Research also pointed to the demand for more fresh meat and poultry - which have been given two modules instead of the usual one, as well as a decent representation of ethnic foods in the 3,000-line range, such as Lebanese and kosher. The store has a gondola end of kosher food and McMeikan reports that customers have already been asking for the range to be extended to meat and fish.
Of course, something has to give if more space is to be devoted to fresh and fine food. Non-food, grocery and frozen have been scaled back - the store stocks only half the usual number of frozen lines. Maida Vale is a mainly residential area, so Tesco has downsized the sandwich and takeaway section, although it has increased the number of Finest variety sandwiches.
To smooth the transition for customers, the Europa staff have been kept on - undergoing a swift training course while the store was closed. Though Adminstore’s two small distribution depots, in Perivale and Northolt, will eventually close - the operation, currently run as a separate company, has already been scaled back 30% - most of the staff are being redeployed, says McMeikan. It hasn’t been difficult to make the switch to Tesco’s supply chain, he insists, although a fleet of smaller lorries have been brought in to navigate the London traffic.
So far, two other stores have been converted and, he says, Tesco is well on target to have converted the whole 45-store portfolio by mid-2005 at a cost of an estimated £10-£15m as well as meet its target of 500 Express stores by the end of the year - there are currently 350.
As for McMeikan, his role after conversion has yet to be decided. For now, he’s focused on the immediate task ahead. “It’s an exciting time to be in,” he says. Judging by their satisfied faces, Tesco’s newest customers appear to agree.
There was always a questionmark over how Adminstore’s well-heeled customer base would react to the transformation of the 45 stores from pricey deli-style c-stores into Tesco Express. But at one of the first stores to be converted, in Clifton Road, Maida Vale, London, they agree that every little helps.
“The customers all mentioned value in terms of pricing,” says Adminstore chief executive Ken McMeikan, citing customer research on Tesco and Europa shoppers. However, good value doesn’t come at the expense of quality, he assures, and Tesco has adapted the usual Express range to reflect the refined tastes of its predominantly London-based customers. “They’re all pleased about value and surprised by the breadth and depth of the range,” he says, adding that prices have not been raised beyond the Express norm of 2-3% above superstore prices.
The store looks more upmarket than a standard Express - its fascia toned down to fit in with the surroundings. The windows are larger, almost floor to ceiling, bringing more light in and making already wide aisles feel more spacious. Inside too, it looks subtly different from a standard Express and a world apart from Europa.
Fresh produce is the category Tesco has chosen to stock in the first aisle of the store.The bakery fixture, too, is down the first aisle - separated from the bakery for the first time.
And Tesco has also adapted its pack sizes to cater for the large number of single shoppers.
“We’ve spent quite a bit of time looking at the single customer,” says McMeikan, who reports directly to c-store boss Colin Holmes. “Of the things we’ve picked up in the research is the emphasis on fresh. Before, customers might have walked into the newspaper area of the store first. Now they walk into fresh. It is a model that will be replicated based on customer profile.”
Tesco has gone for bigger space participation of certain categories: notably fresh, organic, ready meals, sliced meats, vegetarian and healthy eating lines and beers and wines. There’s 20-30% more fresh produce than in a standard Express and a 50% greater selection of loose lines - a move facilitated by the new slimline checkouts with scales to ensure swift transactions. The store stocks 20% more beers and wines.
Not only is there more organic food generally throughout the store, there is also a whole module devoted to fresh organic produce. So keen is Tesco to retain Europa customers that the store stocks Rachel’s Organic yogurts and Yeo Valley Organic milk, as did the former store - but not Express stores.
Fine food features heavily. There’s a wider range of speciality teas and coffees as well as more smoothies and fruit juices and a large selection of bottled waters. Tesco even chose the store to launch a range of Finest fresh pasta ready meals that if successful will be rolled out to larger stores.
But the formula is clearly working. At 8.30am there is a steady trickle of customers heading through the six checkouts - though McMeikan dismisses the suggestion that if it gets too popular, the store could cannibalise sales from Tesco’s nearby petrol forecourt Express on Sutherland Avenue.
“The other store is one of the highest turnover stores in the portfolio,” he says, adding that, if anything, it will help relieve pressure on the nearby store, which is trading almost at capacity.