Secret Shopper Report: The Welsh Marches

Country Life

The page everyone reads first, retailers and suppliers alike, where our Secret Shoppers are scouring the highways and byways for the best of GB’s health food and natural lifestyle independents. Or, heaven forfend, the worst. On this occasion, our spy has ventured down rural lanes to find a country gem.

Store location: Welsh Marches
Issue enquired about: re-stocking a spice & herb larder and seeking dietary advice for acid reflux

First impressions

This store had been recommended by a friend from the Welsh side of the Shropshire border and it turns out to be a hidden gem as it’s not easy to find. Located in a small hamlet some miles from the nearest town, you’d expect it to be full of farm supplies, both by and for the rural community. But once inside, it’s a well-stocked natural health food store and not a bit hayseed and hippy. Given that the only other attraction of note is a weekly market in the village hall, it’s one of those secret treasure troves for health-conscious locals and which probably attracts regulars from some distance away.

Verdict: 7/10

Store layout

Something of a tardis, the store stretches on one floor with two light and airy rooms with a packing area at the rear. Beyond this is a tidy stockroom (I peeked). The two staff members are busy with other customers as I enter but I get the feeling this is a happy, smiley place.

In front of me are shelves of packaged organic and healthy alternative products and to my left a sensible, if not extensive, supply of supplements with a strong Natures Aid representation, several respected probiotics and digestive aids, and beyond is a strong hint or more specialist product ranges to explore. Indeed, the herbal display is thorough with A.Vogel taking prime position.

But the main thrust of this store is food – nuts, pulses, sauces, flours, pastas aplenty, and so on. A chiller and frozen section to the rear is well stocked with vegetarian meat alternatives and even a small section for grass-fed meat.

But the genuine pleasure is the spice and herb offering, packaged from loose and covering everything you could possible want. This has to be THE place to shop for healthy and aromatic ingredients. Even loose organic turmeric root. I hope the local chefs and herbalists have discovered this.

Near the checkout is a display chiller with local produce and a good selection of fresh, organic fruit and vegetables. The locals really don’t need supermarket deliveries!

Verdict: 9/10

Personal attention

I ask a charming lady about diet for acid reflux and quickly discover that the owner, who would be able to advise, is away. But she tries her best, starting with a polite suggestion that I should see the doctor, and rightly explaining that an elimination diet would require patience. Going on a hunch she suggests Aloe Vera juice as it’s soothing. She suggests that stress might be a cause but she doesn’t seem to be aware of enzyme deficiency.

Conversation ensues – this seems to be a happy, charming Ambridge of a community and the store has been here long enough to have engaged with a wider population. There are at least two towns within a few miles that have a strong foodie reputation.

Verdict: 7/10

Check out

Good service here. The same lady is at the till and offers a box for my various food purchases. While she packs this, we chat and she hands me a card for a local nutritionist, saying that the acid reflux problem (and any other issues) might take some time to resolve but this therapist is respected in the area. I ask about an online presence or social media but get the impression that these are not a high priority.

Verdict: 8/10

Overall impression

A lovely find, and one I would definitely visit again when I am next in the area. Well laid out, something of an adventure as it’s not just health food but a bit of a deli too with some exciting additions to the usual fare. Polite and cheerful service. Just a little lacking on the knowledge front, but nonetheless well-intentioned.

Verdict: 8/10

Total marks: 39/50

Read the previous Secret Shopper report here...