In some “Emerging Markets”, the response to “Modern Grocery” formats has been tepid. What’s a Modern-Grocer to do ??
20 years ago, Modern Grocery Retail appeared poised to conquer every consumer market in the world. Ambitious European grocers, having blanketed their home countries with Supermarkets and Hypermarkets, began setting their sights on growth both within and beyond the continent. They held particularly high hopes for China, India, and other emerging markets, where fast-rising consumer spending seemed to presage an unprecedented demand for gleaming new stores with large assortments, wide aisles, and bright lighting.
In the 1990s, the term “modern grocery retail” was essentially a proxy for a small group of multinational grocers including Ahold, Aldi, Auchan, Carrefour, Costco, Lidl, Metro, Tesco, and Walmart…It was widely presumed that these retailers’ entry into any market would lead to the demise of the traditional trade—the family-owned grocery chains, small independent stores, and informal merchants that at the time accounted for the vast majority of grocery sales in emerging markets. The prevailing expectation was that although there would be local differences due to cultural specificities, in every country the retail landscape would eventually consist of a combination of modern formats: full-line supermarkets and hypermarkets, convenience stores, and discounters..
These assumptions have been proved wrong. Global grocery giants are struggling to grow profitably in many emerging markets… whereas, Traditional trade has proved remarkably resilient…And the market and channel structures taking shape in individual emerging economies are distinct from one another, following no obvious pattern.
Why did this happen? What, if anything, did multinational grocers do wrong? And what does it mean for the future of modern retail in emerging markets?
The Hypermarket’s shortcomings:
To understand the disparity between early expectations and the current reality, it’s useful to examine the roots of the two quintessential modern-trade formats: the supermarket and the hypermarket. The hypermarket in particular—whether in its European form (in which food anchors a massive selection of nonfood items) or its North American one (the “supercenter,” which represents the successful injection of food and grocery into a general-merchandise discount store)—was widely regarded as unbeatable. By offering tens of thousands of products in an immense building just outside or on the edge of a town or city, a hypermarket could operate at a level of productivity that other grocery formats struggled to match. Hypermarket operators passed on these efficiency gains to consumers in the form of lower prices, which served to reinforce hypermarkets’ advantage.
In their first forays into other developed markets abroad, major retailers relied heavily on the hypermarket format. When French retailers Auchan, Carrefour, and Promodès opened hypermarkets in Spain during the first years of Spanish economic reform, they quickly captured a large fraction of that country’s overall grocery sales and dictated the market structure that remains in place to this day.
Expansion across Europe was an exciting growth prospect, but even more enticing to retail leaders and investors was the growth potential of emerging markets. Over the years, that potential has become even clearer: by 2025, we expect emerging markets to account for $30 trillion in consumer spending, or nearly half of global consumption.
When multinational grocers entered emerging markets, they again relied on the grocery formats that were working so well in the developed world. But, in retrospect, it’s clear that the countries in which the hypermarket prospered had several characteristics in common: good road networks and high or fast-rising car-ownership rates, a large middle class that enjoyed decent wages and stable employment, and a high proportion of rural and suburban households with enough room at home to store groceries bought in bulk. Also, those markets had grown to maturity at a time when many women didn’t return to work after having children and therefore had time during the day to drive to and from the store. The hypermarket format draws heavily on consumers’ time, ability to travel, and storage capacity…
In Emerging Markets, retailers encountered an entirely different context. Consumers were less affluent and lived in urban areas; many didn’t own a car, couldn’t afford to travel to and from a relatively far shopping destination, had no room at home to store purchases, or all of the above..
A new respect for localism:
Further complicating matters, emerging markets weren’t just different from developed markets; emerging markets also differed from one another in nontrivial ways. That was true in the 1990s and it remains true today. Based on our research—which involved in-depth study of the retail sector in ten developing countries in Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America, as well as interviews with more than 20 local retail and consumer experts and analysis of channel-growth data in these markets—we’ve developed a perspective on the factors that have hampered the growth of modern trade in emerging markets.
