‘Grazing’ is a trend gaining traction in supermarkets as retailers look at new ways of engaging shoppers. Retail Week samples what is on offer.

For many, the word ‘grazing’ refers to the failure of young people to sit down and eat in a formal context, preferring instead to ‘grab and go’ on an almost constant basis.

With that definition comes the notion that eating in this manner is in some way reprehensible, counter to accepted norms and, in extreme cases, indicative of the breakdown of family life. Indeed, for readers of a right-leaning tabloid, it might even be seen as symptomatic of ‘Broken Britain’.

Yet increasingly, food retailers see grazing as something to be encouraged, at least within the confines of a store.

A word of caution however. When used by grocers, the term does not mean heading down the aisles and nibbling on anything you fancy. Instead, grazing equates to in-store dining and the food consumed is the same as that which can be found on the shop’s shelves and gondolas.

From shelf to table

That may seem a perfectly ordinary idea and exactly what you’d expect to find in an in-store dining area. But as Anthony Wysome, head of store development at Waitrose, observes: “The beloved supermarket cafe has historically pitched itself a notch or two below the quality of the supermarket itself. At Waitrose, we’ve worked hard in recent years to ensure our in-store dining is always reflective of the quality of our broader product offer.”

A visit to one of the larger new-generation Waitrose stores enables you to eat the food that you might feel inclined to buy as you make your shopping trip. Perhaps the best instance of this at present is to be found on the outskirts of Swindon where Waitrose opened a store in May this year.

Marks & Spencer has also been encouraging in-store grazing for a while now. Cafes serve the same cakes and sandwiches on offer in the food hall, and its delis also use many of the ingredients that form part of the retailer’s food offer.

Further afield, retailers such as the large format Iper hypermarket in Milan and the DekaMarkt store on the outskirts of Haarlem in the Netherlands all in various ways use grazing as a starting point for engaging shoppers and giving them a reason to visit.

Bill Cumming, founding partner and director at design consultancy Twelve Studio, says: “Grazing at counters is actually nothing new. You only have to look at market stalls to see where the idea comes from and any way of helping customers engage with counters has to be a good idea.

“Interestingly this form of engagement used to be polarised at the very basic and at the more premium end of the market, but more and more it’s becoming a universal tool to showcase product.”

Marks & Spencer, Westfield London

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The food hall in the basement of the three-floor Marks & Spencer in Westfield London is wholly devoted to food.

For the most part, it is standard stuff, albeit the graphic package on the walls and the visual merchandising is of a high standard.

Beyond the checkouts, however, there is a small cafe, next to which there are some perching seats and a shelf on which you can rest a cup of coffee and perhaps a bacon sarnie.

There is little that is terribly fancy about what’s been done here, but the plain fact is that most of what is on sale to be consumed on a ‘casual dining’ basis is available in the shelves immediately behind the cafe.

For something a little more upscale, the back of the ground floor is home to the deli. This is posh dining by in-store standards. In the middle of the deli island, surrounded by eat-over counters, there is an industrial-looking steel block that contains chiller units, a coffee maker and multiple bottles of M&S champagne.

The menu states: “You can buy a selection of our ingredients and dishes today from your local M&S Deli Counter.” And the staff are quick to confirm that everything that is on show comes not just from M&S suppliers, but that much of it is to be found in the food hall.

If this is not what the M&S shopper has in mind however, there is always the cafe on the first floor. In the M&S Cafe there are a mix of sweet and savoury items, accompanied by hot and cold beverages.

The chiller units that contain the sandwiches, salads and sweet treats look remarkably like the sort of thing that visitors to Pret A Manger or Eat will be familiar with, except that in this instance they are part of a larger whole.

Finally, this is one of the few M&S stores where the dining offer spills over into the mall’s public area.

Here there is a cafe in the middle of the concourse with seats and more goodies from the food hall in which shoppers can take a break even if they don’t enter the store.

Iper, Milan

Iper_interior__Milan

Perhaps less obviously about dining and rather more about selling fresh food, the large Iper store in Milan’s Portello district does allow its shoppers to graze.

In-store, that means they can choose from a number of counters, all of which serve either fresh or freshly made products. These are plated or reheated and served with wine or beer in an “informal dining area”.

The latter translates as a few chairs and some tables, but it is the abundance of the various counters that is likely to swing the balance for shoppers visiting the store.

From cakes to slices of pizza, cheeses to roast chicken, this is about grazing informally, within the confines of a hypermarket environment.

Iper is fairly typical of the very large spaces that have long characterised the Continental hypermarket. That said, this is about making a large space more manageable.

At a time when grocers in the UK are wondering what to do with the very large spaces that some of them operate (and which are looking increasingly redundant), grazing of the kind on offer in Iper is one way to maintain shopper engagement.

Waitrose, Swindon

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Just beyond the canopy at the entrance to the new Waitrose on the outskirts of Swindon there are wooden and metal tables and benches. It’s a warm day and a family is sitting taking the air along with cups of coffee and snacks from inside the store.

The coffee could actually be from the cafe that is on the far left when shoppers enter the store, or it could equally be from the machine located at the back of the shop, behind the cakes and baked products counter.

Between the two there is a wooden table above which a hanging graphic invites shoppers to “Eat with us”. The table is located in a space that has been carved out from the beers, wines and spirits area and on its top there is a champagne bucket informing shoppers of a forthcoming “Fullers ale tasting”.

The underlying idea is simple. Choose from the menu on the table, select a drink as the mood takes you, and the staff will do the rest.

Everything on the menu is available in the aisles and to emphasise the message of the menu, there is a small blackboard next to it stating: “Small platter & glass of house wine 125ml £7.50”. As well as being relatively inexpensive, this is probably the best example of grazing in a store in the UK at present.

At the back of the store next to the deli counter is a further grazing station with a graphic that requests shoppers to “Please order your food and drink at the deli counter. Take a seat and we’ll serve you at your table.”

In terms of use of space, this is extravagant when the normal cost per square foot criterion against which supermarket interiors are measured is taken into account. It does, however, give a significant number of reasons for visiting this store instead of some of its rivals – and for coming back.