Wilkinson has stepped up its grocery offer with a trial in 20 stores, says Beth Brooks

Last month, The Grocer revealed that high street general merchandise retailer Wilkinson was stepping up its grocery offer by trialling food products in 20 of its 260 stores. One of those stores is in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, and we went along to find out how the trial was going.

Wellingborough is the perfect place to trial the concept. Situated in the town’s busy Swansgate shopping centre, its only direct grocery competitor in the centre is a small Iceland store. Within a five-minute walk there’s a Morrisons and an Aldi, and out of town there’s a Sainsbury and a Tesco.

Inside the 27,798 sq ft store, Wilkinson is heavily promoting 600 new grocery brands, ranging from ambient to fresh lines.

Posters inside and out highlight the offer, promising ‘food on the go, snacks and sandwiches at low prices’.

The fixture is located right at the front of the store by the checkouts for maximum impact and takes up a sizeable area, which manager Ian Rogers estimates at about 3,600 sq ft.

The big brands are all there - Walkers, McVitie’s, Kellogg, Pepsi, and HP, among others - and most of the key grocery categories are represented, including cereal, tea, coffee, tinned vegetables, pasta and soft drinks.

The fixture seems to be a hit with customers. This area of the store has a steady stream of shoppers, both browsing and buying.

Rogers says that signs were displayed at the front of the store a week before the range was introduced to let customers know what to expect. At first, he says, many of the grocery purchases made by customers were impulse buys, but he has noticed that customers are returning to the fixture for specific purchases.

The store has clearly pushed the fixture hard. Shopping baskets have been made available and the range is heavily promoted at the checkouts, where there are pallet offers beneath signs advertising further grocery deals.

Rogers has also positioned the fixture next to the store’s existing confectionery range and near its cash machine, so that customers have to walk right through the fixture to draw cash. Staying true to Wilkinson’s ‘pile ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap’ formula in its traditional offer of confectionery, toiletries, toys, petcare, stationery and home products, the low price of the items is heavily promoted.

Above the fixtures, large red signs shout out ‘low, low prices!’ and on-shelf red-and-yellow signs display the prices of offers.

Buy-one-get-one-free offers also feature prominently in the fixture, with two-for-one deals on a five-pack of mini Pringles, 2-litre bottles of Tango and 500ml bottles of Pepsi.

For the duration of the trial, Wilkinson has also introduced a ‘price blitz’ fixture exclusively for the grocery range. The island fixture, says Rogers, includes promotional offers every two to four weeks, depending on the supplier, with the policy being “when the product’s gone, it’s gone”.

Offers include any four 100g packs of Batchelor Super Noodles for £1, 100g jars of Nescafé coffee for 99p and Pepsi 2-litre bottles on a buy-one-get-one-free at £1.36.

Some items have been reduced to such low prices that Wilkinson price tags have been stuck over original prices on packaging. A 79p price on a can of Ambrosia custard, for example, now shows a Wilkinson price of 49p.

The fixture also includes a chiller cabinet that contains a small range of milk, cold drinks, ready meals, margarine, bacon, sausages and yoghurts. There’s also a meal deal available, where customers can buy any £1.49 sandwich, a packet of crisps and a bottled drink for £2.

Alongside the chiller are a number of bakery products, including Kingsmill and Sunblest bread, pancakes, muffins and hot cross buns.

Fresh produce, however, is limited, with only a 2-pack of apples and a packet of grapes currently in the range.

Rogers says that, unlike the other products in the fixture, the fresh products are delivered daily direct from the supplier rather than from Wilkinson’s head office.

“The fixture has been very successful,” says Rogers. “We’ve had lots of people in and fresh food is also selling well.

“Many of the customers have been grabbing baskets to stock up on offers. I think it will be very successful.”