Future of food retail

February 13, 2023 | By Rupkatha B

Future of food retail (PC: Daniel Horn)

Today, it’s not interesting enough to visit a supermarket that’s only about shelving. That’s why the integration of gastronomy, storytelling and visual merchandising becomes crucial to offer a delightful shopping experience. And that’s what the future of food retail is all about.

In an exclusive interview with RetailME Franck Hadjez, Owner of EP!C Paris and Galeries Gourmandes and Bernhard Heiden, CSO Schweitzer & Creative Director Interstore spoke about the evolution of the food retail environment and how to rethink stores of the future.

How have food retail spaces evolved over the past few years? Which regions are ahead in this race? How is the MENA region faring?

Franck Hadjez: Food retail environments are becoming more blended to facilitate online and offline shopping and this hybridisation is set to continue. Whether online shopping will Future of food retail continue to grow increasingly affecting physical retail depends on the market that one is operating from. As grocery stores seek to be closer to consumers a primary focus area is to support efficiency in speed to reach the customer by removing friction from the shopping journey. Therein integrated services such as an Amazon counter, postal services, a luggage deposit for Airbnb guests in the area etc. offer additional value to the retail space. While food delivery services have intensified competition in the past few years, the situation is now changing as big food retail entities such as Auchan, Casino, Carrefour are starting to take over with their last mile services.

Bernhard Heiden: In terms of maturity Europe is surely ahead in creating inspiring food retail spaces as compared to the MENA region, which is far ahead in case of non-food retail experiences. But everyone seems to have forgotten about food. So, you really feel the drop off when you enter a food store, and that’s why it’s even more important to do food projects that reach, and if possible, excel the level of MENA experience in other categories. For example, what if food retail borrowed principles of fashion? More architectural, dramatic, experiential, exciting, brand experience, likes Dunnes in Ireland for instance. We feel this is a huge untapped opportunity and food retailers need to catch-up and accelerate to create delightful brand experiences.

Could you share examples of some inspiring food retail spaces from across the world?

Franck Hadjez: In my family it was always said that one must travel to truly discover what retail is all about and that’s what we’ve done. I’ve been particularly fascinated by retail spaces in the US and the UK. In the US there are two companies that stand out in my opinion. Erewhon in California with a high-end positioning for a select target group and a deep focus on fresh and organic food. Trader Joe’s is another innovative chain that stands out due to its brand culture and customer loyalty. Marks & Spencer (UK) and Grande Epicerie (France) on a high-end level and Waitrose (UK) on a premium level are great examples from the European markets while Spinneys from the Middle East must be mentioned too.

Talking about inspiring food retail spaces, the delicatessen store EPIC in Paris, designed and built by Schweitzer, is a great example. What are some elements that make this concept unique?

Franck Hadjez: I’d like to start by saying that when we developed EPIC, inspired by Galeries Gourmandes, we had to rely on a strong trademark choosing to partner with Monoprix, a market leader in France. In terms of design, I’ve noticed that it’s easy to get lost in food retail stores which is why visual merchandising is pivotal, an area that we’ve closely focused on at EPIC, together with Interstore. We also wanted to wisely strike a balance between the less expensive private label and the premium products. The right positioning of the fruit & vegetable department was fundamental as traditionally people in Paris tend to buy from markets that offer less expensive but good quality products. So, the combination of attractive pricing for high-quality products makes EPIC quite unique. The fresh departments are also our strong point along with dedicated sections for vegan food and desserts. Based on market research and customer feedback we’ve also created dedicated areas serving quick lunch, snacks and dinner.

What are some considerations while delivering on a retail partner’s vision bearing in mind return on investment?

Bernhard Heiden: There are three things to consider – cost of staff, cost associated with energy and the efficiency of the store. There is usually a high personnel cost to develop an experiential environment – from managing counters to sampling and more. Therein there is a strong need to leverage solutions that can facilitate better personnel management, which is a key focus area for us. Energy efficiency is pivotal especially at a time when food retail stores are using significant amount of refrigeration. So, the challenge is to offer energy efficient solutions, leveraging self-service while offering a high level of experience. Regarding efficiency of the store, it’s always a balancing act between experience and functionality especially in a fast-moving food retail environment. So, we think hard about customer flow around the store, coupled with staff flow and how to offer them easy access to the back of house storage areas. At the same time, we think about architectural elements to make the retail space extraordinary.

With sustainability being high on every retailer’s agenda how is Schweitzer integrating sustainable principles within design aesthetics?

Bernhard Heiden: It’s important to mention at the outset that sustainability isn’t about how we look but how we act. We try to use sustainable materials wherever possible – for instance energy efficient lighting systems – but it’s not necessary that the client or customer would notice. It’s more about supporting our retail partners in the way we build stores so they can act and operate in a responsible manner. At the same time, it’s also about helping retailers to bring experiences to life reflecting the increasing desire of customers to make the right decisions. So, we work closely with our clients to offer the right sustainable solutions enabling them to achieve their goals and within their budget. From making recommendations on retail ideas that lead to environmentally sustainable solutions for customers to using innovative ways of transporting shopfitting materials to the venue we take a holistic approach. In terms of refrigeration that we manufacture in-house we’ve our own testing facility in northern Italy that ensures we’re constantly improving efficiency of our cooling equipment in line with global standards. We also use ground-breaking flexible solutions for fresh food departments proven to reduce waste associated with remodelling stores over the long-term.

Finally, how is the food retail landscape transforming in the age of digital?

Franck Hadjez: Today offering a seamless experience is non-negotiable. We are in a data-driven era where the need of the hour is to adapt to the current requirements to benefit from the advantages digital services can offer – checkout counters, enterprise resource planning etc. Customers should benefit from food delivery services too. They should be given the option to start their grocery shopping online and complete it offline and vice versa using their customer loyalty card. All the retrieved data can then, anonymously, be utilised in-store to improve the shopping experience.

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