April 26, 2018

Europe's 50 top-dog retailers

Ranking podium (source: EFKS/shutterstock)
Retail ranking podium: Schwarz Group, Carrefour, Aldi
Life is not easy when you are in the business of selling data. You obviously need to market your assiduously collated material or you won't make any money. But, if you publish it for free, everyone will take it, use it and, who knows, even sell it on. Therefore it was generous of retail data analyst platform LZ Retailytics to allow us to publish an exclusive excerpt from their new European Grocery Retail Ranking 2017.

The team has also let this blog have an exclusive look at the full ranking table for the purposes of commentary. So what do the figures reveal to the critical eye?

Top Ten European Grocery Retail Ranking 2017 (source: LZ Retailytics)
The first most striking thing is the sheer size of the players involved, proving that the trade has become a vast numbers game. Europe's Top Ten all make annual sales north of €30bn, and the industry's 800-pound gorilla, Schwarz Group (think Lidl and Kaufland), has already raced through the €100bn-sales-mark.

As befits Europe's largest economy, no less than five German retailers grace the Top Ten: Schwarz Group, Aldi Group (North & South), Edeka, Rewe Group, and Metro.

Significantly, the first two are discounters, confirming the old adage: "Poor people must save, rich people like to." Schwarz Group (+6 per cent) and Aldi Group (+6.4 per cent) both grew at a cracking pace.

Lidl in Portugal (photo: Jörg Rode)
Jörg Rode
Schwarz Group discount subsidiary Lidl: Any resemblance to an 800-pound gorilla is purely coincidental
This dominance is set to increase. A comparison of Aldi's robust sales growth in 2017 (+6.4 per cent) with the decline at Carrefour (-0.7 per cent) is more than telling. If these divergent rates continue, Aldi will oust the French market leader from Europe's number two spot this year.

The lack of major change within the Top 50 also confirms just how consolidated the trade has become. Obviously there are small moves both up and down the ranking table, but these are essentially due to a demerger at Metro Group and the disappearance of Tengelmann Group.

Metro Group has split into two constituent parts (Metro for food and Cash & Carry, Ceconomy for electronics retailing), and the Haub family, owners of historic grocer Tengelmann Group, have sold their last remaining grocery interests in order to concentrate investment on online start-ups and non-food retailing.

The latter move might not quite be the writing on the wall for all the food retailers at Belshazzar's Feast, but it is certainly a sign of the times.

Amazon distribution centre in Winsen (photo: Carsten Milbret)
Carsten Milbret
Disruptor-in-chief: Nonfood giant Amazon is on a long, relentless march to conquer European food retailing
The real new kid on the block is, of course, online giant Amazon. If one discounts the almost insolent growth of leading grocers X5 Retail Group and Magnit on the young, fresh and brash Russian market, Amazon has expanded fastest in Europe (+18 per cent) and made the biggest jump in the ranking (three whole notches to no. 12).

Of course, the online food sales of Amazon Fresh etc. are still very small in Europe, but LZ Retailytics are surely right to include the American behemoth in their tables. Even if Amazon makes no acquisition in Europe equivalent to organic retailer Whole Foods in the US, LZ Retailytics computes that it will rank no. 8 in Europe by 2020.

Given, however, that Amazon was ready to fork out $13.7bn for Whole Foods in August, the giant data octopus could easily make an acquisition in Old Europe to fuel its relentless global growth. The Whole Foods purchase has also bequeathed the company six stores in England, and Amazon is clearly already greedily devouring its food know-how. Other telltale signs of an increasing involvement in Europe include recent cooperative ventures with Morrisons in the UK and Casino-subsidiary Monoprix in France.

So is it all doom and gloom for Europe's hypermarket, supermarket and soft discount operators? Certainly local heroes, such as Esselunga in Italy, Mercadona in Spain, or Biedronka in Poland, continue to thrive, especially when they set the tone for prices on their local markets (cf. Mercadona).

Biedronka (photo: Biedronka)
Still standing tall: Poland's local hero Biedronka
But there are a number of warning lights even for these exciting retailers. It shouldn't be forgotten, for instance, that Portuguese parent company Jerónimo Martins continues to devote a good half of group capex to Biedronka's expansion in Poland, while the country is only one of nearly 30 markets in Europe for Schwarz Group.

At least the big bricks & mortar guys still have a number of strategic options. They can run their own discount operations, as Edeka does with Netto in Germany, or diversify online like Tesco in the UK. But both these alternatives will obviously be increasingly challenged longer-term when the German discounters and Amazon gain real scale on foreign markets.

Finally, the big multiples can internationalise although this has proved a pretty rocky road over the last few decades. But doubtless we shall know more about this saga in due course, or when LZ Retailytics compile their next annual ranking...

Podcast microphone (photo: Gerhard Seybert-Fotolia)
Gerhard Seybert-Fotolia

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

Lebensmittel Zeitung with digital sister (photo: LZ)
photo: LZ
Our German retail B2B newspaper, Lebensmittel Zeitung, in print & digital
Read in German:
 'Deutsche Discounter mischen Europa kräftig auf' by international editor Mike Dawson on pages 36, 37 & 38 of Lebensmittel Zeitung, no. 16, 20.04.2018

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