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Secret Shopper Report: Midlands

New store, fresh outlook

Our Secret Shoppers are scouring the highways and byways for the best of GB’s health food and natural lifestyle independents. Giving marks out of 10 in each of five sections, our shopper went to a recently opened town centre store in the Midlands.

The Better Retailing Awards are run in conjunction with the Health Food institute and reward excellence in independent health store retailing. The winner is selected from the stores visited by the Better Retailing secret shoppers throughout the year.

Store location: Midlands
Digestive support for an elderly relative

First impressions

Having zipped past this town on many travels along the Midlands’ motorway network, I finally take the advice of friends to have a look for myself. It’s neat and tidy, clearly enjoying the benefits of a local authority determined to keep standards high, and I park in a large town centre car park, revelling in the pleasant surprise of FREE parking! Presumably subsidised by the large supermarkets but I search beyond these and there are some pleasing small independents including this pristine health store in a quaint pedestrian street. Nice signage, very inviting.

Verdict: 8/10

Store layout

It’s light and airy, cleverly designed to allow maximum room for browsing. I immediately sense that this is a very recent addition to the town’s shopping experience as everything is so clean and bright, with nice flooring, understated shelving and eye-catching displays making the products in heroes. I’m greeted with a cheery welcome from the two staff at the counter near the main entrance (I can see there’s another entrance at the far end) but I am thankfully left to browse and get a feel for likeliest products I am looking for.

Verdict: 8/10

Personal attention

I hover near the supplement shelves and this gives one of the young assistants a cue for the polite “Can I help?” I’m hesitant as I wanted to examine the genuine healthy food products that might help an elderly digestive system, and blurt out that maybe I should start with probiotics. It’s then that I realise that although the range of supplements is very comprehensive, it is limited to one brand. Undaunted, I ask about the right probiotic and promptly experience the dizzying heights to which science has taken us: 1.5bn per capsule or in powder form? With or without prebiotic? Twenty billion per capsule? For IBS? A special formulation for those over-treated with antibiotics? I reel under the weight of choices: I suspect I will settle for lactobacillus rhamnosus which she recommends for digestive support, but I say I need more information and I’m given two nicely designed booklets on the subject.

The assistant is very good but freely admits she is still training, so I thank her and say I’d like to browse the food products further while I ruminate on her expertise. I am a little surprised she didn’t offer to talk me through a potential change of diet using organic cleansing, fibre-providing, or prebiotic foods. Names such as Amy’s Kitchen, Biona, Clearspring, Pukka, Sunita and Meridian leap out. Skincare is extremely well catered for with Dr Hauschka, Neal’s Yard, Weleda, Rio, Jason and so on, Naturtint hair products, BetterYou oils and flakes, and those appealing BonPom packs. All duly noted to tell friends.

Verdict: 6/10

Check out

A little later, I chat with her again. She’s a trainee nutritionist and she’ll go far. She tells me about the treatment rooms available for massage, pilates, yoga, shiatsu and reiki and I ask her if there’s a website – not yet but the owners are determined for this and other aspects of modern health store marketing to be top dollar. There is a Facebook page though, she says. Strangely, I don’t buy the probiotic, feeling that I’d like to compare other brands first. But she gives me a Yoga leaflet to pass on and leaves me with a good feeling about this store, especially as it finds its community voice.

Verdict: 6/10

Overall impression

Great potential, needs to become a little more “lived in”, but it will get there. After all, it has only been going a year or so, and will no doubt grow into an important venue for local people as well as an essential source for a healthy larder and specialist skincare.

Verdict: 7/10

Total marks:35/50

Read the previous Secret Shopper report here...