Supermarket Price Wars

In recent years, grocery retailers have been locked into a battle to demonstrate their value. Messaging has focused on price and promotion in an attempt to slow the rise of the discounters.

As a result, there has been much less messaging about food excellence, with the exception in fact of Lidl and Aldi, which have created a consistent quality narrative, partially by winning and talking about awards.

The overall impression is that “the action” in food is in foodservice (in healthy growth) not in food retail (flat). Companies like Pret, Wagamama, Itsu, Yo Sushi, the posh burger chains are championing food in a way we are not.

Consumers can only eat so much, so if we want to restore healthy growth in retail, it will involve winning business back from foodservice, or convincing shoppers to pay more for something better. And the heart of the battle will be in fresh food, which has a disproportionate impact on customer perception of food excellence. Fresh is key to any quality offensive. Aldi and Lidl have high market shares in many key fresh categories, which should gall their rivals.

So if grocery retailers want to win in fresh, how do they go about it? Fruit and veg are critical. An abundant display of ultra-fresh and beautiful produce signals a great food store. A degree of wastage has to be considered a cost of doing business. You need to speculate to accumulate.

Meat and fish are also key. The meat and fish keeps Waitrose customers coming back to Waitrose, for instance. Success is about quality cuts of meat, nicely packaged and beautifully merchandised on spotlessly clean shelves. Shoppers shop with their eyes. Can the big four say they have meat aisles better than Lidl? I don’t think they can.

Bakery is critical. Fresh, beautiful and great smelling. Tesco’s Euphorium is trying to do this. But in general, are our supermarket bakeries better than 10 years ago? Or have we gradually picked away at what can look like a cost, not an investment?

Prepared food has to be about natural, not processed. Kitchen, not factory. It doesn’t have to be far-out food - look at Bigham’s, which has done the UK’s favourites, but really well. But it does require excitement, modernity and some ‘glow’. Remember Tesco’s seismic Finest launch? How do we revive that spirit of adventure and confidence?

Finally, add aspiration. Where’s the equivalent of Jamie Oliver or Delia and Heston? The M&S super-sensual advertising? Where are the seasonal celebrations (asparagus, berries, harvest)? What would it take to get food lovers talking about shops again, and about the food, not just the value?

Jeremy Garlick is a partner of Insight Traction