Is St Albans’ new Morrisons the supermarket of tomorrow?

THE FUTURE of supermarket shopping could be on the doorstep if a recent makeover at a St Albans store is anything to go by.

Morrisons’ flagship store on Hatfield Road is bucking many of the major trends followed by supermarket chains with their new offering, which combines the best ideas from around the world and goes back to basics, expanding their Market Street ethos. And it’s attracting national attention.

Moving away from the uniform layouts synonymous with other supermarkets and out of aircraft-hangar sized buildings, Morrisons is looking to create stores that cater specifically to those living locally.

And they hope it will herald a change in what customers expect from their supermarkets across the country.

The St Albans store, which underwent refurbishment over a few months and reopened in October, showcases a step away from the pre-packaged and focuses on fresh produce, and all signs indicate the public are in favour.

But it’s not just locally where they are making an impact: its back to basics strategy saw them feature in The Sunday Times and nationally the store is attracting a lot of positive attention.

Located on a busy road with a college, school and many businesses in easy reach, the store has opened up a large Fresh to Go section which features everything from sushi to hand-made wraps and parfaits to pastries. Everything sold here is made in view, the ingredients come from the store and customers can create their own.

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Store manager Mike Ward explains that this element of the store has been particularly popular, rejecting the pre-packed nature on offer at so many other supermarkets and instead favouring hand-made bespoke food that people are beginning to want more of.

The most striking feature of the new look store is the fresh produce section. Covering a vast area and stocked with over 200 new lines of fresh produce, it is the store’s intention to meet even the most adventurous cook’s needs. There’s lotus root, yellow courgette, red chard, yellow chard and smoked garlic to name just a few. A dramatic mist wraps itself around some of the fresh herbs and vegetables, causing customers to stop and stare. It might seem a little superfluous, but there’s no denying that the mist, designed to keep the produce cool, is eye-catching.

The fresh food area and the food counters so much a part of the Morrisons’ Market Street remain together but the counters and shelves have been dropped lower and make the store look larger. The preparation areas behind the counters are clearly visible making their staff, all experts in their field – butchers, fishmongers, bakers – accessible to the public and available to answer questions, give advice and demonstrate their expertise.

This level of transparency is, says Mike, paramount to the store’s new look. They want the customer to know where their food has come from, how it’s been prepared and come to expect their supermarket to have character.

With this in mind, the store now has a chef located in the fresh produce section complete with a working kitchen. Throughout the day he prepares and cooks with produce from the store, giving tips and advice as well as the all-important chance for customers to taste his dishes.

Throughout the new store, there’s a shift away from bulk-buying and customers are encouraged to think about individual meals – recognition, perhaps, that people are more conscious about the food they eat and are no longer content with a quick fix.

The interdependency between departments is similar to that of a small village, with the process underlined at their new-look caf� (with free wi-fi). Here customers can order food and know the produce came from within the store: the bread baked in the bakery, the meat prepared by the butcher.

Mike is quite confident that what is happening in St Albans will change the face of supermarkets around the UK. For now, much of what is in place at the Hatfield Road store is open to change. Customer feedback will prove pivotal in the coming months as the store looks to offer its shoppers exactly what they want.