Given that Sainsbury’s is opening just two new supermarkets this financial year (new store capex is dwarfed by that devoted to refurbishments, IT and Argos), getting to see a new Sainsbury’s larger store format is increasingly like locating hen’s teeth.

Obviously, Sainsbury’s is by no means alone in terms of redirecting spend away from new big box space towards convenience, e-commerce and behind-the-scenes cost reduction / efficiency programmes. There have been few high profile big box store openings from the major players over the last two or three years (Tesco Bicester, Sainsbury Nine Elms and Morrisons Colindale are the ones that spring to mind most readily), and it might be fair to conclude that the space race from the big four has well and truly slowed to a trickle.

With new Sainsbury’s stores seeing the light of day in Liverpool and Cambridge during the 2017/18 financial year; and with Liverpool being really far away and me being rather lazy; the new store in Cambridge was the one that I got to recently visit. The 21,000 sq. ft. store opened in September 2017 and includes some of the retailer’s more noteworthy innovations, such as an ‘1869’ coffee counter and a takeaway pizza ordering system.

The store itself is located in Eddington, a new town that is being created as I write two miles north of the city centre. The development will see a mix of private and affordable housing for students, university personnel and the general public and includes features such as a primary school, medical centre and assorted leisure facilities.

Despite the weird half-occupied ghost town feel of the overall development, the Sainsbury’s store is already doing brisk business and is reportedly generating the highest pizza sales in the country. It is a striking store to look at, combining stone, glass and timber which perfectly complements the rest of the development unfolding around it. Rather than boasting an instore Argos, there is a separate Argos unit just around the corner enabling click & collect in addition to regular Argos services.

Inside the supermarket, one is impressed by the use of timber as well as plenty of natural light flooding into the store from the glass frontage as well as many skylights. Along with other features such as technology that recycles the heat from fridges, the Sainsbury’s store perfectly echoes the sustainability narrative that ruins through the broader Eddington development.

The ranging of the store, given its size, location and likely shopper base (when everyone has moved into the yet-to-be-completed housing) looks spot on. The counters (pizza, hot food, deli and bakery) are excellent, while the food-to-go area at the front of the store is excellent too. Produce is nicely presented with bespoke flooring and the deft use of spotlighting while chilled benefits from Sainsbury’s well-established segmentation and signage.

The bakery counter is a handsome affair, with the rest of the bakery department set off nicely by the tiled backdrop to the fixtures. Non-food is a sensibly streamlined affair, limited to a bit of media, bed linen and household.

This is a very pleasing store in terms of design, look and feel and navigability, but there are a few operational quirks that perhaps speak to some wider issues with Sainsbury’s at the minute. The lovely 1869 coffee shop looked great, but it was not open and was largely devoid of food (I was there about 12.00). The produce section was more than a little gap-ridden, while chilled and bakery were also afflicted by significant OOS.

In fairness, this was New Year’s Eve, so falling into that odd trading hinterland where stores have to cope with big switchovers, but even so, availability was by no means ideal, especially in categories typically untroubled by big seasonal fluctuations or ranging implications. Whether headcount, scheduling, ways of working, systems or logistics are responsible, the gaps took the shine off what would otherwise have been a cracking store.

Bryan Roberts, Global Insight Director

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