Rewe goes gastro
These could be none other than CEO Alain Caparros and board member Lionel Souque from Rewe Group headquarters just down the road.
Germany's second-largest food retailer intends to open a 200m² stand-alone gastronomic concept in the city centre this June.
The project currently runs under the "Made by Rewe" logo. This might still only be a working name, but Rewe established exclusive rights to the brand last June. Our suggestion would be "Chez Alain".
The pilot bistro-type outlet will serve pasta, pizza, salads, sandwiches, soft drinks, and wine etc. on premise as well as to take away. Will it work?
To boost its gastronomic know-how, Rewe has hired Mark Korzilius, the founder of cult restaurant chain Vapiano which specialises in pasta, pizza and salad.
As the creative brain behind the new project, Korzilius, who has sold his stake in Vapiano, will be working very closely with Christiane Speck, head of Rewe's Strategy & Projects division. The duo will run Smart People GmbH, a newly-formed management company based in Cologne.
Rewe is also searching for experienced restaurant personnel. "We are looking for people with character who enjoy interacting with customers and who are enthusiastic about good food," runs their recruitment ad.
This won't come cheap. In a business known for its high job fluctuation you have to pay well for good staff. Therefore, Rewe will have to watch costs very carefully.
The cost factor
Perhaps this is one reason why Rewe has chosen to partner with Mark Korzilius who once described his Vapiano concept as "standardised, cost-calculated, and systematised from beginning to end."
Alain Caparros and Lionel Souque are clearly hoping that the new concept will create synergies with Rewe supermarkets. "Everything will be freshly cooked, and all ingredients are stocked in the supermarket," says one insider.
Hitherto, Rewe has increased customer frequency by integrating a gastronomic offer in the entrance areas of its larger supermarkets and superstores. To date, however, this has not gone much beyond coffee, cake, meatballs, and salad.
A notable exception are Rewe's "Merkur" stores in Austria which have successfully implemented smartish bistros in the pre-checkout zone.
The start-up will be right next door to a 1,100m² Rewe supermarket which opened in 1-3 Waidmarkt at the end of March. Shop customers will have direct access to the neighbouring restaurant via a passageway. Both also hope for customers from nearby offices and a local secondary school.
New worlds of experience
Seen in a broader context, Rewe has again proved that it is one of the most innovative multiples in German mass market retailing. "We must abduct customers to new worlds of experience," is an old hobbyhorse of Alain Caparros.
The French manager has long pleaded that German retailing should be more emotional and offer new customer services. Obviously, he is also aware that the rise of online shopping is reducing customer footfall in the inner cities.
Although the restaurant segment has been hit by the recession, it would be a new slice of business cake for Rewe on what is, after all, a mature German retail market.
To an extent, Caparros was under pressure to come up with something fresh after the "Rewe to Go" convenience format and "Tema" organic food stores failed to meet initial expectations.
Europe à la carte
Of course, Rewe is not entirely alone in the broader European scheme of things. As Frenchmen Caparros and Souque will be conversant with Auchan subsidiary Flunch and Casino Cafétéria etc. in their home country.
Also, Tesco recently acquired local restaurant chain Giraffe for around €60m. The leading UK grocer intends to install outlets in at least ten of its 250 "Extra" hypermarkets. This follows a 49-per-cent stake in coffee bar chain Harris + Hoole last year.
In Germany, the best gastronomy is found in the stores of the better independent retailers. These include such local heroes as Dornseifer, Schäfer, Zurheide or Hauschildt.
All aspirants to a stand-alone solution will, however, have noted British grocer J. Sainsbury's abortive attempt with "Sainsbury's Fresh Kitchen" on London's Fleet Street. Clearly, the pull of a retail brand in itself is not enough, if you don't get a gastro-concept right for its specific catchment area.
To date, the main problem with integrating gastronomic concepts in mainstream retailing have been space and ambiance. If Rewe can get enough high-frequency inner-city sites, and that's a big "if", then adjacent stand-alones might be an answer to the the space side of the equation.
But ambiance?! It is likely to prove a long, hard road before someone boasts "I'm going to lunch at Rewe" and everyone looks enviously. But you have to give Rewe full marks for trying, and a second smaller pilot store is said to be on the way.
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