“Strange basketfellows”

Week ending 10th June 2017 – what a week that was! England winning a football World Cup for the first time in 51 years. I never thought I would live to see that. Then there was the small matter of a Hung Parliament, too. And with it the thought that we might be in for, if not a coalition, looser partnerships all round with some strange bedfellows involved. The last time there was a coalition, a mere seven years ago, it inspired us into thinking about what products actually work with each other on the shop floor and become basketfellows at the checkouts

In 2010, at around the time the coalition was being formed, Bloomsbury published a very interesting book called The Flavour Thesaurus written by Niki Segnit. What made it particularly interesting was that the book compared and contrasted a variety of flavours and tastes and introduced some new unusual pairings.

For example, globe artichoke and mint, watermelon and oysters, and lobster and vanilla. I also recall lemon and beef, goat’s cheese and beetroot, and about 900 other versions of highly original but evidently well-matched combinations.

Until The Flavour Thesaurus and the coalition, we had never really considered what products sold well with other products at Partridges apart from the obvious ones like smoked salmon and lemons, gin and tonic or asparagus and hollandaise. So seven years after thinking about it we have eventually leapt into action and developed a software on our tills that tells us which product is regularly sold alongside another product. So, what are the top purchased products that accompany smoked salmon in shoppers' baskets?

It is early days in our deliberations, but the results are fascinating and vary significantly between our Gloucester Road branch and our main shop on the Duke of York Square. For our Gloucester Road branch the top products are as follows: bananas, avocados, croissants, frankfurters, clementines, lemons, another packet of smoked salmon, hot noodles, organic eggs, brown and white baguettes, apples, rustic rolls, Evian Mineral Water and sliced bread. Lemons come after bananas, avocados and clementines – so is this a new one for The Flavour Thesaurus?

Other early observations we have made are, unsurprisingly, that own-label products sell with other own-label products, organic products sell with organic products, and that bananas sell with virtually everything else, from organic chicken to lots of different fruit and from mineral water to the Daily Telegraph! However, the particular favourite basketfellow for bananas are free-range eggs.

What does it all mean and how can we use this to our best advantage? As one of my colleagues said, it is important, of course, not to ‘geek out’ over this sort of information and spend hours checking banana sales while customers are queueing up trying to pay at the tills. However, if we can inspire our existing customers to increase their average spend that is a very desirable goal in itself.

So far, like the Hung Parliament, we are raising more questions than answers, but it is important to remember some things never change. Our best-selling spirit is Chelsea Flower Gin and its favourite basketfellow is... Indian Tonic Water.

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