Morrisons is to ditch its controversial misting machines, the ultimate symbol of former chief executive Dalton Philips’ attempts to broaden the supermarket’s appeal to a more upmarket audience.
The Bradford-based grocer introduced the machines to keep produce fresh and create a sense of theatre, with shoppers flocking to photo the misty fruit and vegetables on their mobile phones.
But they were seen as a sign of decadence by former management who claimed they were part of Mr Philips’ attempts to take the stores upmarket, a charge he has always denied.
Former chairman Sir Ken Morrison said the machines highlighted how Mr Philips had alienated core shoppers, many of whom have migrated to discounters Aldi and Lidl in search of cheaper prices.
Roger Owen, a former long-serving main board director, said: “You don’t need misting - the stores are not air-conditioned. It is a waste of money, a waste of time and it does carry a risk unless you spend a significant amount on maintenance.
“I said one of the first things Andy Higginson (the group’s new chairman) should do is take it out, which he obviously has done and good on him.
“If this is an indicator of his intention that he has already spoken about of getting the business back to its core values and core strengths, then this is a step in the right direction and a very, very visible one.”
Mr Owen said Safeway stores acquired by Morrisons in 2004 had misting in their fresh produce and butchery departments. Morrisons decided to scrap them, he added.
Mr Owen said its reintroduction typified Mr Philips’ “total and complete misunderstanding of the marketplace that Morrisons is serving”.
The misting machines were introduced as part of a Store of the Future trial in Kirstall, Leeds, five years ago, before being rolled out to 300 of the group’s 500 stores.
Morrisons’ group retail director Martyn Fletcher told staff about the decision to dump them earlier this week.
A spokesman said: “This move is about going back to basics, using simpler refrigeration techniques and Morrisons’ traditional strengths in fresh food management to ensure our vegetables stay fresh.”
Mr Higginson is expected to announce the appointment of a new chief executive over the next few weeks after he decided to oust Mr Philips last month.
He has made it clear to staff that the biggest challenge facing the group is to get shoppers back in store after haemorrhaging hundreds of thousands of customers to the discounters.
Kantar Worldpanel data out earlier this week showed Morrisons put in its best performance in over a year in the 12 weeks to February 1 as sales fell by just 0.4 per cent, beating Sainsbury’s 1.0 per cent decline and Asda’s 1.7 per cent fall.
However Morrisons’ market share fell from 11.3 per cent to 11.1 per cent.
The data showed that Britain’s biggest retailer Tesco has returned to growth for the first time in over a year as it bounces back after a tough year. New CEO Dave Lewis has overseen a 0.3 per cent increase in sales in the 12 weeks to February 1 and the group has attracted an additional 236,000 shoppers into its stores.
Asda regained the number two position from Sainsbury’s over the period, but its sales fall was the biggest among the top four supermarkets.