Posted: 08/03/2022

Supermarket deli counter closures a ‘golden opportunity’ for independent retailers

Counters like those at Wally’s are a valuable point of difference

Retailers have urged independent food businesses to make the most of their service areas after Tesco announced the closure of 317 of its staffed deli counters.

The supermarket giant blamed falling customer demand for its decision to remove meat, fish and hot snack kiosks from stores around the country.

It is the latest in a series of similar announcements by large retailers. Sainsbury’s announced in late 2020 that it would not reopen the in-store cheese, cooked meat and nibble counters it closed at the start of the pandemic.

Data from retail insight specialist IGD showed that just 6% of shoppers used an in-store counter in the last quarter of 2021 compared to 9% in the previous three months.

Steven Salamon, owner of Wally’s Delicatessen & Kaffeehaus in Cardiff, said it could be “very tempting” for smaller retailers to copy some of the larger chains and remove service spaces.

“You could cut down on staff and just have someone on a till,” he said. “But then you are no different to a supermarket.

“The fact we have served counters with good-quality personal service is why people come to an independent.”

Supermarkets often did a poor job with their deli counters, Salamon added, and fine food retailers should focus on presentation and training workers. 

“You need staff who remember a customer’s name, preferences and can have a nice chat while understanding the balance when there is a queue of people.”

Antonio Picciuto, owner of Buongiorno Italia in Hertfordshire, said he always made a point to his team that customers had a choice of supermarkets available. “When a client walks into a deli they usually want to be served, inspired, stimulated and presented with choices and opportunities to try something new or of higher quality,” he added.

“Smaller retailers should be looking at their deli counters and thinking ‘how much more quality fresh produce can I put in there? This is a golden opportunity for all in the independent fine food sector.”

Nick Gladding, senior UK retail analyst at IGD, said the pandemic had accelerated a long-term decline in customer use of in-store counters.

“Improvements to the quality and merchandising of pre-packed deli lines means that fewer shoppers see the need to use a counter,” he added. 

“At the same time, the expense of running counters, combined with the need to reduce costs to be more competitive, is prompting more large retailers to close them.”

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