Tesco is poised to call time on the supermarket butcher and fishmonger as shopper has interest in them wanes.
Britain’s biggest supermarket is the only member of the current “Big Four” – Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Aldi – to still offer fresh food counters, which sell deli products in 279 of its stores.
For years, staff in pork pie hats have sold portions of meat, fish, cheese and even olives to measure from the stands.
But Tesco announced more than 300 would close earlier this year due to changing customer habits – and the remaining ones are now said to be threatened as well.
Bosses are considering closing all the remaining fresh food counters as part of a new cost-cutting drive, The Sunday Times reported. It could lead to hundreds of further job losses, on top of the hundreds already axed in the last round of cuts.
A Tesco spokesman declined to comment on the claim.
The move away from deli counters comes as data shows many consumers no longer use them.
A survey by retail analytics firm IGD showed that fewer than one in ten of shoppers visited supermarket fresh food counters in the final three months of 2021.
Many sell products that are now common place in fresh food aisles, from quiches, cheeses and salamis to dips such as hummus and salsas – only minus the plastic packaging.
And with competition growing from German discount chains Aldi and Lidl in recent years, Britain’s traditional supermarkets have been forced to find cost savings to remain competitive on price.
Richard Hyman, an independent retail consultant, said the retreat from fresh food counters by big supermarkets represented “a raising of the white flag”.
He said: “I would view it negatively, because it is withdrawing from an area of business – service – where British supermarkets could offer true differentiation.
“But if you are going to do something in retail, you need to do it well – and doing it in a mediocre fashion, simply as an excuse to charge higher prices, will just result in the sort of reaction from shoppers that we have seen .
“There is definitely a market for fresh food, and during the cost of living crisis I think we are going to see people eating out less and cooking from home more often, so the kind of variety these counters can offer may be something that is more.” in demand.
But you need to believe in your offer and put investment behind it. Tesco is never going to outprice Aldi and Lidl, so you need to give customers a reason to shop with you.”
Clive Black, a retail analyst at Shore Capital, said that many big grocers had previously kept fresh food counters for their “halo effect” and a belief that they brought extra customers in.
“But they did more in-depth research and actually found that not many people use them, with most shoppers buying their fish pre-packaged, for example,” he said.
So if this report about Tesco is correct, it would be just another step in the journey that superstore grocers are taking to compete with the likes of Aldi and Lidl.
Sadly, that means in many cases that the ‘nice to have’ services are going, as a lot of customers today are happy not to be served.
Along with Tesco, which has prompted most of the major supermarkets to scrap deli counters in the past few years.
Sainsbury’s announced it would not reopen its fresh food counters during the pandemic, while Asda said earlier this year that it would close most while replacing some with ready meal counters and food court-style areas.
Morrisons, the UK’s fifth-biggest supermarket chain since being overtaken by Aldi in September, continues to offer deli counters at many stores, as do Waitrose and Marks & Spencer.
“Further closures at Tesco could be good news for independent fishmongers, and for Morrisons,” Mr Black added.