October 29, 2015

Happy 100th birthday, the supermarket!

The supermarket format celebrates its 100th birthday (Jonas Wolff_Fotolia)
Shouldn't President Obama ring to congratulate? (Jonas Wolff_Fotolia)
Journalists always love a good anniversary as it gives them a peg on which to hang their coat. This need for a comfort zone can sometimes strain readers because it is not necessarily their innermost desire to celebrate the 175th year of Fred Bloggs' demise or the creation of the fountain pen.

But surely the centenary of the first ever supermarket in the US is as good an occasion as any for a retail trade newspaper to publish a special feature?

The revolutionary self-service concept that opened its doors at a Piggly Wiggly Store in Memphis/Tennessee in 1915 is certainly now in the mature part of its life cycle, but it has proved to be much more resilient than its critics ever believed possible.

The inevitable demise of the supermarket has so often been proclaimed so eloquently that one could seriously wonder that it is still here at all. In fact it has not only survived the advent of the hypermarket, the convenience store, and the discounter, but our adaptable centenarian also seems to be enjoying somewhat of a Renaissance in the age of online home delivery.  

To honour this retail phenomenon in due style, our newspaper has devoted a special feature today to this surprisingly resilient store format. We also had a bit of fun asking trade experts and consumers from around the world to tell us about their favourite supermarket.

As expected, most of them stayed fairly local in their choices. Also, the enthusiasm and affection revealed for one's favourite store is indicative of the strong underlying emotions even specialists experience when they do their weekly shopping.

Lady partying with balloons in a supermarket shopping trolley (photo: Luismolinero_Fotolia)
Anniversary: All German Retail Blog readers are invited to join the party! (photo: Luismolinero_Fotolia)
We also asked our contributors to take a selfie at the store concerned. Where they couldn't oblige, we simply posted two separate photos of store and person.

Finally, we bent our own rules slightly and also allowed two discount outlets (aren't they looking ever more like supermarkets these days?), a convenience store and a farm store as well as one supercenter to be counted as favourites. What, after all, are rules for, if not to be intelligently broken?

Should any readers wish to join the party, all they need to do is to send us their commentary and a selfie on site. We should be delighted to add any relevant content to this blog.

Today's contributions are placed in alphabetical order of store name:

Selfie and the Supermarket  

Aldi, Weymouth, Dorset, UK

Tim Harrap at an Aldi store in Weymouth, England (photo:Tim Harrap)
Tim Harrap goes cheesy on Aldi (photo:Tim Harrap)
Tim Harrap, Head of Collaboration, Lye Cross Farm

"Mirror, mirror on the wall who is the fairest of them all?' We at Alvis Bros. Ltd. farmers and cheesemakers at Lye Cross Farm, Somerset, England will have to put forward Aldi UK as our current favourite supermarket in the UK. This is not to affront our other partners across the retail estate of Great Britain, but Aldi Stores Ltd very much appear to be "on-song" at the moment here.

We have been supplying our handmade cheddar cheese to them for a number of years. the relationship works well between our two businesses and has opened opportunities with the wider Aldi group in Iberia and Australia.

Proof of Aldi UK's quality product regime has been apparent in them receiving, for the second year running, a Gold Medal for their Vintage Cheddar (geschützte Ursprungsbezeichnung: protected designation of origin) at the International Cheese Awards 2015 in Nantwich, England.

This cheese is handmade in the traditional method at our Farm just 10km from the village of Cheddar. Authenticity. Provenance.

The International Cheese Show with over 4,000 entries from around the world forms part of the local Nantwich agricultural show the day after competition. On that day the general public tour the cheese tent and sample all the cheese makers' art.

It was fascinating to hear the delight in visitors voices when they recognised the Aldi brand name which featured on our stand. It was very much a reflection of the current state of British retailing when, time after time, visitors to the show were reporting they shopped at both Aldi UK and Waitrose – the 'discounter' and the 'high-end retailer'. Times have changed. "

Azbuka Vkusa, Moscow, Russia

Azbuka Vkusa in Mosco (photo: Clive Woodger)
Azbuka Vkusa: 15 years on and Clive Woodger still finds the concept irresistible (photo: Clive Woodger)
Clive Woodger, Chairman, SCG International

"Yes, this is one of our past projects, but despite working in Russia for over 15 years, this is still one of my favorite stores!

Azbuka Vkusa are the leading Russian premium food retailer, with a reputation for the high quality of their products and for excellent, knowledgeable service. Azbuka Vkusa is one of the most powerful and well-known Russian consumer brands.

As a sophisticated and forward-looking company, Azbuka Vkusa employs the latest strategic thinking and practical creativity, particularly in advice and direction on optimising high-density city sites. This ensures maximum returns from different locations and building formats." 

