The multi prize-winning Bellini’s supermarket and BP forecourt is situated on the busy main road between Ilkeston and Heanor and opposite the Ilkeston Community Hospital.

Forecourt: The Bellini’s reputation goes before it and I was looking forward to visiting the supermarket. But first – the forecourt. The overall site is not over-wide, but is quite deep. Behind the store is a workshop/MOT unit and many designated parking spaces, as well as an air/water and vac facility.

Under a BP-branded canopy there are four fuelling points – all accessible and busy. In front of the store there are two ATMs, a large display of flowers and Christmas trees. (My stealthcheck was done some 10 shopping days before Christmas).

Around the perimeter of the site there is up-front parking and a number of banners promoting the various forecourt and shop awards Bellini’s had won.

Shop: Branded Bellini’s Fine Food and Wine – ‘The Supermarket with a Difference’. The shop is large (around 7,000sq ft, I guess) and certainly one of the largest forecourt shops that I have seen in the UK.

On entering the store there is an impressive run of produce in separate display baskets in a temperature-controlled unit on the right. To the left is a Costa coffee shop; the rest of the shop almost disappears in the distance. At the centre of the shop there is, on the left, an extensive hot-food counter (eat in or to go) and a deli, cheese and meat serve-over unit. To the right are the main grocery units. Passing a large display of cards, at the rear of the store is an ‘Aladdin’s Cave’ of a beer, wines and spirits section. I guess it must be in excess of 500sq ft and includes a walk-in beer chiller. Returning to the front of the store I passed the dairy units and arrived at the snack and confectionery display area and the checkouts.

Each of the sections were sign-posted with Bellini’s point-of-sale boards.

There were a few sections that looked low in stock – noticeably sandwiches, with only one pack on display (I visited the store at around 2.30pm); bread with lots of empty shelf space; eggs and dairy. I was not really made aware of the current Nisa promotional offers and thought the store lacked theatre.

I was very impressed by the value-for-money range of wines, the homemade soup (oh yes it was, made in their own kitchen – a huge bowl and delicious) in the café and the Derbyshire ‘Fresh, Local & Traceable’ vegetables in the produce section.

Disappointingly, the standard of the toilets fell below that of the shop. One had a broken lock, a grimy floor and the hourly cleaning rota included not one entry!

Prognosis: In the July 2005 Forecourt Trader ‘fascia focus’ supplement, Nisa Today’s claims it is necessary to ‘innovate, develop and excel’. Certainly over the years the Bellini family has done just that, investing in and evolving its business with great success.

Pundits’ predictions for 2006 include a greater opportunity for coffee (Bellini’s is into that); fresh, (Bellini’s is also into that); food for now and food for later, (Bellini’s is into that too).

Diagnosis: The claim that Bellini’s is ‘The Supermarket with a Difference’ worries me. It certainly is an excellent retailer and, for an independent, quite exceptional – and it is highly unusual to find such a large store on a forecourt site. But supermarkets are fierce competitors and, with their significant resources, are driving store standards, range and customer offerings to ever new heights.

Prescription: To maintain its reputation, Bellini’s needs to continue to innovate, develop and excel. At the same time I would plead with it to take to heart and practice the ‘retail is detail’ mantra. Its beers, wines and spirits section certainly differentiates it from supermarkets. In the future marketing of the store it should consider extending this distinctiveness to more speciality foods – Italian would be an obvious area – and upmarket non-foods. That would give the store more atmosphere and theatre. And the company certainly needs to invest in a website – I was very surprised the store did not already have one.