In the current environment, creating and growing a new food retail chain from scratch is a fairly bold move to say the least. Iceland embarked on such a journey four years ago and has grown its Food Warehouse concept to 75 stores, with ambitions to hit 250 units in the medium term.
No doubt buoyed by the avalanche of vacancies on retail parks, the retailer’s ambitions look more than credible and the proposition is strong enough to hold its own in a brutally competitive market.
Interestingly, the chain barely gets mentioned in the speculation over likely acquirers of stores disposed from the proposed Asda / Sainsbury’s merger, but I’d suggest that it could have a voracious appetite for any big stores that fall out of the CMA process.
The chain is increasingly opening bigger and bigger stores: a recent opening in Wolverhampton springs to mind, with the forthcoming store in Cheltenham set to be massive. This outlet, ironically located on a former Whole Foods Market site, will be the first to have an instore Wine Warehouse concept, complete with resident wine expert to assist customers. I look forward to taking a look.
I must say that I really, really like The Food Warehouse. It has a brilliant look and feel and the range is a compelling mix of a great regular range as well as non-food and bulk grocery special buys.
Obviously, a big chunk of space is devoted to frozen, with an expanded range of gourmet and luxury items as well as full freezers devoted to exclusive liners from partners such as Slimming World, Pizza Express and Millie’s Cookies and Greggs.
This store – in Milton Keynes – is adjacent to an Aldi and just across a roundabout from a Tesco Extra. It has a lovely mix of retro and industrial in terms of look and feel with plenty of striking graphics around the perimeter that both aid navigation and raise a smile. The use of low chest freezers mean that sightlines are a total dream, enabling shoppers to look out across the whole store and readily find the categories they are looking for.
Produce ticks all the right boxes in terms of selection, while the chilled range has everything for a full shop, including a surprisingly impressive range of meat. As already mentioned, the frozen range is unbeatable and provides a good reminder that Iceland’s offering has advanced light years beyond the proposition that gave us kebab pizza, prawn rings and Kerry Katona. There is serious quality on display and my desire to buy tonnes of the stuff was only curtailed by the fact that the freezer at Roberts Acres is the size of a shoebox.
A couple of other highlights would include a BWS department that houses a decent wine range and an extensive craft beer selection as well as a cute little sweet shop concept. The bulk deals offer cracking value on well-known brands and the range overall brings together brands, PL and exclusives to great effect.
Would happily shop here every week: this is a very pleasant addition to the UK retail landscape.
Bryan Roberts, Global Insights Director