German philosophers, kamikaze pilots and the Spanish Inquisition…

Germany has produced its fair share of philosophers over the years: Leibniz, Hegel, Kant and Heidegger to mention a few. Even Karl Marx, whose Das Kapital in 1848 introduced the concept of Communism, fits into the line-up of German learned men.

I am going to join those guys today by making a meaningful philosophical statement of my own: “The trouble with fresh food is that it goes off.” This statement, at first glance, is probably as useful as: “I’m desperately trying to figure out why kamikaze pilots wore helmets.”

But on closer examination, one has to concede that acceptance of the concept that fresh food goes off is the single determining factor in why supermarkets manage their produce, meat, bakery and delicatessen departments differently from their grocery aisles. Regardless of which banner they belong to, retailers aim to sell as much of their fresh food at full price before it goes off.

There are several key factors which determine the extent to which retailers succeed in this aim. These are the availability, quality and range of goods on display, fixtures, space and customers. Please note that price is not mentioned at this point. In order to sell, one must buy.

In order to satisfy customers and sell to them more than once, one must buy fresh food of acceptable quality, have the goods available on a regular basis and a sufficient range to provide the customer with choice. Purchased goods must be displayed on fixtures that suit the product as well as the customer. Whether the fixture suits the storeowner or manager should not be the primary consideration.

Purchasing fresh food is more complex from a customer perspective than just swanning down a grocery aisle and sweeping up bags of potato chips, cans of baked beans or bottles of fizzy drink. Purchasing fresh food involves aspects such as attention to detail, selection, examination and communication. In plain language, customers will want to stop their trolley and spend time. That requires space.

All the effort of buying quality goods, putting them on suitable display fixtures and creating space for customers would be a complete waste of time without customers, so a store selling fresh foods therefore needs customers. Not only does it need them, but in order for the entire store to be successful, customers should ideally shop in all of its departments.

If that is not the case, one should try to find the cause. This fact-finding process is often confused with starting a local variant of the Spanish Inquisition – which can end at times with the modern equivalent of being hung, drawn and quartered, i.e. a department manager being dismissed.

This is unfortunate, because in many cases, a few simple questions, objectively asked, could solve the dilemma. Questions such as:
• Are we offering the right selection?
• How appropriate are the display fittings utilised?
• Can customers access the fresh food areas with ease?
• How many of the store customers are also shopping in the bakery (meat, produce, deli) departments?
• How can we encourage more customers to shop in the department?

By generating honest answers to these questions, the fortunes of the fresh departments can be turned around. At the end of the day, price is purely a function of getting these other elements right.

A well-shopped department with a decent range of quality product will incur minimal wastage compared with a department with an insuf. cient range, unacceptable quality or lack of space. Lack of patronage will reduce the quality of goods available for sale and result in reduced turnover. Drop in turnover is often countered with an increase in prices. Wrong move. Get the basic elements of quality, range, availability, . xtures and space right and your retail price competitiveness can improve through lower wastage as the result of increased sales and faster stockturns.

Write a comment