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Secret Shopper Report: South East Coast

Our secret shoppers are sniffing out the best in independent health food retailing in the UK and Ireland, marking out of 10 in five sections. Here, our shopper is looking for a remedy for aching joints.

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: South East Coast
Aching joints

First Impressions

An array of colourful vegetables and fruit sit nestled in crates and are the first thing I see as I approach this store. Kale, beetroot, carrots and more all seem to have been pulled straight from the ground this morning for the weekend shopper. A blue and green shop sign in a playful font is in keeping with the Brighton vibe. The window display, behind the fruit and veg boxes, is dedicated to the store’s packaged goods, including supplements, body products and further foodstuffs such as organic wine and chocolate.

Verdict: 9/10

Store Layout

This could best be described as shambolic, or maybe more kindly, rustic. The entire shop, while welcoming and cheerful, could do with a sprucing up and a make-over. Torn flooring is underfoot, shelves are crammed and empty boxes are slotted in between fridges and piled high from the floor to the ceiling. There are eco cleaning products, personal pampering items, packed fridges and shelves dedicated to vitamins and supplements, but while there seems an extensive range, some products are only semi-unpacked. The layout is cluttered and there is certainly no information on promotions available. Shelves run either side of the space with one through the centre of the shop, giving the impression of a traditional supermarket aisle. On the plus side, two trays of freshly-baked organic goodies beckon a hungry customer on entry and the shop is a-buzz with friendly chat. My impression is that this store could firstly do with a spring clean, but also that the owner might be better morphing it into more of a café-come-health-store – judging by the availability of produce, atmosphere and his rapport with the clientele. A hot drink would go down well with one of the biscuits or slices available at the entry...

Verdict: 4/10

Personal Attention

Obviously a favourite with locals, the shop has a constant flow of customers and in a couple of cases, their well-behaved dogs. The shop assistant, mug of tea in hand, seems on a first-name basis with many that come through the door. I already get the feeling of being part of a community and after circling the shelves a couple of times, the man behind the till calls out to me thanking me for my patience and asking how he can be of help.

Verdict: 6/10

Check Out

I lean across a stained, chipped counter, after perusing the supplements shelf and looking at further products that are available behind the till. I explain that I am now experiencing joint ache after breaking my ankle six months ago and am looking for an alternative to pharmaceutical pain relief. The shopkeeper, while continuing in his affable way, admits he knows little to nothing about prescribing supplements and “wouldn’t want to give me the wrong information”. Rather than a specific product for joint ache, he suspects a revision of my supplement intake and diet in general would be of help to me. He explains that another member of staff, who isn’t in at the moment, would be the person to advise me. Asking where I’m from, he writes down information about a shop closer to my home, as well as the number of a helpline and details about when someone will be available at the shop who is more knowledgeable than him. So although I leave empty handed, I do feel I have been listened to, pointed in the right direction and that a solution is on the horizon.

Verdict: 6/10

Overall Impression

It’s a charming store that I would recommend to others. Great for fresh produce and other necessities such as cleaning products, body washes and frozen items – they are all here, it’s just a matter of finding them in a haphazard layout. It would not be a great option for anyone favouring a more structured or sanitised shopping experience. A nice spot to pick yourself up a breakfast treat and some fresh veg to throw together for lunch.

Verdict: 6.5/10

Total Marks 31.5/50

Catch up on last year's Secret Shopper Awards entrants...