Mere chiller room January 2022

Mere’s walk-in chiller room, photographed this week

Hard Russian discounter Mere lacked basic food lines such as cheese, milk and bread in the crucial Christmas trading period.

Stock levels of everyday essentials were low or non-existent in mid-December, and have not been replenished in the new year.

Mere’s walk-in chiller room in Preston, which it uses instead of fridges to keep operating costs as low as possible, remained bare this week.

The discounter, which has over 3,000 stores globally and opened its first in the UK last summer, has struggled to find enough British suppliers willing to work on its terms, which see them only paid for goods sold. They must also deliver to the store, which acts as a warehouses, with products on pallets instead of shelves.

Mere’s hard-line discount model means its range is dependent on sourcing products cheaply enough to undercut existing discounters by 20%-30%, with even essentials such as milk seen as dispensable if they do not make the low-cost grade.

“You give them a price and they’ve got software that works out whether it’s worth their while to carry it versus how much they need to undercut the rest of the trade by,” a source told The Grocer.

“At competitive prices they come back and say, ‘it fails our test for viability’. It’s ‘computer says no’.”

Last spring, Mere was gearing up to open four stores within months, with Preston to be followed by branches in Caldicot, Castleford and Mold. But in December, Mere UK business development manager Aleksandr Chkalov told The Grocer the opening of the second and third stores had been postponed until March this year, and acknowledged there were “problems we need to manage”, including sourcing more meals and meat.

Asked this week about Christmas stock levels, he said: “We are doing a lot of work on the first mistakes.

“I’m sure our customers will see an updated Mere offer in next months as well as new Mere stores.”

Founded in 2009, Mere has a presence in countries including Romania, Lithuania, Poland and Germany, as well as Russia. It also trades as Svetofor and aims to be among the world’s top 10 retailers by 2030.