Planet Organic, which has just been sold to investor Inverleith, specialises in selling “responsibly produced” provisions where the big food industry plays little part.
The retailer performs its function well. If you walk into the branch on Essex Road in north London, the first thing you’ll see is a basket of good-looking bread in the mid-shop with fresh fruit and veg to the right.
The tills are to the left and towards the back there is ambient food on the left and food-to-go at the rear – which is clearly visible thanks to a bold graphic on the back wall that can be seen the moment you enter the store.
But before you walk in, you’ll have seen people eating and drinking on the pavement outside.
“Striking a balance between product and using diners as an advert for what’s on display is a difficult to achieve”
Planet Organic, it appears, is a food-for-now place with a large amount consumed immediately in the company of friends. It’s a formula that is chiming with large numbers of London consumers (there are just seven Planet Organic branches and six of them are in north and central London; Wandsworth is the lone southern outpost) and with Inverleith, which has taken a majority stake for around £15m, which should mean more stores.
Contrast Planet Organic with Amazon-owned Whole Foods Market in this country. Head to the Kensington flagship and the first thing you will be encounter is, yes, bread. The fruit and veg is downstairs in the basement and an obvious difference is that there are no diners to be seen on the ground floor.
They are in fact all upstairs. In-store hospitality appears a bit of an afterthought here and, while the dining proposition is perfectly good, it looks like a separate enterprise and not the sort of thing that will have shoppers darting in and then sitting down to enjoy their purchases Planet Organic-style.
The truth is probably that when it comes to this form of food retailing, striking a balance between product and using diners as an advert for the goodness of what’s on display is a difficult to achieve. Planet Organic seems to be better at it than Whole Foods.
“Whole Foods Market feels like a food hall with nowhere to sit (even if there is)”
Organic food still tends to be more expensive than its conventional supermarket counterpart and the fact that Whole Foods closed its two stores outside London, in Cheltenham and Giffnock, in 2017 is evidence of the fact that hospitality and affluence are the keys to making this sort of thing work.
Islington’s Planet Organic feels like café/casual dining. Whole Foods Market feels like a food hall with nowhere to sit (even if there is, upstairs).
Hospitality has to be to the fore. Whole Foods might do well to spend some time in Planet Organic.