Speed and in-store food theatre make uncomfortable bedfellows, but can they be reconciled?

Anybody who has ever spent time in St John’s Wood, north London, will probably have visited Panzer’s.

The smoked salmon, bagel and fresh produce Jewish deli has always felt as if it should be in New York rather than one of the capital’s most expensive neighbourhoods.

It was scruffy, but if you wanted your ‘lax’ cut straight from the fish, there were few better places.

Then in November last year it had a food-hall-style makeover. Now along with others, this is a place with multiple counters, chi-chi signage and people in uniform serving.

“Much as we might like it, if all supermarkets morphed into food halls or really became like markets, shoppers would quickly tire of the waiting around involved”

Something of the kind is likely to inform the appearance of the Eataly that is due to open at some point in 2020 in the City’s Broadgate development.

The latter has form. When the first Eataly opened in Turin in 2007, in an old vermouth factory, it was billed as a temple for lovers of ‘slow food’. Since then, loads more of these emporia have opened, from Istanbul to Chicago.

Indeed, there is an argument that the UK is very late to the Eataly party (it was rumoured a couple of years back that it was going to open in a disused part of a central London department store, but that idea seems to have gone away).

What matters in all of this, however, is that because Eataly and to an extent Panzer’s are about hospitality, the pace is slowed down.

This is all fine, providing the shopping mission involves leisure, but for most that is a small part of the story.

The need for speed

Everyday supermarket shopping is a world away from this, and although most consumers if questioned would say they prefer a food hall or market ambiance when visiting a big grocer, they still want speed.

To an extent the dilemma is of the supermarkets’ making. Years were spent making food shopping ‘efficient’ and then suddenly it was perceived that shoppers liked a back-to-basics feel to their interiors.

The conundrum that now faces the supermarkets is how they can square the ‘experience and speed’ circle. Much as we might like it, if all supermarkets morphed into food halls or really became like markets, shoppers would quickly tire of the waiting around involved.

Instead what we want is something that is a food hall or market approximation, but one where speed is not compromised and where possible is actually increased. Simple to say, difficult to realise.

What it will boil down to is decreasing time spent hanging around at the checkouts. Do this and food-hall and market-style interiors can come into their own.

Faster checkouts or Amazon Go-style operations?

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