February 5, 2018
Back to the roots: Lidl's "glass palaces" on the East Coast of America could soon be succeeded by a more homely discount format
It's intriguing. Klaus Gehrig, the Big Boss of parent company Schwarz Group, has indicated to the German media that Lidl is facing strong headwinds in America. The discount giant is working "flat out" to modify the store concept it launched in Virginia last June. Sales surfaces are to be reduced from around 2,000m² to 1,400m² and expansion slowed. Lidl's US stores are also likely to more strongly reflect the solid discount virtues which have led to success in 30-odd European countries. All this would be perfectly normal for a Plc that has already invested an estimated €2bn in a land where many top international retailers have come a cropper. It would be called giving guidance to shareholders. But Lidl is a privately-run company. So why has Herr Gehrig sounded the alarm bell?
December 22, 2017
Disruptive technology: A triumph of human creativity expanding our mental horizons or a further step towards dystopia?
In 2017 venerable retailers Sears and Toys 'R' US were pushed into bankruptcy, while online giant Amazon bought organics specialist Whole Foods for $13.7bn. These events seem very much like harbingers of the future. Last year our panel of retail experts looked ahead and were concerned about politics from Trump to Brexit. But even Tesla co-founder & CEO Elon Must thinks they now ought to be worrying more about Artificial Intelligence. Like all technology, machine learning systems can be a blessing or a curse, depending on who employs them and for what purpose. AI could help us to use less fertiliser and revolutionise subsistence farming in the developing world, but it could also begin to control us. So does AI keep the gurus awake at night, or will they prefer to sing the praises of drones and robots?
December 21, 2017
Pieter Haas: "We see Amazon as a 'frenemy'"
Since Metro Group was split into two separate entities in July, it has been a tale of two cities. The share price of Metro AG, which lumps "Metro" C&C and "real,-" hypermarkets together in a clumsy marriage, has fallen by around 8 per cent, while Ceconomy, with its "Media-Markt" and "Saturn" consumer/entertainment electronics stores, has seen a rise of over 20 per cent. This doesn't mean, of course, that Pieter Haas is having an easy ride. His home market is mature to saturated and he has a 800-pound gorilla in his room who answers to the name of Amazon. So has this CEO of a still essentially bricks & mortar retailer a cogent survival plan in a digital world and a clear game plan for Europe?
December 20, 2017
Helen Dickinson: "We mustn't underestimate our interdependence with the rest of Europe"
It is difficult for any trade organisation when members are deeply divided on a political issue of existential importance. Wisely, industry lobby group British Retail Consortium (BRC) has tried to steer clear of politics and to concentrate on the possible consequences of Brexit for the British consumer. With the publication of studies, including 'New Tariffs Mean Higher Food Prices' and a 'Customs Roadmap', London-based BRC has provided particularly valuable information at a time when the UK government seems incapable of developing a coherent negotiating position for the country's food & beverage industry. A lot is at stake. In the event of a hard Brexit after March 29, 2019, many consumer basket prices would be on a cliff edge and we could be facing bare shelves. BRC Chief Executive Helen Dickinson, OBE, responds...
October 26, 2017
Christian Verschueren: "A week is a long time in politics"
Dr Christian Verschueren is Director-General of EuroCommerce, the principal European organisation representing the retail and wholesale sector. In his role you need to be both a firm leader and have great tact. These characteristics are seldom found in one individual, but Verschueren combines them remarkably well. His outlook is distinctly European, which is a sine qua non for an organisation embracing national associations in 31 countries and the interests of 5.4m companies (including both multinational retailers, such as Carrefour, Ikea, Metro or Tesco, and many small family operations). This means Verschueren has to deal with high EU functionaries and government officials while representing the often differing interests of EuroCommerce members. Without standing upon the dignity of his office, Verschueren makes a strong intellectual case for the trade's importance within the European economy. After all, retail and wholesale provide a link between producers and 500m European consumers who shop more than 1bn a day.
August 31, 2017
John Allan: "Tesco has gone from being a bit of a sinner to being exemplary"
Some encouraging figures of late should not make one forget that Tesco was in crisis mode only three years ago after a balance sheet scandal rocked the retail icon to the very core. Unilever manager Dave Lewis was catapulted in as CEO and chief trouble-shooter, but soon had to announce a massive property write-down as well as one of the largest annual losses in UK corporate history. Among the first events of his tenure was the Tesco Board's appointment of Dixons executive John Allan as Chairman. Since then, the management duo have presided over an impressive turnaround at the UK's largest grocer by sales. An overgrown assortment has been pruned, the vast store base streamlined, and, above all, consumer end prices sharpened. Tesco's latest quarter reveals the strongest growth at home since 2009 and a positive trend for the sixth season in a row. But the market leader with annual net revenues of €57bn is challenged as never before on its own turf by the German discounters and Amazon Fresh. Your call John...
August 17, 2017
Happy first birthday, Ahold Delhaize
It's not every day that two grocers with 280 years of corporate history between them are able to celebrate their first birthday once again. But this is precisely what has happened at Dutch-Belgian retail giant Ahold Delhaize. The first anniversary since the jumbo wedding last summer is also a perfect opportunity for CEO Dick Boer to update us all on the progress made in integrating the two former rivals and their fiercely proud corporate traditions. The union has created one of the world's largest retail groups with 6,500 mainly supermarkets and convenience stores, spanning eleven countries in Europe, the US and S.E. Asia, and pro forma net sales last year just north of €62bn. But since then Lidl has intruded on Ahold Delhaize's patch on the East Coast of America, forcing fellow discounter Aldi into expansion overdrive. Amazon's bid for organics retailer Whole Foods is also a game-changer. This must concern a grocer who sees itself as the largest online food delivery service by sales in the US and the Benelux. So how well does Dick Boer sleep at night?
July 20, 2017
Global trend: Drugstore sales are foaming
The world's insatiable demand for health & beauty products has made a number of drugstore owners seriously rich. These include Stefano Pessina, CEO of Chicago-based Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA), and Li Ka-shing, Chairman of Hong Kong conglomerate CK Hutchison Holdings and retail subsidiary A.S. Watson. Both are the largest shareholders in their respective companies and personal billionaires. Götz Werner, Dirk Roßmann and Erwin Müller, the founders of leading German drugstore chains dm, Rossmann and Müller, also rank among the planet's wealthy. But their thriving businesses hardly extend beyond Europe and cannot match the US and Chinese giant in annual sales, store count or global reach. Put in health & beauty terms, they are provincial European belles in a Miss World contest.
July 13, 2017
Future customers: And when you grow up, you too will be able to shop at a German retailer...
For a country with just 1 per cent of the world's population Germany's retailers aren't doing a bad job at selling their wares on the global marketplace. LZ Retailytics data show that eleven retail groups posted record gross revenues totalling €190bn last year in 41 foreign countries on four continents. This whopping sum is around three-and-a-half times more than leading grocer Edeka achieves on its home market. German retailers began their international expansion in the late 1960's and have been gaining momentum ever since. The principal pioneers were Metro Cash & Carry and hard discounters Aldi and Lidl. But who else is conquering the world from Frisco to Sydney?
June 23, 2017
No doubt about it
After years of probing Planet Food Retail, Amazon's flying saucer has finally landed at Whole Foods headquarters in Austin/Texas. The traveller from deepest cyberspace must be serious, otherwise it wouldn't be offering $13.7bn for the privilege of buying the largest organic food retailer in the United States. The thing about flying saucers, of course, is that they can go wherever they want. So how about Germany and Old Europe, dear aliens?