The Changing Face of Supermarkets: the death of the deli counter
Over the years I have often lamented about the death of the high street and have written nostalgically about the loss of the corner shop, but today I find myself writing about the decline of the supermarket and I am quite surprised to find myself looking back nostalgically on supermarket history.
SAINSBURY’S has hit the headlines this week as it has announced it will cut 3,500 jobs as part of plans to permanently close its meat, fish and deli counters. When I heard this news I must say that it got me reflecting over the decline of the supermarket deli counter.
The counter closures were explained by a Sainsbury’s spokesperson as being part of efforts to “better reflect customer demand” which has mainly turned online and this is no doubt true enough. There was indeed a time when supermarket cheese, deli and meat counters were so busy that you had to take a ticket from the dispenser to make sure you kept your place in the queue. I recall several staff serving and that the deli counters sold jellied eels, allsorts of coleslaws and sauces which the staff would decant into small pots and weigh. The cheeses were cut from blocks and weighed and the same with the cold meats, it was the supermarkets version of a traditional delicatessens, but this has been gradually moving towards self service for a number of years with cheeses being pre-weighed and wrapped and the queues have vanished along with the queue ticket dispensers. I’ve noted the decline of these deli counters for some time and indeed when I have had cause to meander over to them I have frequently been told by staff that a piece of fish, meat or cheese is already pre-weighed and wrapped on the shelf elsewhere, that is of course if I’ve managed to find anyone behind the counter to assist me.
Whilst it is Sainsbury’s that have made the announcement, I will not be surprised if other supermarkets follow suit. It seems that we are bound for not merely self service shopping, but no service shopping. With self scan checkouts being commonplace now and no one to consult about your cheese, meat or fish it seems that we are now a society who will buy what we are told because the supermarkets will only cater for the mass taste and what is most profitable. We chose the big, shiny supermarkets over personal shopkeepers because of variety and price and now the variety is dwindling and the prices are relative between all the big stores. It seems that the original concept of supermarkets that closed our family owned grocers is now under threat itself, because the impersonal self service ways have meant that online shopping is not a huge leap away and leaves little difference in customer experience because the experience is becoming void of interaction.
I am sad to see the deli counters of Sainsbury’s go, but I don’t miss the ones that are closing now, I miss the ones that were phased out without an announcement, the ones we needed to queue for; the ones which at least attempted to mimic the real delicatessens they replaced.