Last month, a stylish new-look store opened in the heart of London's Belsize Park. The store has a distinct scent of Rose - as in Stuart - about it, but it's not an M&S sign hanging above the entrance - it's a Budgens.
The first thing that hits you as you enter is a mouthwatering display of fruit and vegetables, complete with a watermelon station, where customers can have melons cut to whatever size they require.
Dark fixtures and fittings work to create a classy upmarket feel, with a distinct twist of the Mediterranean, largely thanks to the wide range of cured meats, pâtés, freshly baked artisan breads, dips, salads and olives, as well as a surprisingly exotic array of freshly prepared and loose fruit and veg.
It's a food enthusiast's paradise, and that's the way manager Andrew Warnes likes it. He claims to have sampled almost every product on his shelves. A vibrant café culture, eclectic architecture and easy access to Primrose Hill and Hampstead Heath have combined to make Belsize Park a wonderfully cosmopolitan part of London, home to many celebrities (Sam Mendes and Kate Winslet
recently moved here). Budgens has worked hard to make its newly refurbished store meet the needs of the area's well-heeled but diverse inhabitants. Upmarket lines such as venison steaks and rabbit thighs sit alongside a wide variety of Polish, Greek, Hungarian, Mediterranean, Irish, halal and organic products.
With fresh produce sales making up 48% of total trade, the store now boasts a premium fresh food offer. By reducing facings and using add-on fixtures, the extensively remodelled fruit and veg section has been granted 15% more space. Organic products are set slightly apart in wicker baskets and shelving has been lowered to maximise visibility across the store. A wide central aisle sweeps up the length of the store and draws the eye towards an impressive Newitts-supplied delicatessen and foodservice area.
With its glossy red tiles, glass counters and dramatic spotlighting, the deli area has a distinctly theatrical feel. With its host of savoury treats, including baked potatoes, fresh pies, premium cheeses and meats, the deli area has become a destination in its own right.
Each day the deli features a special sandwich of the day.
Customers can also choose their own original fillings. Also new is the exclusive fresh curry offering from London's Bombay Brasserie restaurant, a range which Warnes says has been a huge success.
The automated checkout system has slashed queuing times and keeps the front of the store clear. Warnes says: "Last impressions are just as important as first. This new system has taken all the hassle out of the checkout."
A number of other innovations have been introduced to make shopping easier. Baskets on wheels designed for elderly shoppers are also proving a hit with younger visitors. "Kids love to follow their parents around with their own wheelie baskets," says Warnes. Spend has increased considerably since the new baskets, which are two and a half times larger than average, were introduced. Another gadget that he is pleased with is the hot pretzel oven in the foodservice area. Customers are able to take their pick from a wide range of freshly prepared hot pretzels.
The whole store has been designed to work just that little bit harder for customers. "We are able to tailor a wide range to individual needs," says Warnes. "I am proud of the fact that customers can ask for what they want and we can react to it. That's what sets us apart and why they come back again and again." nSize of store: 8,761 sq ft Established: 1981 Total number of lines: 8,500 Fresh produce space: 3,700 sq ft Frozen space: 325 sq ft