Sainsbury’s has unveiled the latest iteration of its Local convenience format in Cobham, Surrey featuring more fresh produce and a revamped bakery offer.

Sainsbury’s Local, Cobham

Opened September 27
Size 3,000 sq ft
Design Twelve Studio with Sainsbury’s team
Reason for shopping Time pressure and ease
Ambience Contemporary nostalgia

Listen to any food retailer talking about business during 2013 and one of the things close to the top of the agenda, if not heading it, is convenience.

That is the case at both ends of the spectrum, from the expansion of the Little Waitrose format to Aldi’s convenience store on Kilburn High Road, which actually feels more like a modestly sized supermarket.

Convenience is the one area that every retailer in the food sector wants a part of, on which reckoning it must be seen as one of food retailing’s last remaining prizes. The two giants of convenience among the big quoted
grocers are, of course, Tesco and Sainsbury’s, and there must be very few UK high streets that lack one or the other - many have both.

To an extent it might seem that the battle for convenient food shopping, with all that it entails - appropriate sites, ranges and formats - is almost over. Yet just when this might seem to be the case, something new comes along.

Lately, Tesco has been engaged in making over its smaller stores, with the same wood cladding being applied to the fixtures as is the case in its larger stores. And two weeks ago Sainsbury’s raised its game with a new shop in Cobham, in leafy Surrey.

Broadening horizons

The store in question is a 3,000 sq ft Local, which is not a big space, but it has been opened up. Damian Culkin, head of retail design at Sainsbury’s, observes: “The equipment in the front half of the shop is lower.”

That gives views deep into the shop, improves navigability and allows shoppers to assess most of the action at a glance. But there is more to this store than less dominant fruit and veg units, even though they are still impossible to miss.

“There is more fresh food,” says Culkin. “This is where we think the world of convenience is heading.”

The store is a fairly standard size for a Sainsbury’s Local, so the matter of putting in more fresh food would logically mean other categories shrinking. “We are making grocery [ambient products] work harder in order to make more room for fresh,” says Culkin.

This means aisles of canned and dried goods in the rear half of the shop, where the equipment is higher, but there is little sense that anything is missing from the offer.

Culkin estimates that the fresh component is “around 40%” higher than in a comparable Local branch.

It is in the front half of the shop where the real sense of difference is apparent. For starters there are the chiller units.

They line the perimeter along the left-hand side, follow along the rear and have been installed along a considerable portion of the right-hand wall too. There are doors on each of them, something that Culkin says is a big step forward, and the front left-hand side chiller module has black surrounds to which graphics have been applied.

Beyond the black surrounds is bleached wood planking, giving the area the sense of a greengrocer, in spite of the fact that these are clear glass-fronted chillers backlit by LEDs. It is perhaps the font bearing the message ‘Fresh fruit & Vegetables’ that creates the feeling of nostalgia, and it is deliberately old-fashioned.

The messaging on the black surround graphics is quite informal - one reads ‘Cucumber. Try mixing with gin & elderflower cordial for a refreshing cocktail’. The word cucumber is in green, while the rest of the graphic is white, to contrast with the black background. Similarly, some abstract-looking red tomatoes are accompanied by the legend ‘Tomatoes. Try roasted or barbecued on the vine for added fragrance’.

It’s a tone of voice that pervades much of the shop in the form of graphics and seems appropriate given that this is a Local format and should be about appealing to a specific community, as Culkin observes.

Focal point

The other point that really hits the shopper between the eyes in this store is the bakery. In the normal convenience run of things, this is to be found somewhere along the perimeter and is composed of a series of wicker baskets out of which poke jaunty baguettes, appealing to the eyes and the notion of what a standalone baker’s shop should look like.

In Cobham, however, it is in the thick of things and has been placed in the middle of the shop. Naturally, there are wicker baskets, but they lead in a long, low run to a white-tiled island just beyond the fruit and veg area at the entrance, which is where the cakes can be found.

And once the shopping is done - and this store is about frequent drop-in and top-up shops - the checkouts await.

Here, the usual self-scan and manned tills are to be found, but the difference here is that there are screens above the checkouts.

Culkin says that what will eventually appear on them is still a matter for debate but, for the moment, shoppers can look at “Sainsbury’s content” as they go about the business of paying.

But is this a better store? Culkin refers to shoppers as having “cognitive misses”, meaning that most are on autopilot when heading into a convenience store. Cobham therefore is about “making it easier” and from this perspective it is certainly an improvement. The fact the shopper can more or less scan the whole offer from the moment they enter makes quick and efficient shopping more probable and goes some way towards eliminating the ‘chore’ element that is part of food shopping.

From a purely aesthetic point of view it is, as Culkin claims, “prettier”, which makes it more of a pleasure to shop. It might be missed, but subliminally shoppers will probably be aware of the dark wood herringbone vinyl floor, which looks a good deal more expensive than it is.

Convenience shopping remains a hot ticket and one that most food retailers are devoting time and energy into getting right, or at least into being better than their rivals.

The winner in Cobham is the consumer. There is a large Waitrose just along the street, where shoppers can probably get everything that is on offer in this Sainsbury’s Local but, if time is of the essence and the mission is get in, get it and get out, then this new-look store has real appeal.