8th August 2013. The official relaunch of Tesco Extra in Watford – Phil Clarke’s vision of the store of the future in what was at the time a poorly performing big box part of the business. The concept brought together lots of innovations, lots of acquisitions and lots of new thinking that helped reshape the proposition and performance of the Tesco Extra estate.

It’s always interesting to revisit these types of flagship and I was this week given an excuse by the fact that Watford is one of two Tesco stores trialling a significant reduction of plastic wrapping for fruit and vegetables, instead giving a lot more space to loose produce.

The trial is reportedly going well, with shoppers appreciative of the reduction in plastic and the ability to select the precise amount of different produce items they want.

Our forthcoming global research on shopper priorities indicates that environmental issues are one of the key focal points of shopper concerns. Within the environmental bucket, food retailers reducing the amount of plastic they use is the number one priority, ahead of food waste reduction, better recycling and encouraging the use of reusable shopping bags, so the Tesco pilot looks like it should resonate with shoppers well.

In terms of the overall store, it is interesting to note what has disappeared compared to summer 2013. From memory, I think we have lost: Nutricentre, Euphorium Bakery, Blinkbox, the Endless Aisle touchscreens, the misty veg, the cocktail bay in BWS and the dips chiller in the crisps aisle.

Also, the Giraffe restaurant is reportedly on the list of those earmarked for closure by new owners Boparan Restaurant Group, so it will be intriguing to see if Tesco punt that space out to another third party or bring it back in-house with a regular instore cafe.

In terms of what has remained, what still stands out are the Harris + Hoole coffee shop, the food-to-go section, the F+F department, the excellent service counters (which a large bit of POS reassured shoppers were going to stay open amid the raft of counter closures announced by the retailer), the improved GM section, the very well done health & beauty department and the produce section itself.

Overall, the store is a fine place indeed. The food-to-section is excellent (although the entrance into Giraffe has been blocked off with drinks chillers) and I also really like the seasonal aisle with its bendy shelving which brings a bit of interest to what is often a flat run of shelves in most stores.

The F+F section really is good too – some great kit enjoying a very distinct look and feel compared to the rest of the store.

The bakery still looks really strong, but I was sad to see that the sampling appears to have ended. It was always nice to be able to sample some of the bread on offer in new concept bakeries across the estate and it definitely led to additional purchases on my behalf, but then I am a bit of a greedy guts. Perhaps not enough shoppers followed my example to give the sampling long-term viability.

Produce, with specialised flooring and lighting, continues to remain a strong proposition, helped by generally good availability, some brilliant colleagues and some nice wooden bits of kit. The counters – arranged in a big island – are superb and I was relieved to see that the great cross-merchandising here (and in produce) remains.

In GM, the sexy shelving remains in place and still looks fantastic, while the more ‘department store’ vibe in home, baby and beauty is intact and lends the store a great degree of credibility. The Nutricentre is now a Holland & Barrett, which complements the broader offer pretty well, while the BWS department is still a highlight, despite the disappearance of the cocktail bay which used to be a personal favourite.

All in all, this store is in fantastic shape and remains a jewel in the crown of the Tesco Extra fleet. It reminds us that bigger boxes still very much have a future if the right ‘reasons to visit’ are put in place. Hats off for the plastic reduction pilot: I hope it does well and pops up in more stores in the near future.

Bryan Roberts, Global Insights Director

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