descriptors for each score.