I do like getting to visit exciting new store concepts as soon as they are open, so it was pretty painful to hear from colleagues who had visited this amazing store the week it opened, while I had to wait the best of a year to gaze upon its loveliness.

I finally got to go there last week and I’m happy to confirm that it is a towering beacon of awesomeness that is now firmly encamped in my Top Five of European stores and equally firmly in my Global Top Ten.

Esteemed supermarket observer Steve Dresser put out a comment on Twitter the other week that stated: “Food retail in the UK has gone from competing about who runs the best shops to who can run the ‘least worst’.” Frequent readers will know that I’m inclined to agree: store managers constantly looking over their shoulders at waste and payroll budgets, while store designers and merchandisers seem generally more obsessed with spreadsheets than shoppers.

Overseas, it appears to be a different scenario, with store designers and merchants given a bit more financial and editorial leeway to create shopping environments that entice, entertain and delight.

When I first started out in this career, the prevailing wisdom seemed to be that – if you wanted to see the leading edge in food retail – you would have to head to the UK or France, while if you wanted to see the worst, then Germany would be your ideal destination.

How things change. The likes of EDEKA, REWE, Real and Tegut have all raised their game and are delivering great retailing, often with no small measure of innovation and design flourishes that have ensured that some of the best food retailing around is now to be found in major German cities.

This latest example is a sprawling urban store in central Dusseldorf that encapsulates virtually all of the strategies for success that I outlined in a recent blog. Part of the the Edeka umbrella organisation, the third-generation retail business Zurheide Feine Kost operates eight stores in the region and I’ve already enjoyed the great privilege of visiting a couple of them before – and very good they were too.

This store – located in the Crown Plaza centre – takes things to a whole new level, guaranteeing a place in the pantheon of ‘must visit’ food stores around the world. Opened in March 2018, it trades from a hefty 10,000 sq. m. and offers over 60,000 SKUs across two floors. In addition to a wealth of food-for-now options and what might be loosely referred to as a ‘regular’ grocery offering, there is a cavalcade of instore events and experiences, all of which provide further reasons to visit. Not that the place really needs them, to be totally honest.

The ground floor is a riotously enjoyable treat for the senses. Among many other things, it is home to a jaw-dropping patisserie and coffee shop, a vegetarian / vegan restaurant and what increasingly seems like an obligatory sushi counter. The juice and smoothie bar is a wonderful spectacle in its own right and also serves as a perfect introduction to the fresh produce department that sits just beyond.

Produce is done really well. It has a separate area for organics, possesses some fantastic lighting features and also boasts an orange juicing machine and a wonderful contraption that peels and chops whole pineapples. A real stand-out is the hydroponic instore ‘farm’ from supplier infarm that enables shoppers to purchase salads and herbs grown instore. A total delight in terms of retail theatre and visual appeal as well as a means of satisfying punters concerned about provenance and freshness.

The organics produce display is part of a broader department devoted to bio lines. With great fixtures, a separate bakery, an impressive range and the judicious deployment of digital screens, the organics section represents a credible standalone destination, enabling the store to give organics specialist retailers a run for their money.

Elsewhere on the ground floor – in addition to the checkouts etc. – are some cracking displays from confectionery brands like Ferrero, Lindt and (YES!) Haribo, a lovely display of Zurheide’s own PL range and one of the most beautiful frozen food departments I’ve ever seen. I realise that I might be pushing the train spotter / geek envelope a little too far here, but it is absolutely stunning in terms of kit and décor. A stark contrast to the utilitarian barren wasteland shoved into a store corner that I am used to.

With my expectations already blown to pieces, I made the descent down the travellator into the basement, where things arguably just got better and better. Delights down here includes a pasta ‘factory’, where fresh pasta was created both for sale as well as immediate consumption at an adjacent seating area. Other fresh counters that offer instore dining alongside are the mozzarella counter (with the cheese made onsite), the charcuterie counter and the premium beef bar.

Regular readers will know that my choice of lunch counter was therefore something of a foregone conclusion for me, so I sat down at the premium beef counter to watch my wagyu burger being prepared before my very eyes. It was superb. After this delightful snack, it was time peruse the rest of the basement, highlights including a gorgeous cheese counter (376 different cheeses!), strong fish counter, a high-end restaurant, a temperature-controlled wine cellar, seating area with free water, stunningly attractive dairy department, great meat and fish counters and a champagne bar.

The ambient grocery section was done very well, including a stylish Barilla pasta fixture and a great branded selection accompanied by the various PL tiers supplied by EDEKA and Zurheide’s own PL ranges.

At the time of the store’s grand opening, the retailer used phrases like ‘when shopping becomes an experience,’ and ‘the symbiosis between adventure supermarket and gastronomy.’ Normally I’d dismiss this sort of talk as horrendous marketing flimflam, but they really were describing the actual truth of the matter.

“With the new Zurheide Feine Kost, we go one step further. You will not only come to us because you want to shop, but because you want to experience something and be inspired by culinary delights,” explained Jörg Tittel, who oversees gastronomy at the store.

This is brilliant, brilliant retailing. Experience and inspiration left, right and centre. I can only hope that local workers and residents give this store the support it richly deserves.

Bryan Roberts, Global Insights Director

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