It’s been a dark and difficult couple of years. But, almost 23 months after the UK entered lockdown under the grip of a terrifying pandemic, PM Boris Johnson is due to set out plans to scrap all Covid restrictions in England.

Speaking ahead of today’s briefing, Johnson said the end of restrictions would “mark a moment of pride as we begin to learn to live with Covid” and bring society “towards a return to normality”.

Not everyone agrees that scrapping remaining restrictions in winter months is the best idea. And the food sector has once again been left in the dark about how requirements for the industry will change.

But despite the controversy and confusion, there seems to be consensus – both in the UK and globally – that the threat from Covid is starting to subside. The US is also contemplating life after Covid, while the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Europe director has predicted the continent could be approaching a “long period of tranquillity” (in terms of the pandemic).

Which means there is no better time to get back out into the world. And for retailers looking for post-pandemic inspiration, that should perhaps start with some visits to innovative and impressive grocery stores.

There are plenty of new formats to go and see in the UK. Take Blakemore Retail’s new food-to-go concept, Sainsbury’s Neighbourhood hub formatAldi’s ‘just walk out’ storeTesco’s Get Go concept and, of course, Amazon Fresh.

But with Covid restrictions easing, it’s also worth considering a trip further afield. Perhaps to one (or more) locations in The Schweitzer Collection – a selection of 50 food stores from across the world that “every serious retailer, and food lover, should visit”.

The list, which was pulled together by experts at Interstore Schweitzer, features stores worth visiting for their excellence across five criteria: product presentation, expertise & craftsmanship, atmosphere & interior, ready-to-eat offer and omnichannel & digital innovation.

And every day this week, The Grocer will reveal the stores that impress most across each of the different criteria.

We’ve started today with the 12 stores that stand out for their gastronomic delights – such as Edeka Zurheide in Düsseldorf which boasts a mozzarella bar, champagne bar and prosciutto bar. Or Foodmarkt in Utrecht, the Netherlands, which has an expansive food-to-go range as well as the Jumbo Academy, a cookery school and experimental kitchen.

Tomorrow, we’ll be taking a look at the stores worth visiting for their dazzling displays, such as the Central Food Hall in Bangkok, Thailand, described as a “one-of-a-kind food experience”, and Perekrestok in Moscow, Russia, described as a standout example of textbook fresh food retailing for a store of its size. 

Each and every one of the stores on the list, which was originally conceived by Interstore Schweitzer when clients asked for store design inspiration amid lockdown restrictions, is a reminder that despite the challenges of recent years, the global grocery sector is strong, innovative and exciting. 

We hope it gives you some inspiration as we take our first tentative steps emerging into the light at the end of the tunnel.