The opening of American giant Whole Foods Market’s new UK flagship superstore on Kensington High Street last week promoted a furious burst of razzmatazz from neighbour Marks & Spencer.

Playing the "organic and natural foods" interloper at its own game, it went all out to highlight the "exquisite taste, exceptional quality and ethically sourced" credentials of food on sale in its Kensington store’s foodhall.

Determined promotions staff with balloons and tickets to enter a free prize draw for a fruit salad herded commuters exiting the local tube station down into its foodhall before they got the chance to stray 100 metres down the road into Whole Foods.

Everywhere around the store staff were rearranging stunning displays, keeping shelves stacked high and urgent snippets of conversation with the words "Whole Foods" in them could be overheard.

M&S is trialling a new-look bakery department among other innovations at the store, including deli and hot food takeaway counter.

In its new opulent ’Bakery & Patisserie’ department is a central display stand, with bags of flour and baguettes, and the notice: ’There is 100 years experience in our bread’. A long chiller cabinet snakes around the side wall, with bake-off operations visible behind it.

The department sports a very upmarket range including, chilled cakes and tarts, for example strawberry tiramisu for £6.99. Fresh cream lines, such as fresh fruit individual pavlova at £1.75 were also on offer.

A range of specialist loaves such as sultana and hazelnut or five-seed golden wholemeal are also displayed, under the slogan ’The art of baking...taste the extra time and care we take’. And a variety of organic breads are on sale.

All this retail-tainment and free fruit salad, meant Whole Foods had a hard act to follow, particularly with high expectations the build-up to the opening of the Kensington store has created.

On entering Whole Foods, you walk through a lobby and then straight into a working bakery situated in the entrance hall, with notices exclaiming that breads are ’made from scratch in house by our artisan bread bakers’ - 35 varieties in all.

The range on offer in this section includes teacakes, cookies, muffins - for example cranberry and ginger - and products sourced from suppliers including Honeyrose Bakery, Poilâne, Pauls and Popina. Chilled cakes, for example lemon charlotte, are on offer and Whole Foods also boasts a ’coffee cakes section’ with traditional style cakes on sale.

floor by floor

The Whole Foods Market store has three floors in all. An eating area on the top level, takeaway foods on the ground floor and general groceries in the basement. The takeaway area includes hot and cold foods to go, such as samosa, rice, curries and salads. A small range of prepared sandwiches and filled croissants are kept in a chiller area at the back, priced £2.99 for a filled croissant to £4.99 for a large bloomer or baguette sandwich, in contrast to stores in the USA, where you can have sandwiches made to order.

The grocery area in the basement has counters including a chocolate counter, with select-your-own premium chocolates, and a ’pies, pastries and quiche’ counter, selling items such as chicken spinach and old spot ham seven-inch pie at £34.99.Ostrich eggs and mix-your-own muesli are among other attractions.

A dazzling cornucopia, indeed, but as shoppers milled around in confusion it seemed that many just wanted to get back to the sophisticated certainties of M&S. n


=== Soundbites ===

"There are no prices on these, where are the prices?" - Customer in Whole Foods Market bakery section

"I can’t afford to shop here, but it has been nice to see" - Customer in Whole Foods Market bakery section

"There seem to be a lot of Americans in here" - Customer in Whole Foods Market bakery section

"It’s still too American for the UK" - Staff at Marks & Spencer