The future of fresh departments

How can you create successful fresh departments despite ongoing staff pressures and changing shopper habits? 

Increasing staff cost pressures, shortages of expertise, and changing customer habits are challenging the effectiveness of conventional fresh departments instore. Angelika Engl, CSO North America, talks about how we at Schweitzer are innovating the design of fresh departments to solve the myriad of challenges the industry is currently facing . 


How do you frame the current challenges that grocery retailers are facing in fresh departments?


Fresh departments are losing money, while labor shortages & investments in training are making them harder & more expensive to operate. So, retailers everywhere are asking, do we need these service counters? What would the alternative look like? It’s a difficult question. By removing them, retailers risk losing fresh authority that’s so central to consumer preference.

Changing customer habits.

Long-term changes in customer behaviour toward convenience is driven by time pressure & changes in eating habits, which over time has impacted the effectiveness of serviced counters. Meanwhile customer demands for expertise, transparency & experience is only increasing.

Aisles of sameness.

The most obvious solution is to remove the service counters and arrange products into self-service aisles. It’s a decision in the wrong direction for customers who want to feel the customer experience closer to a market concept. In this scenario, nobody wins in the long run.

What is the solution?

Reinvented service

We have been working with retailers all over the world to help them to migrate specialist departments toward more self-service, which has involved re-working the staff operating models and retraining to serve the customer in a different way. In many cases, this has involved redeployment of staff to prepare more self-service fresh cuts, and to keep and even elevate as much of this expert ‘theatre’ visible to the customer. By offering a mix of service & self-service at the counter, a department can continue operating at low traffic times without the need for staff, saving labor time and costs.

Experiential self-service departments

Another key to achieving the feeling of the ‘specialist’ is to retain the atmosphere of stepping into an expert zone, rather than an aisle, which lends itself more to industrial packaged products and therefore gives the feeling of commodity. With this strategy, we are launching 100% specialist self-service departments. Key is the integration of storytelling through enhanced visual merchandising & additional communications, filling the gaps left by a reduced workforce. Deeper message layering adds for example, more context to the sourcing/rearing, therefore responding to new customer demands of product transparency, even going beyond the level of information you would usually discuss with the specialist.