Debbie Robinson, managing director at Spar UK, told delegates at the IGD’s Convenience Retailing 2011 conference how Spar International has invested in global expansion, despite recession and, in doing so, has invested for the future.
The retailer, which has sales of almost €30bn, has developed a 30% market share in Austria and doubled sales in South Africa in the last five years, said Robinson. Sales in China are up by 60% and Spar has opened 30 new stores in Russia.
In distribution, a key component of the Spar story, it has invested in temperature controlled vehicles; while in terms of stores, Robinson claimed some of the best retail propositions are now on offer in the UK.
Robinson said the Spar proposition translates across the globe and fresh is a key component, but also a challenge.
According to Robinson, the fresh offer is stronger in emerging markets but health issues, which have emerged in developed markets, are also around the corner for those countries too.
Food-to-go is a key category for Spar and it aims to excel, said Robinson. Examples include the retailer’s Kitsu noodle bar and its Treehouse juice and smoothie offer. However, Robinson admitted sales from the latter had struggled in the current climate.
Own label provides an opportunity for retailers to “take care of their own destiny” said Robinson.
Spar has recently launched the S Budget, economy private label range in store. “It starts to fill a key gap in the convenience sector,” said Robinson.
There is also a market in providing meals for one to target the growing number of single person households, she said.
Robinson said one of the challenges facing convenience retailers is moving shoppers away from distress purchasing to become loyal and called for change to ranges to reflect seasonality, for example.
“You need to churn more frequently to keep the consumer interested,” she said.
Robinson highlighted Spar’s sponsorship of European Athletics and UK Athletics as activity supporting a healthy lifestyle; while good deeds done by individual stores are supporting the local communities they serve, she said.
Focusing on the UK business, which trades from 2,464 stores and has sales of £2.7bn, Robinson said convenience complemented internet shopping, providing day-to-day top up shopping.
And Robinson echoed a conference theme that supermarket entry has improved the convenience sector.
“Supermarkets legitimised something that went out of fashion,” she said.
However, there is an opportunity to redefine convenience, she said, such as providing battery top up services for mobile phones.
And, while the c-store sector has a short-term advantage from pending tobacco legislation, regulation on BWS and to promote healthy eating are unstoppable trends, she said.
Robinson closed by focusing on the retail opportunities in 2012 – the Olympics, Diamond Jubliee and Euro 2012.
“They are not just for the big boys – those are things that bring communities together. Think about how you can bring those community events to life,” she said.