This week we visited the latest UK food hall concept to open, the Simply Fresh Foodhall in Manchester’s Stretford Mall. Here we share our thoughts on this latest format and our view on what’s next for foodhall evolution in Europe.
A retail / foodhall hybrid
The Simply Fresh Foodhall represents an important step forward in foodhall evolution. It’s been developed by Mital Morar, the owner of Ancoats General Store in Manchester, which in itself aims to appeal across several food-to-go and foodservice missions in a convenience store format. And it bears several similarities to this store, not least in the extensive use of chipboard for fixturing and counters across the store. But significantly, the opening is the first of what is planned to be a much broader wave of similar foodhall openings across the UK, spearheaded by Simply Fresh’s Kash Keera. Plans are in place for three sites by the end of the year, and the ambition is to have 25 similar large food spaces by the end of 2020.
Rejuvenating a vacant external mall site
The 6,000 sq ft unit was formerly an Argos, though now has little resemblance to its past format. Crucially it's external facing - so it can be seen from outside the mall, and both entrances are outside the mall itself, helping to spread awareness and drive profile. The mall itself is a neighborhood shopping mall to the South of Manchester, with Aldi, Boots, Greggs and Heron Foods among the other tenants.
Turn left for foodhall, right for retail
The store is split neatly between the two zones. A central service counter has tills on one side, and the bar counter on the other. Alongside the back wall are three distinct food stalls, preparing pizza, poutine and Asian fusion dishes. Barista coffee and a modest snacking offer is supported by a strong bar area - a key goal of the format is to drive strong evening traffic. Seating is a significant focus, with well over 50 covers.
Almost inevitably, the retail offer plays second fiddle to the foodhall space, but there are a number of key features that stand out. One is the bulk section, still unusual for a UK store, but one that chimes well with changing consumer sentiments towards packaging. There’s more to this side of the offer, with a focus on more environmentally friendly products such as Ecover washing detergent. The actual food-to-go area in-store is modest, but space is given over to on the move solutions such as fresh orange juice and a large Skwishee “frozenated” drinks machine. Alcohol, top up and food-for-later are also areas of focus.
What could be next?
Plans for future Simply Fresh Foodhalls are already in place, with Birmingham (Grand Central) and London (Islington) set to open before the end of the year.
But beyond this, we see a huge amount of opportunity for further development in this space, particularly for retailers that have already developed significant food-to-go in-store production capability. And this is why we see openings like this as being hugely significant, in informing what the future food landscape could look like. Our recent UK channel forecasts demonstrated how supermarkets and hypermarkets in the UK will continue to find trading challenging going forward. Stores in other markets are feeling very similar pressures. The evolution of hybrid foodhalls is a route that we expect a growing number to pursue in many different markets as they look for new routes to growth.
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