The Old Kent Road branch of Iceland’s new Food Warehouse fascia has an exotic appeal that should attract to a wide range of shoppers.
There is a point well along London’s Old Kent Road, towards Lewisham, where small stores fade away and warehouses begin to dominate the retail offer.
There is little that is subtle about the banners on this particular warehouse or the manner in which it announces its presence, but this is new ground for Iceland.
The frozen food retailer has eight Food Warehouses across the UK now and the big-box stores forms part of the way in which it sees the future.
Before attempting to describe what this new store format looks and feels like it is worth taking a look at its website first.
Foodwarehouseiceland.co.uk features a map of the store’s location on the Old Kent Road. Click to look at a larger version and you find yourself faced with the destination and a nearby store, across the road, called Aldi.
Could it be that Iceland boss Malcolm Walker is aiming at the same customers as found in the German discounter, or is the latter’s presence on the map merely a point of reference for those needing a landmark on this long and somewhat nondescript thoroughfare?
Possibly the latter, as those who have tried this store’s ostrich, venison or kangaroo steaks might attest.
The store is more than double the size of a normal Iceland and features a product offer that would appeal to those in search of some of the more exotic foodie options out there.
That said, it is on the Old Kent Road and signed up members of the middle classes were in conspicuously short supply.
Also worth considering is the banner strung across the front of the shop that states: “No membership required.”
This is probably in case passing drivers feel inclined to visit, but are put off by the word warehouse, which to many infers a cash-and-carry operation that is open to members only.
Having parked in the car park at the back of the building, the initial view when entering this brick-built warehouse is of long lines of chest freezers that stretch from one end of the shop to the other - well, it is Iceland.
There is little that is glamorous about what is on view, but this does not mean that the store lacks either interest or appeal. And it is not entirely about frozen food either, although this is the core proposition.
Indeed, stand at the front door and to the right there is a fresh fruit and veg area. This has a large overhead beacon with sides printed to look like a wooden crate and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the words ‘fruit and veg delivered fresh daily’. Intended, presumably, to lend a market feel to the tall gondola beneath it.
There is a low-cost feel about the graphic used, which is not dissimilar to the ambiance in Lidl or Aldi, but this is a very much bigger (and taller) shop than a high street discounter.
“There is little that is glamorous about what is on view, but this does not mean that the store lacks either interest or appeal”
John Ryan, Stores Editor
This warehouse feel is pretty obvious, both from the display and the store ambience. But in case the point is missed, directly in front of the fruit and veg gondola there are multipacks of snacks, piled high on a blue-painted palette.
This bears the first of many signs that state ‘guaranteed value’ in bold white capitals on a red background – in a deliberately strident tone of voice… you do not come to The Food Warehouse to splash the cash.
There are surprises, however, about both the product mix and the way in which it is all displayed. Look beyond the fashionable fresh unit at the front of the store, which every food retailer feels to the need to make a token nod in the direction of at the moment, and there are the freezers.
These are all about waist high and are exactly what those familiar with Iceland might be inclined to expect.
There are in fact three lines of freezers and with everything from kangaroo steaks to the rather more standard meals for one or potato products.
This is, however, a warehouse, so some navigational guidance is needed.
To this end, as well as the ‘guaranteed value’ graphics, a sign in a large white font announces ‘chilled’ against a cracked-ice blue background – not everything in Iceland is frozen.
Another graphic, towards the back of the store, highlights the bakery offering fresh bread baked ‘all day’. On closer inspection, this turns out to mean a perimeter booth in which there are counters of cakes and bread, as well as roller trolleys with shelves filled with bread about to be baked.
This is standard stuff and there is a sense that what is on view is, like the fresh fruit, somewhat secondary to the main event: the frozen food.
Finally, at the back of the store, there are the checkouts. These are much as might be expected, as is the graphic that provides a four-step guide on how to pay indicates.
The checkouts are about throughput, so customers are instructed to remove their products from the shopping trolley, place them on the conveyor belt and replace them in the trolley once they have been scanned. So far, fairly normal.
The difference – but a similarity with retailers such as Lidl – is that for those wishing to place their shopping in bags there is a “packing area” which customers are encouraged to use, rather than clogging up the smooth flow of payment on the checkout conveyors.
Get in, get out
This may be better for the store, but it is hard to see any real benefit for shoppers as it is another stage in the matter of getting in, getting what you want and then getting out.
There is nothing aesthetically appealing about this store and, while the graphics are certainly the outcome of a design process, that’s about it as far as thoughts about in-store appearance is concerned.
There is no denying that it is efficient, however, and the product range is broad and finding what you want is straightforward.
This is the only branch of The Food Warehouse in London and it is easy to see how it might be expanded as a format, given the number of shoppers in it on a wet Monday and allowing for the availability of this kind of space in secondary areas.
This warehouse is also quite a long way in terms of ambience from a high street Iceland, although the focus on value remains unrelenting.
Whether shoppers are on a budget or want something unusual for the table, at a low price, this looks a good bet.
The Food Warehouse, Old Kent Road, London
Ambience Low cost
Location Secondary, with a car park
Product offer Diverse, from budget to delicacy
Store design Not hugely evident
Direct opposition The nearby German discounters