UK retailers and suppliers took to the highways of Dallas, Texas, for the ACS’s annual study tour of the US. Amy Lanning joined them

There was once a time when c-stores in the US were the envy of all UK retailers, but if a tour of stores in Dallas is anything to go by, British shops are now outshining their American counterparts.

The group of UK retailers and suppliers trailed eight stores in Dallas - ranging from 7-Eleven, RaceTrac and QuikTrip stores, to deli-bakery speciality store Eatzi’s, and Central Market supermarket. Bar the extraordinary deli-style Eatzi’s and a particularly impressive supermarket that was taking the fresh food category to a whole new level, the stores were disappointingly mediocre.

Our first stop was a recently remodelled 7-Eleven store, where fresh food had been moved to the front of the shop to boost its presence. But instead of the kind of displays that UK retailers aspire to, the fresh food category amounted to a small range of sandwiches, salads, and healthy snacks.

Over the road at Eatzi’s, however, it was a totally different experience. Bread is baked in abundance and in full view of customers, and shoppers are encouraged to taste the extensive range of fresh deli products and hot foods before buying. There are six Eatzi’s stores in the US - one other in Texas, two in Atlanta, one in Washington DC, and one in Chicago.

Other stores we visited were a high-volume Race Trac forecourt, which attracts customers with its discounted fuel, and a QuikTrip store which follows a strict planogram and which is strong on fountain drinks.

But the general impression of the traditional c-stores was the same: while the US might beat us in terms of technology and customer service, when it comes to fresh food and the overall shopping experience, the UK wins hands down.

And now for something completely different...

Anyone serious about retailing fresh foods should make the trip to Central Market in Plano if they ever find themselves in Dallas.

Fruit and veg is displayed on ice, and spans every variety thinkable (no fewer than 15 types of potato). Shoppers can browse the phenomenal range of fresh fish and meat - everything from frogs’ legs to lobster, including live lobster for $15.99 a pound - and uniquely displayed wines.

An ‘Express’ area is available for those customers who just want to pick up a prepared meal for dinner and don’t have time to wander the aisles.