Casel's, Margate, New Jersey, USA

Ruth Raphel, Vice President of Marketing for Raphel Marketing (photo: Raphel Marketing)
Discerning customer: Ruth Raphel (photo: Raphel Marketing)
Ruth Raphel, Vice President of Marketing for Raphel Marketing

"My choice is most definitely 'Casel's' in the town of Margate in the US Federal State of New Jersey, not far away from the offices of our family business in Atlantic City. This is because the store is just the right size: small enough for easy, fast shopping, but large enough for a full selection of produce, deli, meat, bakery, prepared foods, and new items.

Also, the store has long-time employees who are very helpful. If you add to this home delivery via phone, email, or after you finish shopping in the store, then you are in with a winner.

Last but not least, you get great gifts on your birthday!"

JUMBO, Alphen aan den Rijn, Netherlands

Christiaan Rikkers, MD, JosDeVries (photo: JosDeVries)
Christiaan Rikkers with a friendly Jumbo staff member (photo: JosDeVries)
Christiaan Rikkers, MD & Chief Creative Officer, JosDeVries The Retail Company B.V.

"I like the layout – it's open and clear. A great fresh produce arena and a stimulating dry groceries world reinforce each other. The positive and optimistic branding as well as the friendly staff really make you feel at home.

I find everything I need there because it has a great assortment! The meat department has all kinds of dry, aged meat, which I love, but there is also an exclusively vegetarian assortment. Store ranges have a depth which has always surprised me when you take the number of square metres on the shop floor into account!

So the store can be used for your big Saturday shop, or when you are looking for an exciting customer experience, but it is also well-adapted for quick shopping, when time is limited. The self-scan option is very convenient, but the ultimate convenience is this store's "Pick Up Point"!

A great supermarket makes it easier for me when I need convenience, but enriches me as a consumer when I want a shopping experience."

Lidl, Crowborough, Sussex, UK

Frank Brown in front of his favourite Lidl store (photo: Audrey Brown)
Frank Brown mastering a full trolley at his favourite Lidl store (photo: Audrey Brown)
Mr. & Mrs. Frank Brown, senior citizens

"Lidl has proved to be a good experience for both my wife and I. We have saved a considerable sum per month in our housekeeping. We like the simplicity of it with none of the confusing offers experienced in most of the big supermarkets such as Sainsbury's and Tesco.

There are no baffling promotions and misleading offers. I find the "buy one get one free" offers are very often false and are unfair to the single customer living alone. They also tempt one to buy two products that are not needed and are a problem to store at home as well as a waste.

The parking area is very good. We also appreciate that the vegetables and prepared takeaway food are very often produced or grown in Britain and are consequently fresher.

There are only two criticisms that we would make. Firstly, there are too many empty spaces on the shelves awaiting supplies. For about a month now we have waited for their prepared Macaroni Cheese and also their non-bio washing soap. We also wanted to buy a Carrot Cake, which they do in a box, but they had only an empty shelf.

Secondly, as senior citizens we find it difficult to manipulate the larger trolleys that are too deep. They are deeper than at Sainsbury's, for instance, and need a general overhaul as they are not very manoeuvrable. Obviously, these are for people who have large families or for small local businesses.

However, apart from the very small plastic hand baskets, there are only two types of trolleys available. From our point of view, the small one is too small and the big one is so deep that we can hardly reach down. Therefore, we would greatly appreciate an interim size.

This said, we both agree that there is undeniably value for money shopping at Lidl."

New World, New Lynn, New Zealand

Doris Evans at New World (photo: Doris Evans)
Quality Down Under: Doris Evans at New World (photo: Doris Evans)
Doris Evans, Managing Editor of RetailUpdate

"The best supermarket for me is New World in New Lynn, a western suburb of Auckland. Shopping for food there is like strolling through varied countryside. The generous entrance area is flooded with light and, combined with a patchwork of colours in the flowers department, feels like a welcoming committee.

As soon as you enter through the revolving doors, the quality of the fresh produce department hits you. The Fruit & Veg are always well-ordered according to season. Natural daylight streams in through big windows and is complimented by artificial ceiling lights, creating a bright, friendly atmosphere throughout the store.

The delicatessen department is a real highlight with ready meals, especially puff pastry mince or vegetable pies and chicken, in every conceivable variation. They are laid out fresh behind the counter, and you can watch them being made in the kitchen.

All members of staff have smart uniforms and quite amusing headgear. They seem to be permanently in motion, filling shelves, supporting in-store tastings, or hunting for out-of-stocks. But they are never irritated, if you ask for help – polite customer service is simply part of the concept.

