Aldi starts in bella Italia
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.
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. Analyst company LZ Retailytics now ranks Lidl as Italy's eighth-largest grocer.
Aldi store in Castellanza
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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!
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