By Michael Marinangeli, courtesy of Grocery Business
Amazon's purchase of Whole Foods has stolen all the industry headlines over the past few months. The blockbuster deal has competitors, analysts and consultants making bold predictions on where, when and how consumers will buy their food in the years ahead. However, one grocery story in recent months that hasn't gotten a lot of press is the arrival to the United States of German hard discounter Lidl. In June, it opened 10 stores along the east coast, has plans for 80 stores by the middle of 2018, and is on its way to establishing more than 600 locations in the next few years. Another German hard discounter, Aldi, has been in the United States for several years, with 1,600 stores. It has plans in place to spend $1.6 billion to expand and remodel 1,300 stores as well as to open an additional 400 stores by the end of 2018.
So, what's the big deal? What's the threat? The answer is quite simple. Between 2003 and 2013, Lidl and Aldi have grown to 20,000 stores in Europe from 8,000. In Germany, the two have about 50 per cent market share. In the UK, they continue to experience double-digit same-store sales growth. It is amazing how fast these two discounters have grown in such a short period of time. Over the past 40 years, Lidl has gone from zero stores to 10,000 in 26 European markets, with $84 billion in sales.
What does this all mean for Canada?
There has been no formal announcement from either company that it will be launching in Canada in the near future. In fact, several years ago, Lidl did come to Canada and set up an office in Mississauga. The company was hiring staff and exploring real-estate sites for stores. Much to everyone's surprise, Lidl suddenly decided to close its office, lay off staff and delay its launch. Perhaps the company saw that it would be more beneficial to launch first in the US, since the country is less consolidated, with larger urban centres and a much denser population. Also, the US is underdeveloped in discount relative to Canada, which has 40 percent of its grocery sales already going through discount stores. A US launch also provides Lidl the opportunity to define, explore and develop its human resource requirements, system capabilities, product sourcing and supply chain capabilities for the North American market. It makes more sense to gain a foothold in the US and establish its base business needs before it expands into Canada, which has a much smaller market, a more diverse population, and a more challenging geography that serves only 36 million people.
I think it is inevitable that either Aldi or Lidl will enter Canada. Others have tried and failed. However, both these retailers have a proven track record of not only being successful in almost all markets they have entered, but they have also turned the competition on its head and have gained significant market share. Their strategies are simple, cost effective and easy for the consumer to understand and adopt.
Here are some of the components of their model that makes them such a success:
• Limited assortment - fast movers only,
• Focus on everyday products rather than niche items,
• Right size store - 15-20,000 sq. ft. (about 30,000 sq. ft. in the US),
• Cost efficient - labour-saving tactics such as displaying product in their shipping containers as opposed to hand packing,
• Offer high-quality products at prices much cheaper than competitors (up to 50 per cent cheaper),
• Everyday low prices - with enticing use of promotions,
• High private-label penetration and SKU count,
• Tailors each store to the ethnicity and demographics of the trading area it serves, and
• High-quality prepared foods.
Food expenditures are one of the few ways consumers can control and influence the inflation in their household budget. This is why we have seen such a high degree of discount shopping, buying on promotion, ad matching, coupon usage and loyalty point redemptions amongst consumers. The trend toward discount and buying on deal isn't abating. In fact, it continues to grow.
If someone were to ask me what the biggest threat to Canadian grocery retailers is, my answer would not be Amazon, but rather, the arrival of Aldi a Lidl in our markets. They have disrupted every market they have entered, and every grocery retailer should create a task force to examine the key elements of Lidl's and Aldi's programs that make them such a success. Incorporating some of their winning strategies into their own value propositions might not be a bad idea. In fact, it could make a lot of "cents"!
*Michael Marinangeli is a principal at MIDEB Consulting Inc. and a retailing veteran with more than 40 years of experience. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org . Michael is a founding member of the Grocery Business Advisory Board.