By Dan Munford
LONDON—During the latest Shop Talk LIVE, SPAR International CEO Tobias Wasmuht and Head of Brand Gary Harris walked an audience from 28 countries through the pivotal role their flagship stores throughout Asia, Europe and Africa play in driving retail innovation in 14 of the 48 markets SPAR operates.
A Global Journey
Starting in Ireland with Barrow Street EUROSPAR, this store opened in 2007 and was instrumental in creating change and trialing solutions that lynchpin SPAR’s strategy today. The key is responding to changing customer shopping missions. While the smoothie bar and noodle offer were innovative 14 years ago, foodservice solutions have a lifespan and need to remain relevant.
However, taking learnings from one market to another does not mean carbon-copying ideas. Instead, it’s about finding out what worked best, adapting those ideas to the local market and implementing the pieces that are relevant, such as the brand, equipment, design or technology.
At SPAR Hongtu Lu in China, the 2009 NACS International Convenience Retailer of the Year winner, this 600 square-meter community supermarket was groundbreaking at the time and became the forerunner for what has become the norm for SPAR stores in China. Referred to as the cousin of the Barrow Street store, this was the smallest store to launch in China and kickstarted the growth of community-proximity lifestyle stores that now dominate the market.
Western Europe now looks to China and the East for technology, innovation and learnings. China’s online grocery percentage has grown from 4% in 2015 to 10% in 2019 and is predicted to rise 20%-25% by 2022. These markets were the early adopters of SPAR’s integrated QR codes and intelligent scales and continue to lead for digital technology, mobile payments, self-scanning, facial recognition and integrated communications.
SPAR Natural Gran Canaria, winner of the 2017 NACS International Convenience Retailer of the Year Award, continues to focus on health and wellness, food intolerances and lifestyle choices. In the four years since opening, the store design is still modern, relevant and inviting and was considered ahead of its time. SPAR has been able to leverage the Gran Canaria store’s early success and expand the SPAR Natural product range into other global markets.
Forging New Paths
SPAR is nearly 90 years old, but the company continues to innovate its flagships stores in unique markets. Its university stores, for example, cater to younger and digitally savvy customers and have become hubs for integrating technology applications like cashierless checkout and mobile pay.
Wasmuht shared an example of university stores in the Netherlands to highlight the importance of the independent retailer, and how these entrepreneurs are the catalyst for innovation with their awareness of the local area and customer needs, and SPAR Natural is another idea born from the retailer which is now growing and developing across SPAR markets.
Recently, SPAR also decided to forge ahead by expanding its food-waste program with Gander, using the latter’s technology to prevent food from going to waste. Initially the partnership applied only to stores in Northern Ireland, but after showing success, the program will now expand to become a global agreement.
Catch the ideas and insights from Wasmuht and Harris in this episode of Shop Talk LIVE, “SPAR International—A Global Perspective.”
Dan Munford is the managing director of Insight Research & Global Convenience Store Focus Ltd. He is also a NACS regional representative for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.