Newitt & Sons’ products are so good that Budgens asked it to run its in-store deli counters. Richard Clarke checked one out

James Newitt is visiting the first deli counter that his family business was invited to run for Budgens, at the grocer’s Chalfont St Peter store. He immediately springs into action, asking for changes to the lighting, rearranging pork pies and polishing the glass counters.
When he spots an elderly couple looking at the range of pies in bewilderment, he gives them a guided tour of the counter. Then he asks which one they’d like. It’s the steak & kidney, so he gets the staff to wrap one and gives it to them to take home free.
Newitt’s hands-on approach to customer relations is not something you see in many modern supermarkets.
But it’s the kind of thing James does all the time - thanks to a life spent running his family’s butcher and deli in Thame High Street in Oxfordshire.
Crammed with high-quality meat - both raw and cooked - almost all of it butchered and prepared on the premises, the Thame store is impressive. In fact, when senior staff from Budgens’ HQ went there, they decided they wanted the Newitt family to run their deli counters.
Some 18 months later, the family business now has deli counter concessions in 17 Budgens stores stretching from Norfolk and the Cotswolds to the south coast. Another 15 stores are set to accommodate Newitt delis this year and the plan is to have counters in 40 of the 65 stores in the 163-strong Budgens estate that have delis.
The Newitt-at-Budgens concept has enabled a small family operation to double its annual turnover to £2m.
James Newitt, who looks after the family’s business with Budgens, is understandably happy. He is enthusing about generating a “wow factor”, creating a “sense of theatre” in a supermarket deli.
Budgens’ marketing director Stephanie Rice recalls how it all began: “In 2003 it was clear to us that Budgens, in terms of our point of difference, needed to stand for excellent food. In particular we were looking for a solution to our delis, which we believed could be a centrepiece of our positioning in terms of combining great customer service with the finest handmade fresh food.”
By coincidence, then Budgens chief executive Martin Hyson was a regular visitor to the Newitt family’s shop in Thame, and he took Rice there to see it for herself.
She recalls: “We looked at Newitt and asked, ‘Would they be able to support our brand values,’ and ‘Would they be able to deliver an experience from our delis that had always eluded us?’”
The answer to both questions was a resounding ‘yes’, and before long the Newitts
were supplying a Budgens store in nearby Chalfont St Peter on a trial basis, using hired mobile kitchens in the car park behind the Thame shop to cook the extra food.
So far, so good. But why not just let the Newitts supply the food? Why go to the effort of rebranding the deli itself?
Rice says: “We rebranded the deli because it meant that, as part of the point of sale, we were able to sell a range and experience that were unique.
“This was a key to making our customers understand that this was a different offer to the one they were previously used to buying from our stores.”
Deli sales have doubled in the stores that have a Newitt counter, says Rice.
The subsequent and sudden growth of the Newitts’ business was made possible by the purchase of a disused bakery next door to the family shop. There, the family invested £250,000 in a new facility capable of servicing Budgens delis with 4,000 pies, sausage rolls, quiches and Scotch eggs every week, as well as three tonnes of bacon, sausages and cooked meats.
Tom Newitt, James’s brother, who is in charge of production, says: “Every product is handmade. We’re not in a situation where we are using large automated machinery to make our food. Every product gets the same care and attention it would have got before we started supplying Budgens.”
It is clear that quality is important to the Newitts. James says that, in spite of the company’s growth, the family is adamant that the Newitt brand must not become diluted or associated with industrial-scale factory line production.
“It’s all about maintaining the perception that this is a butcher’s shop product, not a mass-produced product,” he says. “We don’t want to go down the road of quantity at the expense of quality.”
Asked whether this level of emotional investment in their product makes it difficult to let someone else do the selling, James Newitt concedes that enthusing the counter staff, who are employed by Budgens and not the Newitts, is a major challenge.
Rice agrees: “The biggest learning curve for us was transforming somebody who simply worked on a deli for 18 hours a week into someone who was passionate about the food they were selling; and the key word is selling, rather than just responding to ‘Can I have a quarter pound of ham?’”
Staff on Newitt counters are dedicated to the deli, says Rice.
The Newitts take an active role in training and maintaining standards. New Budgens deli staff are sent to the Thame shop for a day in what James calls the “Newitts’ academy”. They are given a tour of the premises, shown how the products are made and, best of all, given plenty to eat - all to make sure they buy in to the Newitt ethos.
Ongoing training is done on the job and James spends most of his week visiting the family delis in Budgen stores.
It’s obvious that the Newitts have given Budgens the point of difference they craved. And it’s clear to even the most casual observer why the retailer wants the family to run two thirds of its deli counters.
As Rice says: “This isn’t a short-term supplier relationship; this is very much for the long term. The Newitt deli concept is now one of the cornerstones of our brand development.”