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Secret Shopper Report: West Wales

A hidden gem

Our Secret Shoppers are hunting 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 village store in the centre of a largely undiscovered coastal resort in West Wales.

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: West Wales
Probiotic for a friend with autoimmune disease affecting her skin

First impressions

First rule of thumb – if you spot a Suma lorry and you’re looking for a health store, follow it. I did, and discovered this lovely little store in a seaside village that attracts a better quality of holidaymaker and seems to have a close community of health- aware residents. It’s on a main A-road but traffic is slowed almost to a standstill and therefore it doesn’t feel like Brands Hatch. Clear signage tells me what’s inside and I take the opportunity to make some enquiries for a local friend who is due for some specialist nutritional support for an autoimmune issue. Perhaps I can help, perhaps this store can help...

Verdict: 7/10

Store layout

Straight in and there’s a pinny- wearing gentleman behind the main sales counter (the owner?) and a smartly dressed lady serving customers at the deli counter towards the rear. I am left to my own devices to look around, passing plenty of pre-packs, locally sourced food products, fresh fruit and veg and a good stock of wines and other drinks. The deli counter looks inviting. There’s plenty of room to move and browse, which of course I do. On my hunt for the supplements I notice a separate area for locally made hats and accessories, a nice touch for a community-inspired local store, and then discover that the supplements area is tucked away to the side of the check out area. It’s a little meagre but there are small displays for Higher Nature, Lifeplan, BetterYou and A.Vogel.

Verdict: 7/10

Personal attention

To be honest, I don’t see any probiotics. I’m doing the usual shopper thing and looking only straight ahead and up, so when the gentleman asks if he can help, I explain what I’m looking for but that it appears he won’t be able to help. On the contrary he says, and points to a shelf almost at floor level with Bio-Kult, Optibac and Viridian probiotics. Aha, I say, and explain what I am looking for.

He points out the various products but when I ask questions he says it would be better to talk to the lady who is still busy with customers. I ask if she’s a nutritionist and he says no, a homeopath, but she will definitely know. We chat while we wait for her, a little around the houses to avoid any technical stuff, and then he brings the lady over who is indeed helpful but only in respect to prices and the reason for the variation. I suspect autoimmune problems are little understood, by the NHS let alone a homeopath. Or me. I choose a 30-capsule bottle of Viridian Daily to get my friend started and promise to tell her about her local store.

Verdict: 6/10

Check out

By now the main check out is busy so the lady takes me to the deli counter where there is a second card machine. I pay my £8 or so and we chat briefly before other customers hover near her counter. Can my friend order online? No website. But she can source probiotics online, she says, but we both know she shouldn’t really have said that. Besides, I say, my friend wouldn’t trust online advice with her condition and is soon to see a specialist nutritional therapist “down south”. I realise I shouldn’t have implied that the south of England maybe has answers that the Welsh countryside doesn’t. Courteous thanks all round and she greets her next customer.

Verdict: 6/10

Overall impression

A store great on local organic fruit and veg and strong on pre-packed organic goodies – sauces, pastas, spreads, snacks etc. – with a good deli counter. More supplements would be good, but then the specialist support perhaps isn’t quite there yet. There’s a nice fresh appeal and I suspect the local community is proud to have such a pleasant health store on its doorstep. It clearly serves the community well and doesn’t feel the need to have a wider online appeal. Glad I followed that Suma truck!

Verdict: 7/10

Total marks: 33/50

Read the previous Secret Shopper report here...