Rich Ford picks four great examples of experiential retail from around the world

Bricks & mortar retailing is dead. Or that’s what we read. But in the food sector, that’s far from the truth.

What is clear is that B&M food retailers need to be both experimental and experiential. So how does that translate into the in-store environment?

The 365 by Whole Foods Market concept - launched in 2016 (currently US-only) - is a new store concept being built from the ground up. Stores host ‘Friends of 365’ - independent innovative businesses given in-store space. Friends include, for example, teaBOT, a robotic kiosk allowing shoppers to blend their own cup of loose leaf tea to go, in less than a minute.

In Europe, Albert Heijn has introduced in-store herb harvesting (13 varieties) at its refurbished eco-focused XL store in Purmerend, Netherlands. There are obvious questions around wastage here. But in terms of access to fresh food and as an in-store take on the ‘farm-to-fork’ movement, it’s a clear winner.

Meanwhile, US foodmaker Hershey’s Medley store concept is billed as an antidote to online shopping and meal subscription services for physical retailers. It reimagines future grocery stores becoming a hub where friends meet and can sample meals and have a drink. Against a backdrop of Waitrose wine bars and Hello Fresh’s first pop-up shop, it’s not such a big leap in the imagination.

While experiential retail can be narrowly interpreted as in-store theatre, it can be about the polar opposite. Amazon Go, for example, negates the need for the shopper to pay at the till. It’s experiential retail at its slickest.

But back to Whole Foods Market. Its new Bryant Park NYC store features a Produce Butcher. Customers can have their fresh fruit & veg prepared for them - chopped, sliced, grated or julienned. It’s the next evolution in the trend for vegetable-based versions of traditional high-carbohydrate foods (eg cauliflower rice) that we’re seeing sweeping the UK. Sainsbury’s trialled a similar concept last year.

UK grocers have been slow to channel experiential into their stores. But the message is clear: experiment with experiential or risk being part of the rubble.

Rich Ford is director of new business at Sherlock Studio