Secret Shopper Reports 2014

Old fashioned health food and more

Christmas shopping in a lovely market town and our Secret Shopper visits the twelfth and final store of the year. The scores are in so watch this space for the final marking to reveal the winners at the Health Food Institute awards luncheon on February 19. The HFI is sponsoring our Secret Shopper awards and it’s old fashioned health food stores like this one that have proved to be the mainstay of our industry.

December 2014

Store location: Midlands
Issue enquired about: Concerned about Vitamin D deficiency

First impressions

I’ve heard of this store from friends who rave about the range of organic health food available and find it easily on the approach to the historic market town, but parking nearby is limited so I have to walk back out of the centre. The frontage is a little understated but old buildings like this usually have plenty of ‘rooms’ to explore and I’m not disappointed. Bright smiles all round but I’m left free to explore. The store isn’t particularly colourful, tending on the dark side, but there’s that magical feel that there’s plenty to encounter here.

Verdict: 7/10

Store layout

I’m right. There’s plenty to titillate the taste buds as well as bring much-needed wholesome dietary health in a modern world of processed and fast food. I pass two separate till areas where staff are busily occupied and explore the maze, spotting a very small area for supplements where I will return for help with my need for a higher vitamin D intake. I pass the toiletries section, featuring Jason, Dr Bronner’s, Lavera, Weleda and a whole shelf of Faith in Nature, where I am also reminded that I need some natural toothpaste – note to self, ask about that too. The maze continues into several ‘rooms’ with a superb range of fresh, ambient, chilled and frozen organic foods. A delightful 20 minutes of browsing follows!

Verdict: 7/10

Personal attention

Browsing done – the canned fish section was a revelation in itself – I look for help which isn’t hard to find as a customer is just leaving one of the till areas. I ask first about toothpaste. I want one that uses xylitol as I know this sweetener is an effective plaque deterrent, so the lady assistant begins reading the labels. There’s quite a range but the only xylitol toothpastes are two imported children’s products. Some contain sorbitol which I try to avoid: disappointed, I choose a Kingfisher fluoride-free toothpaste.

Then to the main reason for calling. I ask about vitamin D and to her credit the lady doesn’t try to discuss diet! However, she confesses she isn’t aware of the correct dosage for someone like me who doesn’t see much sun in winter and immediately takes me to the supplements section. She selects Viridian’s D3 400iu product which I add to the basket – I know this is low so 30 capsules won’t last long. But she is charming and as helpful as she can be on her limited knowledge (she has read the labels on several bottles, quoting the RDAs to me). To be fair, this is primarily a food shop so a dearth of supplements (and knowledge) can be forgiven.

Verdict: 7/10

Check Out

I add some other skincare products to the basket along with some pre-packed organic cereals and check out is smooth and courteous. There are no “hooks” to bring me back, such as events, offers, website etc. This is simple organic food and toiletries with no frills, served with a smile.

Verdict: 6/10

Overall impression

A good store to explore, very well stocked yet with plenty of room to browse without tripping over anything or getting in anyone’s way. If I lived locally, I would definitely be a regular and feel healthier for it, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to friends – though supplements should perhaps be sought elsewhere, understandably.

Verdict: 7/10

TOTAL MARKS: 34/50

Read about last year's winning store here...

Read previous Secret Shopper reports here...