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Massimo Perondi, Italian Barista at Food For Thought's Oliver's store in Kew, is pictured serving the premium Italian Gelato.

How to survive

As the cost-of-living crisis began to kick in straight after the pandemic's assault on retail, Food For Thought co-owner Alan Martin told this magazine:

"To weather the storm we have to adapt and evolve. But into what? That's what I am trying to figure out and I know we don't have the luxury of time to work out what we do differently."

As you'd expect, the lively entrepreneur did find some answers although one outcome will surprise many.

He's closed the Kingston store, leaving two others at Kew and Guildford to occupy him in "semi-retirement".

The Kingston lease had come to an end. He told NNB: "We could have renewed with a much-reduced rent but the prospect of another 10-year lease, given all we've had to navigate this past three years or so, didn't really excite us. It was one of those old-style leases with no automatic right to renew. So we're packing up the stock and moving it to Guildford and Kew. Semi-retirement beckons."

That's only part of the evolution Alan had spoken about.

Food For Thought has changed its product mix by delisting a substantial part of its VMS, skin care, body care and make-up ranges.

"We had seen a major decline across all our stores, so we pruned back," he said. "We delisted some brands totally and reduced the depth and breadth of many others to give us a leaner look. This has freed up space and put money in the bank instead of stock sitting on the shelves.

"We haven't rushed to fill the space, instead we've taken gondolas away to give a fresh, sharper and more spacious look with well-placed display tables which we are refreshing regularly."

The new look also includes fresh meats (both raw and cooked), fish, ready meals, fresh cakes, pies, pasties and sandwiches.

"Scoop ice cream has been an instant success with a range of extra toppings of home-made sauces (raspberry, toffee and chocolate). The scoop ice cream has also allowed us to offer milkshakes, affogatos and combo desserts to take away, such as a hot brownie slice with scoop of vanilla ice cream.

"We are giving customers more of the things they are already buying from us. We want to be the baker, the butcher and the wine merchant."

A full programme of sampling and in-store activity, which obviously suffered during lockdowns, is back in place – "We originally built our business on this and it all came to a grinding halt with Covid-19 but I feel we are now back on track."

Some suppliers seemed to lose interest, Alan said, but health store independents know which are the faithful ones.

"In case anyone is left wondering – Viridian and Terranova support is exceptional and it is no surprise they are racing ahead sales-wise. Dr Hauschka is another company that is right there supporting. I also have to commend Queenswood/Hunts for their support as is the support from the likes of WFBM Healthcare Ltd."

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