I was writing an article the other day in which I came to the rather stark conclusion that the UK would be one of the last places I would send a client to soak up some supermarket best practice. Instead, I would point them in the direction of the Netherlands, the USA, France, Germany, Spain, Portugal or Poland in order to seek grocery retail inspiration.

It didn’t used to be this way: 20 years ago, retailers from around the world were beating down our door to see what good looked like. These days, I would stop short of calling it a race to the bottom, but much of the UK grocery market seems intent on hurtling down a race to the middle. There are a few exceptions, though: the Co-op, Lidl and Iceland have caught the eye this year, and I would certainly add Morrisons to the list.

I was very late to this particular party (the store opened six or seven months ago), but the Morrisons store in St. Ives in Cambridgeshire really is a fine piece of work: underscoring the retailer’s credentials in craft, provenance and visual merchandising.

I’ve not seen a better take on localness since I visited an East of England Co-op a couple of years ago. Once you’ve admired the rather lovely exterior of the store, complete with ‘living wall’ and entered the place, virtually the first thing you encounter is a great display of local eggs (with the new PYO approach that Morrisons has rolled out to a number of stores across the country) as well as local beers and cooking sauces.

The instore café is a real step up: great look and feel; a separate barista counter; and the deployment of a snazzy ordering touchscreen. Directly adjacent to the café is the bakery & cake shop counter, the first of a run of distinct service counters that occupy the left-hand wall of the main supermarket area. This approach really brings the retailer’s ‘Market Street’ proposition to life, with each counter having a very striking design and colour scheme.

The pizza counter – which enables shoppers to create their own pizzas – is a thing of beauty, matched by some excellent counters devoted to deli, meat and fish. Plenty of added value services are available, as befits a retailer that still employs trained butchers and fishmongers – a real differentiator in the UK market where many competitors trade from counters of thawed out, pre-cut fish and centrally-processed meat.

Another great innovation is the bringing together of ‘free from’ lines – across ambient, chilled and frozen – into a single location, meaning that shoppers with special dietary requirements do not have to scour three different parts of the store to select their items.

‘Local’ signage is across the entire store, with overheads highlighting particular suppliers and shelf barkers identifying individual SKUs sourced from Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk. This particularly benefits categories like condiments and preserves as well as the very handsome BWS department that also enjoys some great lighting and fixtures.

Non-food is done well, with homewares housed in some rather fetching kit and toys marked out by some quirky graphics and signage. The produce section is great and some good work has been done in calling out the ‘wonky’ ranges that Morrisons is selling to reduce food waste.

Overall, this is a great store that raises the bar in many aspects of supermarket retailing. I genuinely hope it is a source of inspiration for a few other businesses in the sector.

Bryan Roberts, Global Insights Director

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