Tesco deli counter

Source: Tesco

Why would customers participate in the deli counter charade when they can quickly grab the same products off the shelf?

Tesco’s latest closure of 317 staffed counters is just another sign that this unconvincing form of retail theatre has passed its ‘best before’ date.

Despite the pork pie hats and the uniforms that would seem to suggest a curated, specialist small shop offer, UK supermarket deli, fish, and butcher counters haven’t cut the mustard. Latest IGD figures show just 6% of shoppers use them. No wonder.

Fish counters, with their ‘previously frozen, do not refreeze’ warnings in very small print, were the biggest turn-off – featuring lacklustre, dead-eyed specimens and majoring on the most ubiquitous farmed fish.

The shrink-wrapped plastic or gas-flushed offerings in the packaged fish section are no more appetising – just more honest, and less whiffy.

Butcher’s counters were staffed by people who looked the part. But customers have worked out that the competence and knowledge associated with their traditional high street equivalents is lacking. In-store ‘butchers’ simply open bags of pre-butchered products supplied by the cutting plant. Pedigree, ageing, eating quality, and the professional skill of breaking down a carcase are not in their job remit.

It doesn’t take long to spot that supermarket deli counters sell more or less the same lines as the deli aisle, only unwrapped: salsas, houmous, coleslaw, quiche, the most standard cheeses and salamis. Why would customers waste time participating in this deli charade when they can quickly grab the same products off the shelf?

Staffed counters flopped in UK supermarkets for good reason. They always compared badly with their European equivalents. I’ll never forget visiting a hypermarket in Sardinia where the cheese counter was as long as a London bus. The selection gave pride of place to local sheep cheese, everything from fresh ewe milk ricotta through all sorts of pecorinos at different stages, matured in a diversity of ways.

Now that was a counter worth queueing for, hence the ticketing system.

Supermarket counters here are evidence that you can’t fool all the people all of the time. If you want a shopping experience that offers personal interaction with motivated, informed staff who can guide you through genuine product diversity, our independent retailers do the job better.