New Zealand's biggest supermarket co-operative, Foodstuffs North Island, is launching a new small-store chain in the Auckland region with an emphasis on selling fresh produce.

Chris Quin, Foodstuffs North Island chief executive, said Fresh Collective by New World was only planned for Auckland where there could eventually be more than 10 outlets.

"The store is quite different to what we've done in the past," Quin said, showing off a new central hub design layout in a prototype store where staff such as butchers and bakers would be handling and processing goods, interacting with customers and answering questions.

"The whole of the centre of the store will be where work is done to prepare products for customers so customers will see the butcher in the theatre of that," Quin said.

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Fresh Collective by New World is an addition to Foodstuffs North Island's main brands: Pak'nSave, New World, Four Square, Gilmours and Liquorland.

Rival chain Countdown is planning a $500 million national expansion, opening about three to four new shops annually for the next few years. It has opened five new supermarkets around the country and refurbished seven stores in the past year.

Supermarkets are being challenged by ready-to-go meal options including My Food Bag and many other home-delivered meal solutions.

Foodstuffs acknowledges Auckland expansion is a challenge.

"Foodstuffs North Island is under-represented in the wider Auckland: our main competitor and smaller independent stores are dominating in these areas, particularly within the fresh category," says a display in the prototype store.

Around late August, the new brand with its ready-to-go emphasis will begin selling groceries from the ex-Four Square at Mt Albert which will be re-branded.

Quin said he expected more than 10 new Fresh Collective stores to be trading in Auckland eventually.

"We will be into the double digits. The new stores will be new [premises] and conversions of existing [premises], which would generally be of the Four Square size but there are not that many Four Squares in Auckland."

Quin and group brand director Jules Lloyd-Jones invited the Herald to the prototype store this week.

You can walk down the aisles, see images of the meat, vegetables, fruit, coffee, fish and cleaning products but you can't actually touch or smell them - because they don't really exist.

Darren Jacobs, group retail services manager and Chris Quin, both of Foodstuff North Island, at the Auckland prototype store used to test layouts.
Darren Jacobs, group retail services manager and Chris Quin, both of Foodstuff North Island, at the Auckland prototype store used to test layouts.

In the unusual one-off experiment, the mock-up full-scale supermarket is being used to test new concepts in what Quin calls "three-D reality, a richer experience".

White polystyrene and wood blocks have images of supermarket goods drawn on them, all laid out along the same lines of a supermarket with full-sized aisles.

But even the people are fake, polystyrene cut-outs, but still life-size, standing ready to greet you on arrival.

Quin said the model was developed a few weeks ago so supermarket owner/operators, executives, suppliers and others at the food giant could get feedback on the entirely new brand.

Now that the prototype has been running for a few weeks, Quin said it would be used for experiments on other supermarket brands.

"We're getting feedback and New World and Pak'nSave owners are asking for re-models. They want it. We don't see an end to it now," Quin said of what was originally only to be a short-term experimental supermarket.