I spend 90% of my time looking around, writing about and working with supermarkets, so it’s nice to spread my wings a little and venture into other corners of retail. A recent trip into that there London to check up on some food outlets prior to a forthcoming store tour with a client afforded me the opportunity to check out the new large store concept from health food & and supplement specialist Holland & Barrett.

The store, on the Marble Arch end of Oxford Street, is the largest H&B in the country, affording it a lot more room to play with than the often cosy affairs that H&B operates in shopping centres and high streets up and down the country. Interestingly, it has been in Tesco stores such as Watford where H&B has been given the former Nutricentre spaces to play with that it has really come to life for me: with more room to play with, the concept has been enabled to show its strength in depth.

I’ve always quite enjoyed visiting H&B. Alongside some of the more scientifically preposterous remedies and supplements, they are a great destination for stuff like vitamins, herbal teas and snack products; the stores are generally in good nick and the customer service levels are typically set to high.

The new outlet on Oxford Street is genuinely excellent, building on H&B’s heritage in supplements and health foods with innovations in personalisation and food-to-go. The look and feel of the store is a real step up from the typical H&B outlet. Strong graphics bring vibrancy and enhance the store’s navigability no end and features such as the What’s Hot? display at the store’s entrance are great at grabbing attention and presenting a decent call to action.

The food and drink area at the front of the store is rather good. An olive bar and a self-service ‘create your own breakfast’ cereal bar are very nice touches indeed, the latter begging the question why supermarkets / c-stores haven’t thought about adopting this type of solution.

The self-service / create your own theme continues into health & beauty as well. The create your own body scrub fixture is bordering on genius and will no doubt prove to be a popular facility, particularly for gifting. The vitamins and supplements area is done very well too, although the ‘Good Life Greenhouse’ was a tad spurious. And, given the absence of glazing, should be called the ‘Good Life Pergola’ anyway.

Free From is quite clearly a booming part of the broader food industry and this store offers a very well organised and merchandised extensive range of products for those with food intolerances. My heart goes out to those with an intolerance to kiwis. They are delicious and while the wings are not up to much, the leg is very tasty. There is a great selection of fresh and frozen items for different dietary requirements, although I’m issuing a formal written warning for two culinary travesties in particular, namely the vegan iterations of pork pies and scotch eggs.

Downstairs is home to products popular with the sort of men that terrify me on my all too infrequent visits to my local gym. ENORMOUS tubs of assorted powders, supplements and proteins are on display, alongside a booth area where a member of staff can perform a body composition consultation, the sort of value-added service that people much slimmer and healthier than me will no doubt appreciate.

With health & wellness one of the key trends that retailers are grappling with, H&B is at the forefront of addressing this growth area. The new concept shows what good looks like in terms of store design, ranging and merchandising and the likes of Boots and Superdrug – plus the supermarkets – could learn much from it. This is jolly good retailing.

Bryan Roberts, Global Insight Director

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