February 14, 2018

Aldi starts in bella Italia

Store sign at Aldi in Castellanza (photo: Mike Dawson)
Aldi sta arrivando!
Under the marketing slogan "una nuova idea di spesa!" (a new shopping idea), Aldi Süd (Aldi South) revealed its plans for the conquest of the Italian market today.

After two years of planning via its Austrian arm, Hofer, the retail giant will open ten outlets on March 1 in five northern Italian regions.

The stores, with sales surfaces of 1,000² to 1,400², will be in Bagnolo Mella, Cantù, Castellanza, Curno, Peschiera del Garda, Piacenza, Rovereto, San Donà die Piave, Spilimbergo and Trento. All will be served by the company's first DC in Oppeano, near head office in Verona.

Aldi's first ten stores in Italy (source: fotolia)
Germany's most profitable discounter has ambitious plans for national coverage and intends to open "more than 45 outlets" as well as nearly double staff headcount from 880 to 1,500 by the end of the year. On its website Aldi Italia is looking to open stores in all eight regions of northern Italy as well as in Tuscany.

This is a fine start. But isn't Aldi coming a little late to the party?

Although a lot of them would be termed "soft" in Germany, Italy already boasts more than 4,800 discount stores. On average, the segment has been increasing at an average rate of around 60 to 80 outlets per annum over the last few years.

Aldi's German rivals, Rewe subsidiary Penny and Lidl, arrived on the peninsula as long ago as the 1990s. Lidl is already no. 2 discounter after local giant Eurospin. Its more than 600 stores posted estimated sales of €4.3bn last year. LZ Retailytics now ranks Lidl as Italy's eighth-largest grocer.

Aldi store in Castellanza

Aldi Castellanza store interior (photo: Mike Dawson)
Clever compromise: Aldi's older stores were grim and spartan in order to convey a no-frills, value-for-money image. Thinking at the company has obviously evolved, however. As even this, regrettably shaky, hand-held photo reveals, the new generation of Aldi stores are well lit and attractively designed
The level of competition in the Italian discount arena was clearly brought home to anyone attending an Aldi media briefing this morning in Castellanza, around 20km from Milan. A Lidl was nearby, and a Eurospin just down the road.

Although the store was not open for business, and there were no prices yet on the shelves, it was still possible to gain a quick impression. The glass facade, strong in-store lighting, and broad aisles all contributed towards a bright, modern ambience. Customer orientation was facilitated by large and attractive department signs.

Fruit & veg, bread, coffee and wine looked well represented. In the wine department some of the bottles on the slanting shelves were cased in lightly-toned wood, sending a quality message to the customer. This was reinforced by a gourmet department called "sapori" with antipasti, quality meat and other delicatessen products.

Another point of differentiation was a nut counter where customers can bag peanuts, pistachios or walnuts at the press of a button.

Regional & organic products at Aldi in Castellanza (photo: Aldi)
Giving the customer no reason not to shop at Aldi: An impressive display of organics and regional products
The food offer was rounded off by an impressive display of organic products. "This isn't a discounter anymore, it's a rationalised supermarket," commented Luigi Rubinelli, director of Retail!Watch.

In the non-food areas, all the cleaning products and health & beauty lines stood in a row like soldiers on parade. It was as though an enthusiastic chef de rayon of a French hypermarket operator had been working on them, ruler in hand. This looks wonderful, but it is an effect which needs constant attention if it is to sustain the varied assaults of customers and therefore one which is costly in terms of staff time.

F&V department of an Aldi store in Castellanza (photo: Mike Dawson)
Best in class: This is how fruit & veg should look -- anywhere. All the more impressive in a discounter!
Presumably, this merchandising was only for the press presentation. But, if Aldi chooses to continue this approach, it will be yet another instance of the company deviating from classic discount philosophy with its almost obsessive focus on cost.

Regrettably no photos of the management or interviews were allowed. But Aldi South Group Managing Director Michael Veiser did reveal that the assortment will contain an average number of 1,900 lines – LZ Retailytics calculates that this is roughly 400 more than the company's European norm.

Aldi's advertising flyer (source: Aldi Italia website)
Aldi's advertising flyer for its start on March 1 is already online
Around 85 per cent of the assortment is own label. Also three-quarters of the lines in the standard food assortment and over 80 per cent of the more than 100 F&V products are sourced locally.

Aldi's management were not prepared to discuss investment figures. However, Veiser did state that each store will be manned by 15 to 20 staff "depending on our sales expectations for the site concerned".

At the end of the event, irrepressible star cook Alessandro Borghese arrived as a surprise guest and started cooking with Aldi products on a makeshift stage.

Italian Renaissance

Aldi is coming to a retail culture with strong regional tastes and very diverse local competitors. It will also find an atomised media advertising market making national campaigns both complicated and expensive. On the positive side, the Italian consumer has always been ready to spend money on good food.

Aldi Italia's price page (source: Aldi Italia website)
A price page from Aldi Italia's website
Italy seems very much alla moda with foreign retailers at the moment. Leader Price, the soft discount subsidiary of French retail group Casino, has just announced that it is partnering with local player Crai to enter Lombardy, Piedmont and the Trivento region in Q2.

German drugstore giant dm returned to Milan in November after an absence of twelve years. There are also trade rumours that rival Müller is also exploring market entry.

Obviously we grim and prosaic northern Europeans have become thoroughly fed up with the long winter and are yearning for a bit of Mediterranean sunshine, fashion flair, and generally happier people. If we give them good food at sexy prices, and not just reliable cars, who knows, they may even come to appreciate us one day...

So buona fortuna in Italia, Aldi!

Podcast. Click arrow to listen to an audio version of the text:

Aldi comes to Italy (caricature: Oliver Sebel)
Mamma mia!

German print version: "Startschuss fällt für Aldi in Bella Italia" by Mike Dawson on page 10 of Lebensmittel Zeitung, no. 7, 16.02.2018

German online version & picture gallery (paywall): "Aldi gibt Startschuss für Bella Italia"

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