Food retailers have been quick to grab a slice of the available cake this year as most have seen both sales and profits moving in the right direction.
And the majority have managed to do this by colonising new categories, as well as consistently providing better store interiors and expanding their range of formats.
A rumour, for instance, was doing the rounds last week that Tesco is considering a discount format at some point in the not too distant future – a story that that would appear credible if only because the UK’s largest retailer keeps finding new ways of extending its reach.
Similarly, at the end of last year Waitrose decided to open what it called a convenience store, although on close inspection it turned out to be what used to be known as a supermarket. Nevertheless, like the alleged Tesco move, it stands as evidence that food retailers continue to make the running.
However, talking to a London design consultancy last week it became apparent that perhaps a trick is being missed. The point was made that while money may be in relatively short supply, there are still plenty of affluent neighbourhoods in our larger cities where foodies are shopping.
To be London-centric for a moment, you might consider Belsize Park, Primrose Hill or maybe Blackheath and Dulwich, if you’re south of the river. All are distinctly above the London average in terms of salaries, disposable income or whatever other economic yardstick you choose to apply to them. And all have more than their fair share of small, deli-style stores where, with luck and a degree of patience, they’ll whip you up something good to go that wouldn’t look out of place in a restaurant.
And the phenomenon is not confined to the capital. From Edinburgh to Leeds and down to Bristol, there are shops performing the same kind of function and they thrive because the big supermarkets have more or less left their area of the market untouched.
At a time when more and more small units are available, rather than putting a tried and tested convenience store into areas such as this, wouldn’t it make sense to divert a little of this energy into creating formats that would take on the small shops at their own game? A critic might argue that if this happened, quite a lot would be lost and that it would be almost impossible for a big supermarket to replicate the experience of, say, Jamie Oliver’s recently opened Recipease in Battersea. That said, at the moment, the supermarkets don’t even appear to be trying.