Like most New Zealanders, staff are friendly and obliging. Whether you have come for the first time or are a loyal customer, all visitors are greeted with a 'Hello, my dear, how are you today?' 

However, Germans are advised not to be too truthful here. Even when you are on crutches and have a cough that rattles your bones, your are still expected to answer: 'I'm fine, thank you, and how are you?' At the very most ,you may comment on the weather: 'Lovely day today, isn't it?', regardless of whether the sun is shining or whether it is pouring with rain.

Staff usually have time for a long chat in the fish department. A country with more than 15,000 kilometers of coastline ought to have a huge fish offer, but, strangely, this is not the case because the best seafood is exported.

This explains why you can often buy better New Zealand snapper on the other side of the globe in Frankfurt am Main than you get locally. Therefore it is advisable to test the patience of sales staff with questions such as "How old is this fish? Where does it come from? Who caught it?"

You then follow your nose past the cheese counter to the bakery department. There is a scratch bakery on site, and sometimes they even have fresh sourdough bread on offer. 

The store invites one to stroll around, but it is so intelligently layouted that working people on a strict time budget can quickly find what they are looking for. There is hardly any wait at the tills. One checkout lady scans the barcodes, and one male or female assistant does the bagging.

There are also six self-scanners which are totally easy to use so that even a non-techie like me really enjoys using them. The machine addresses customers in a robotic voice. This is fine, except for when it keeps repeating that there is a "suspect article in the packing area" because some product or other has been wrongly bagged. But any irritation is quickly dispelled by a friendly: 'Thank you for taking the fast lane', so off I go home, feeling happy."

Novus, Kiev, Ukraine

Novus (photo: Anna Poberezhna)
Day and night: This Ukrainian lady is equally impressed (photo: Anna Poberezhna)
Anna Poberezhna, Business Consultant, SCG International

My favorite Ukrainian retailer is Novus. It is among the flagship retail stores in the capital city of Kyiv and is the part of the Stolitsa Group (SG, Ukraine). The main idea behind the concept is to build a convenient retail chain located in neighbourhoods or next to busy motorways.

Easy access, affordable pricing, contemporary design and planning, including a well-thought out traffic flow and customer journey, are among its many assets.

The store idea has been refined and adjusted specifically to the local Ukrainian market. Prior to opening each store, Novus conducts focus groups and customer surveys in order to harness all opinions and to incorporate all possible improvements, which more than demonstrates its customer-led focus.

Combining the best European (Baltic) practices with the specifics of the Ukrainian market, Novus is building a contemporary and sustainable retail format in the Ukraine, which I fully share and support." 

The Farm Shop at Gloucester Services, Gloucester, UK

Gloucester Services, internal shot (photo: Julian Wild)
Wild's motorway choice: The Farm Shop at Gloucester Services (photo: Julian Wild)
Julian Wild, Partner, Corporate Finance for Rollits LLP

"My favourite foodstore is the Farm Shop at (amazingly) Gloucester Services on the M5 motorway in Gloucestershire, England, run by the family-owned Westmorland Motorway Services Limited and opened last year. The CEO is Sarah Dunning.

As your readers will see from the link, Gloucester Services are a truly wonderful, eco-friendly and sustainable design and are sister-services of the renowned Tebay Services in Cumbria which opened in the 1970s.

The Farm Shop has a fabulous array of speciality food, often artisan-produced and sometimes organic, and the food in the restaurant and café is of a similar standard.

This really is the future of motorway services and is a vast improvement on the type of grubby, expensive and unfriendly motorway services we found elsewhere in the UK and in Continental Europe.

It also represents a new model of how business and charity can operate together for mutual gain. 

Julian Wild, Partner, Corporate Finance, for Rollits LLP (photo: Julian Wild)
Julian Wild on his way to The Farm Shop (photo: Julian Wild)
Gloucester Services are a rare breed of motorway services – dedicated to local food, farming and local community – and have been created in partnership with the Gloucestershire Gateway Trust, a social regeneration charity. The partnership offers an innovative model for how businesses and charities can work together.

They are refreshingly different in that there are no chains, franchises, or fast food on the forecourt. Instead, a farm shop stocked with locally-produced food, a butchery featuring Gloucestershire's finest meat, a café serving homemade dishes created from locally-sourced produce every day. Gloucester Services works with 200 producers from across the South West, 130 of which are within 30 miles of the site."

The Rainbow Grocery, San Francisco, USA

Dagmar Bottenbruch, angel investor and consultant (photo: Dagmar Bottenbruch)
Dagmar Bottenbruch: "Happy birthday, the supermarket, I wish you luck, but it's time to reinvent yourself" (photo: Dagmar Bottenbruch)
Dagmar Bottenbruch, angel investor & consultant

"My favorite supermarket is in San Francisco – The Rainbow Grocery – a worker-owned co-operative, which might seem very "retro", but for me it is the most modern concept around.

