Simplyfresh has given hospital retail a much-needed injection of fresh thinking. From spring 2017, all shops in Scottish hospitals must adhere to strict healthy eating rules, which state 50% of food and 70% of drinks must be low in salt, fat and sugar. Or they can’t trade.
The new Simplyfresh in Aberdeen Royal Infirmary is the first retail space to reflect the rules. It opened on 23 March under a new Aroma Convenience by Simplyfresh fascia, aims to help hospital workers, patients and visitors make informed choices, and ploughs profits back into patient care.
“Scotland can do this and we can change,” says NHS Scotland facilities director and store operator John Wright. “I’m not kicking what is currently in play, but a lot of it has been static and hasn’t changed in 15 years. This is brand new and it absolutely meets the criteria. A lot of the big retailers in hospitals are Royal Voluntary Service and WH Smith. This is fresh, it is exciting.”
Coming in at just over 450 sq ft, what the store lacks in space it makes up for in range. Specialist suppliers Epicurium and Goodness Foods have been drafted in to stock the latest health food lines and Simplyfresh MD Kash Khera has made sure there is plenty of local fare on offer too.
“The range we eventually put into the format was different from what we would normally stock in one of our stores, but it wasn’t a million miles away,” says Khera. “The main challenge was identifying the exact healthy and unhealthy products.”
It was this eye for detail, combined with a willingness to react to challenges, that secured Simplyfresh the lead for the project ahead of other symbol groups.
Food and drink consultancy Ross & Brown was chosen by the NHS to put all the symbol groups through their paces and select a frontrunner. The groups were tasked with creating a 533 product-strong basket of goods spanning 16 categories conforming to the healthy directives.
“Across the total range of the categories, Simplyfresh came back with a 77% healthy basket, which was a country mile ahead of the other competitors,” says Ross & Brown MD Simon Ross. “When you’re working with other groups it can feel like they’re trying to fill round holes with square pegs, whereas Simplyfresh listens to what the customers in that area want.
“They also showed willingness to look at things differently, look at local suppliers, listen to customer feedback, and that was a breath of fresh air. What’s going well, they’ll continue to make better, and what is not going well they will start to do differently.”
Pricing is a sore spot in hospital stores, often perceived as overcharging vulnerable patients and their visiting relatives. So alongside the latest branded NPD, the store features both Simplyfresh own label and, thanks to its tie-up with Costcutter, Independent own brand. “In hospitals a bottle of water can be anything up to about £1.50,” says Brown. “A Costcutter Independent bottle of water is 39p. We didn’t want visitors, patients or staff with demanding jobs or the treatments they’re going through to pay extra. Healthy living needn’t cost a fortune.”
The store marks the first Simplyfresh across the border and Khera has been inundated with interested Scottish retailers who want to try their hand at opening the franchise. “There’s a certain type of retailer for the Simplyfresh brand that we want to work with and we’re after the cream of the crop,” says Khera.
“Some retailers who approach us, the brand isn’t right for them and a lot of people think they can pull it and push it into a different shape to make it work within their four walls but it’s a very specific thing. It’s all about fruit & veg, bakery, fresh meat and cooking from scratch. It needs to be the right retailer, the right location and the right customer.”
The early success of the pilot in Aberdeen has attracted further hospitals, universities and other so-called ‘closed units’ to get in touch.
“We’ve had great feedback, a really good start,” adds Khera. “But we won’t fully realise the potential of this project until we unleash it to the rest of the public.”