On both the demand side (what customers want from retailers) and the supply side (the means by which retailers can deliver what customers want), different factors shape the retail ecosystem in each country. Together, these factors produce wide variability in the level of modern-trade development in countries around the world (Exhibit 1).
On the demand side, for instance, food-shopping habits have turned out to be largely localized and deeply entrenched. Emerging-market consumers tend to prepare their own meals and cook more than their peers in developed markets do, and they are accustomed to shopping at open-air market stands or small neighborhood grocery stores that offer a familiar selection of fresh food and household staples. They don’t necessarily perceive customer service at modern retailers as superior to that of the traditional trade. Customers of India’s kirana stores—small, family-owned retail shops in or near residential areas—already benefit from personal service from the store owner, free home delivery, and credit and cash rebates if they remain loyal..
On the supply side, a big factor is the informality of traditional trade: many small retail businesses rely on unpaid labor from family and friends, pay no rent because they own their storefronts, and don’t pay corporate taxes. Modern retailers cite this informality as a major challenge when competing with local retailers. A European hypermarket chain found that its considerable operating-cost advantage from better sourcing and supply-chain processes was canceled out by the fact that it was paying taxes while local competitors were not..
Another major factor affecting modern trade is public policy. India’s restrictions on foreign direct investment have limited the growth of modern retail there; in China, by contrast, city governments are assessed on the level of economic activity and foreign investment they attract, which makes them biased toward supporting modern trade. As a result, modern-trade penetration in China’s largest cities has grown significantly over the past 15 years..
A further supply-side factor in emerging markets is the fragmented supplier base, which places a natural limit on the benefits of scale. A retailer can’t source products as efficiently as it would in a mature market because it must buy from a complex network of regional and local entities. And even retailers with a national buying team won’t easily find national manufacturers who are eager to partner with them—a point we pick up on later.
Incumbent advantage is yet another powerful factor shaping retail ecosystems. Today’s market dynamics tend to become tomorrow’s market structure—so, for example, in markets in which a highly efficient wholesale system serves the traditional trade, it becomes much harder for modern grocers to gain a foothold. That said, wholesalers can also be vanguards of modernization. In Turkey, for instance, some Bizim Toptan stores have developed a substantial retail business. These wholesalers-cum-retailers illustrate the fact that ecosystems in emerging markets are partly shaped by players that can concentrate and coordinate a critical mass of what otherwise is a complex set of routes to market..
“Seven” strategic levers for success:
In parts of the world where the market structure is itself still in a formative stage, retailers need a bespoke strategy. Our research and experience suggest seven strategic levers that lead to success in emerging markets. These levers—having to do with delivering what consumers want, working effectively with other players in the ecosystem, and generating lasting productivity advantages—reflect perennial concerns for retailers everywhere, but they are especially critical in helping retailers secure a profitable future in the world’s fastest-growing economies.
The levers are by no means comprehensive. For one, they don’t touch on digital technology, which may well be just as important in emerging markets as in developed ones; indeed, rapid adoption of smartphone technology may allow emerging markets to leapfrog more mature markets and reconfigure the value chain farther upstream (for example, by giving smaller suppliers direct access to national and even global markets). Rather, we draw attention to areas that we believe require deliberate action in emerging markets-
1. Prioritize proximity.
2. Keep prices low—and make sure consumers know.
3. Obsess over productivity.
4. Make the business case to manufacturers.
5. Educate policy makers on the benefits of modern trade.
6. Consider partnering with the traditional trade.
7. Adopt a city-based strategy.
For any modern retailer, success in emerging markets isn’t guaranteed. Our research confirms the complexity and local specificity of market development and the degree to which it depends on initiatives taken not just by retailers but also by governments, manufacturers, wholesalers, and others in the local retail ecosystem. International retailers thus need to become experts at local tailoring. That said, operating in emerging markets still unquestionably requires excellence in core retailing competencies: marketing, merchandising, supply-chain management, and talent development, to name just a few…
Modern Retailers that excel in all these areas in the context of markedly different emerging-market structures will, in a sense, have conquered the world..!!