The Rainbow Grocery focusses on organic, local produce, sells many things in bulk, charges handsomely for plastic containers to discourage use, and has the friendliest atmosphere you can imagine. It is a paradise… Outstanding fruits and vegetables, a huge selection of spices, teas, grains, legumes, granolas, cereals – all available in bulk.

The store also offers an amazing selection for the growing number of people who choose a vegan lifestyle and very little processed food. For this feeling and the quality and diversity of the offering I will continue to go to a store. For all the boring stuff, the staples, the cleaning supplies etc. I don't have a favorite place – I simply order it online.

Dagmar Bottenbruch, angel investor and consultant (photo: Dagmar Bottenbruch)
Dashing lady at the checkout (photo: Dagmar Bottenbruch)
I am also very interested in meal replacement nutrition, currently pioneered by a Los Angeles start-up called Soylent. Most reactions: this is horrible. I disagree – rather than eating miserable fast or processed food, on days where time is an issue or travel is on the schedule, a good quality meal replacement is far superior to the frequently miserable choices available.

As much as I congratulate the supermarket on its 100th birthday, I am afraid that, after 100 years of service, it is time to go or to change.

The combination of online services, bargain basement discounting, meal replacement nutrition, and high quality offerings for fresh regional products at the top end of the market will give the supermarket lots of headaches in the future. I wish you luck, but I think it is time to reinvent yourself…."

Wegmans, Washington/DC, USA

Michael Sansolo, Retail Industry Consultant (photo: selfie)
Michael Sansolo charmed by the friendly service and impressed by the low prices at his local Wegmans (photo: selfie)
Michael Sansolo, retail industry consultant

"Any trip to the cutting edge of supermarkets must include Wegmans, the wonderful family-owned chain in the northeastern US.

What makes Wegmans wonderful is a combination of attributes hard to find in any industry: a top-rate customer experience along with low prices. Sounds impossible, but Wegmans is doing it.

Upon entering any Wegmans you are overwhelmed by fresh. Produce displays are stunning, well-maintained and feature a range of local, organic and conventional products. Products are available in bulk or ready-to-eat – the first time customers encounter the Wegmans' promise of "making great meals easy".

In most of their stores, produce is sandwiched between the fresh departments and grocery. There are ample displays of meats, baked goods, fish, cheese and deli – and all-in service and self-service cases. Plus there is a seemingly endless array of prepared foods to eat in or carry home.

The regular mix includes sandwiches, coffee, pizza and hot bars with Asian, Latin, American, sushi and other cuisines. 

That's just part of the story of making great meals easy. Throughout the fresh area products are sampled and displayed with recipes and complementary items. Even novice cooks (include me on that list) can get quick advice on easy to follow recipes or touches such as how to use basting oil (a must purchase!)

Items can be bought in bulk, with some preparation already completed (such as marinated meats or stuffed fish) or completely cooked. No matter your skill level, a great meal is coming. 

Wegmans (photo: Mathias Himberg)
Michael Sansolo: "Upon entering any Wegmans you are overwhelmed by fresh" (photo: Mathias Himberg)
Those points of distinction keep coming in the grocery area as well. First, Wegmans features an amazing range of shelf-stable, refrigerated and frozen items including many international items and organics. And to make sure the store competes on price, private label is prominently featured in every category.

Even here the brand gets full support with each private label item carrying a message from the Wegmans' family to the shoppers.

Private label helps burnish Wegmans price image. In the Washington, DC, market where I live, Wegmans frequently is ranked one of the lowest cost places to shop.

There are aspects of the Wegmans story that aren't as obvious. The company runs a top-rate supply chain supported by cutting edge technology to ensure efficiency and savings for the shopper. More importantly it zealously guards a reputation as a great place to work, making sure staff are strongly trained and motivated.

Wegmans is consistently ranked as one of the best workplaces in the US – alongside companies like Google.

Originally a regional company just based near Rochester, New York, Wegmans now has stores near all the major east coast cities from Boston to south of Washington. US shoppers are increasingly blessed by a wide choice of excellent retailers, but luckily for me, one of Wegmans' 90-plus stores is where I get to shop."

Lebensmittel Zeitung with digital sister (photo: LZ)
Our German B2B newspaper, Lebensmittel Zeitung, in print & digital
Read in German: 'Lernen von den Besten' by international editor Mike Dawson on pages 44 to 104 in Lebensmittel Zeitung, no. 44, 30.10.2015

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