Stefano Cuomo, Macknade: “What is value?”

12 August 2022, 14:56 PM
  • Stefano Cuomo, CEO of Macknade Food Hall, shares his thoughts on what real value is with Speciality Food readers
Stefano Cuomo, Macknade: “What is value?”

This is seemingly always a tricky one… as it is different things to different folk! So, what I focus on, learnt at the knee of my parents, from the earliest days, scuttling around the shop floor, was the Italian pillar of ‘Qualita/Prezzo’… that is to say, quality must always reflect price!

In all we do at Macknade, we aim to make sure we deliver the best quality we can for the price point we believe suits our customers and supports the product correctly. That is what leads to real value.

When the internet first started to bite, I remember the excitement of its endless possibilities being chased down by the trepidation of a future free of the need for real, personable retailers. Those would be algorithms dictating ‘choice’ for customers sat at screens, no longer needing to interact with a grocer!

What I of course leaned into were those lessons I learnt growing up and the valuable truth that our retailers are not simply individuals putting stock on the shelf. Rather, they are fonts of knowledge, curating ranges that deliver absolute value for their community! This means knowing our customers as intimately as we know our products and identifying the price that will stitch all of it together – ‘Qualita/Prezzo’.

The example I love is the skill of the monger in appreciating at what age profile nuances in flavour change the price of a cheese. That sweet spot of the right profile to the right price point is the learned genius of the personable retailer, led by broad and varied knowledge, rather than just accumulated data, which leads to absolute value.

The pressures of this year have meant that value has come to the forefront and is now intertwined with affordability. At Macknade, the team are pushing for ‘value without compromise’, which recognises that when we, as shoppers, need to cut costs, we also want to be supported to enjoy quality.

A key aspect of this is highlighting our own pricing structure and this is never clearer than in the greengrocery department.

Independents are key in offering a sincere alternative to the dominant supermarket offer and never more so than in the seasonal fecundity of summer and early autumn.
It is always wonderful listening to customers talking so fondly about Macknade, often expressing how much of a treat a trip to our food hall is. ’I always leave with an empty wallet’ is a phrase I often hear!

The problem is that such affectionate humour can imbed itself as a perception of expensiveness and as such a self-fulfilling barrier – ‘I don’t go because I can’t stop myself buying so much!’.

I know this is usually meant as way of a compliment, aligning the quality of what we sell with a desire to buy it all, yet cached in the thought that it will be expensive. Yes, a jar of local honey is three times the price of its imported, insipid, international cousin, but so too is the quality.

Let’s look at fruit and veg, for example. The prices are much closer, but quality is often significantly better, yet consumers fall into the trap of believing the independent to be ‘pricey’ and still steer clear.

We have started to track more thoroughly our produce prices and compare them to our neighbouring supermarkets.

Comparing like-for-like with the premium supermarkets, we often find our prices do match. Further still, consider our prices alongside the ‘middle grounders’. Theirs may be marginally lower but their quality matches that reduction in price too, and when we look for local it is hard to find it on any of the supermarket shelves, let alone near prices we can offer!

The discounters are on a strategy of their own. When you bleed your team to make the lowest prices possible, it does not feel like a productive long-term strategy for our society, and not subsequently for the business either.

This is where ‘value without compromise’ kicks in and where Qualita/Prezzo is so key. Yes, pay less and get less… whether that is less ethics through your discounters or less quality through your standard supermarkets.

As independents, our strength is our quality, driven by our service, our products, and our knowledge. Often, we undermine this ourselves by our inability to shout out about these strengths effectively.

Our aim this year is not to just hunker down in this new economic terrain, but to get the message out that you don’t have to compromise on quality when prices rise. In fact, it is an opportunity for operators and consumers to readjust our prejudices and to shop differently – to shop better.

Recognise that, seen through the prism of the right quality at the right price, supported by measured consumption, the experience of shopping in a quality independent is no more expensive but so much richer… that is real value.

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