Wednesday, 4 January 2017
This is what I was phoning about today. Fry Light spray cooking oil. My closest branch of Waitrose in Burgess Hill stocks only two of the four flavours I've heard of: 'Sunflower' and 'Olive Oil'. I don't like them. There are two other flavours, which inexplicably they don't stock: 'Butter' and 'Coconut'. I love 'Butter'. But I have to go out of my way to visit Tesco to buy it.
Everyone else I've spoken to - mainly Slimming World members, mostly women - agrees that 'Butter' is the nicest flavour, and their preferred choice. Low-calorie spray oil is a growth product. Having switched to it for all frying and oven cooking, I intend to stay with it and not go back to 'real' butter or anything else.
Some of the women I've discussed Fry Light with would, like me, like to get it from Waitrose along with the rest of their shopping. We all want a one-stop experience. So why doesn't Waitrose stock it? Aren't they doing any market research? Don't they see that by not stocking this flavour - plus, say, 'Coconut' - they are harming their sales - forcing potential purchasers into the stores of dominant market leader Tesco, surely the last thing a niche supermarket should do. It's surely bad business.
And another thing: I've noticed that the 'Sunflower' and 'Olive Oil' flavours that they do stock sell only slowly. No wonder. They are yuck. But of course they take up valuable shelf space while hanging around. They'd get faster turnover, better shelf space use, and sell much more of the Fry Light line, if they changed their policy and switched to 'Butter' and 'Coconut' instead.
So I tackled the staff on Waitrose's Customer Service counter. I was told that they had no direct control over the stocking of this kind of product. It was a matter of central ordering policy as to which Waitrose store got which products. But I could phone this FreePhone number - 0800 188 884 - and speak to someone about it. Right, I would.
And I just did. I patiently navigated the hierarchy of 'which service do you want' questions, and eventually spoke to a pleasant young man who sounded as if he'd had an education, and knew the meaning of polysyllabic words. I was as succinct as I could be. I made my points about Waitrose wasting shelf space with slow-selling Fry Light flavours, and losing sales to nearby Tesco. I mentioned my Slimming World credentials, and what we all preferred. I laid stress on the fantastic ambience of Waitrose, and how we wanted to buy Butter Fry Light there, in the convenient town centre of Burgess Hill, and not have to make a special edge-of-town trip to Tesco.
I could tell that the notion of handing sales to a rival hit the mark.
I hoped (but didn't over-egg the pudding by ramming it home) that he would see how any customer defection to Tesco - voluntary or forced - over one product might turn into a general switch to that rival, especially if customers noticed Tesco's lower prices.
He promised to let the ordering bods know. I couldn't detect any condescension whatever. I think he meant it.
Lucy Melford - Consumer Champion - Cooking Spray Czarina - had done her good deed for the day.