The slate has been wiped clean and Asda's and Morrisons' accolades in last week's The Grocer 33 annual review are yesterday's news as we start a new Grocer 33 year. As the following pages report, availability and customer service has been rather dismal across the retailers this week, but the Sainsbury's store in Kettering, near Northampton, has excelled in both areas and secures the first Top Store Award of the year. Our mystery shopper marvelled at the store's range of products and said customer service was exceptionally good. The store displayed many special offers and provided a full basket - a Herculean feat by all accounts this week. Acting store manager Robin Richardson knows the competition is fierce in Kettering, but is confident his store can maintain its loyal customer base. "A lot of our customers drive in from the more affluent outlying villages. They have to pass a Tesco and Morrisons on the road to our store so they always have the choice to shop somewhere else," he said. "Our sales growth is continuing, so we must be doing something right to keep them!" Maintaining customer loyalty is a valid challenge for Richardson and his staff as our data from CACI reveals that Sainsbury's is only the fifth most-suited store in the Kettering area, with his neighbours Tesco and Morrisons the most ideally suited.

Q&A with Robin Richardson Acting store manager of the week


How much is your store involved in the community? The town of Corby is near to Kettering and is having a major redevelopment project, which will bring in a wealth of other retailers and present us with new and fresh competition. Our store is involved with Kettering Town Partnership - a community retailers' group set up to discuss how to beat the Corby threat. But Morrisons and Tesco have not got involved. Are you threatened by what's happening at Corby? At the end of the day, Sainsbury's customers will stay with us because they appreciate the excellent customer service and availability. Their parents were probably Sainsbury's customers and so were their parents. What products are selling well? We have a new range of ready meals called Sainsbury's Super Naturals with some very exciting lines. They are selling well because they look like what they are - proper healthy meals. Many customers make a special journey to our store, especially for our gluten-free and free-from range. What's the secret of your great customer service? Our staff are experienced - that doesn't mean old - and they understand what the customer wants. We are visited by Sainsbury's own mystery shoppers and are striving at all times to keep the shelves stocked and customers happy. We were marked second-best in the region recently. What would you like to change about your store? I would like to develop a non-food offering and the store could do with a bit of a tidy-up in places. We have the potential to offer more for the customers we have worked so hard to engage. How green is your store? We are actually a trial store in the company because we have had blinds fitted onto every refrigeration cabinet in the store. They are constructed from the same material used for chilled insulation bags.


Asda Bristol, South Gloucestershire

3 - The new potatoes, own-label thick pork sausages and Kleenex For Men tissues were all sold out and the store only stocked single packs of frozen garlic baguettes. Our shopper also struggled to find any floor staff to help her locate items and had to contend with pallets on the floor around the fruit and vegetable area. We visited on 8 June at 12.50pm. Our shop lasted one hour and 13 minutes. Time spent at the checkout was three minutes.


Morrisons Hastings, East Sussex

3 - Our availability champion was sold out of loose new potatoes, mange tout and 10-metre kitchen foil. At a peak time, only 12 of the 22 checkouts were operating, which was not sufficient and led to long queues. However, the staff were smiling and enthusiastic given the circumstances. We visited on 8 June at 5.50pm. Our shop lasted 57 minutes. Time spent at the checkout was 12 minutes.


Sainsbury's Kettering, Northamptonshire

0 - This week's top store offered a full basket and our shopper reported very competitive offers across the store, especially in the wine and beer section. The outlet was well-merchandised and clearly laid out. The staff were also "more than helpful". Of the 18 checkouts, 16 were open. We visited on 8 June at 9.50am. Our shop lasted one hour and seven minutes. Time spent at the checkout was six minutes.


Somerfield Bookham, Surrey

2 - Our normally cheerful Surrey shopper had rather an unhappy experience at this Somerfield branch. The McCain oven chips and beef braising steak were out of stock and many other items were not stocked. The glum checkout assistant didn't even speak and began serving the next customer before our shopper had finished packing. We visited on 8 June at 3.05pm. Our shop lasted 40 minutes. Time spent at the checkout was eight minutes.


Tesco Newtownabbey, Co. Antrim

2 - This busy Tesco was out of stock of Heinz tomato soup and Evian, while the loose tomatoes had been discontinued. Stacking trolleys were causing an obstruction to certain shelves and congesting the aisles but the staff were helpful and friendly. An impressive 25 of the 29 tills were operating. We visited on 8 June at 12.45pm. Our shop lasted one hour and 15 minutes. Time spent at the checkout was three minutes.


Waitrose Southend, Essex

0 - This Southend store provided a full basket but the checkout assistant was rude, motioning to the till display to show our shopper the price rather than speaking to her. Despite her behaviour, the store was normally fantastic with great service and availability, however, our shopper said. We visited on 8 June at 10.02am. Our shop lasted 50 minutes. Time spent at the checkout was three minutes.