Over the weekend I was intrigued to read (credit where it’s due, in the Telegraph) that Tesco is to shut its two food-to-go concept stores in central London. The sites, at Philpot Street in the City of London and Villiers Street, near Charing Cross station, opened in September 2014 and March 2015 respectively amid much fanfare as part of the re-invention of Tesco, and attracted a lot of interest. Now, we hear, they are to close in early March.
Whereas once Tesco could do no wrong, now it seems it can do little right, although I should add that these stores were always going to be non-core, are not the only Tesco stores on the closure list, are costly to run and face stiff competition in the posh sandwich market from the likes of Prêt à Manger.
In a way it’s reassuring that sanity is prevailing at the mega-retailer, after years of vanity in the form of unchecked store building and development. But this should not diminish the appeal of food to go as a great opportunity across the c-store industry as a whole.
Prêt provides a good lesson in how to do food to go: high-quality ingredients, variety, good coffee, and service with a smile. In the eyes of the consumer, Tesco might be lacking a couple of these attributes, but I know plenty of independent retailers who score highly on all these fronts – Manchester Spar retailer Paul Stone, for example, has his own coffee brand, while I have been to c-stores on both sides of the border in Ireland where I would be happy to eat all my meals, every day. It does require skill and care, and a commitment to quality and service, to do well, but it remains part of the future for the industry.