Tesco prepares to call time on the supermarket’s butcher and fishmonger as shoppers’ interest in them wanes.
Britain’s largest supermarket is the only member of the existing ‘Big Four’ – Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Aldi – to still offer fresh food counters, which sell delicious produce in 279 of its stores.
For years, the folks at Pork Pie Hats have sold portions of meat, fish, cheese, and even olives to measure from the stands.
But Tesco announced more than 300 businesses would close earlier this year due to changing customer habits – and now the rest are said to be under threat, too.
The Sunday Times reports that Chiefs are considering closing all remaining fresh food counters as part of a new cost-cutting drive. That could result in the loss of hundreds of additional jobs, on top of the hundreds already eliminated in the latest round of cuts.
A Tesco spokesperson declined to comment on the claim.
The move away from prepared food counters comes because data shows many consumers are no longer using them.
A survey by retail analytics firm IGD showed that fewer than one in ten shoppers visited supermarket fresh food counters in the last three months of 2021.
It sells many products now common in the fresh food aisles, from quiches, cheese and salami to dips like hummus and salsa — except for the plastic packaging.
And with increasing competition from German discount chains Aldi and Lidl in recent years, traditional supermarkets in Britain have had to find cost savings to remain competitive on price.
Richard Hyman, an independent retail consultant, said the withdrawal from fresh food counters by large supermarkets represented “raising a white flag”.
He said: “I would view it in a negative light, as it withdraws from an area of business – a service – where British supermarkets can offer real differentiation.
“But if you’re going to do something in retail, you need to do it well — and do it in a modest way, as an excuse to charge higher prices, will only lead to the kind of backlash from shoppers that we’ve seen.
“There is definitely a market for fresh foods, and during a cost-of-living crisis, I think we will see people eating less and cooking from home more often, so the kind of variety these counters can offer may be something that is more in demand.
But you have to believe in your offer and put the investment behind it. Tesco will never outperform Aldi and Lidl, so you need to give customers a reason to shop with you.”
Clive Black, a retail analyst at Shore Capital, said many large grocers previously held fresh food counters for the “halo effect” and the belief that they brought more customers to them.
“But they did more in-depth research and actually found that a lot of people don’t use it—most shoppers buy their fish pre-packaged, for example,” he said.
So if this report on Tesco is correct, it will be just another step in the journey that supermarket grocers are on to compete with the likes of Aldi and Lidl.
“Unfortunately, this means in many cases that ‘nice’ services continue, as many customers today are happy not to receive service.”
Along with Tesco, this has prompted most major supermarkets to scrap their deli counters in the past few years.
Sainsbury’s announced it would not reopen fresh food counters during the pandemic, while Asda said earlier this year it would close most of them with some replaced by takeaway tables and food court-style areas.
Morrisons, the UK’s fifth-largest supermarket chain since being overtaken by Aldi in September, continues to offer deli counters at many stores, such as Waitrose and Marks & Spencer.
“More closures at Tesco could be good news for independent fishmongers, and for Morrisons,” Black added.
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