On 15 June it will be fifty years since the opening of the first mega-supermarket - the word hypermarket would pop up three years later. And although the hypermarket has had better days it still is the most popular distribution format with the French. Not surprising, because no country has more hypermarkets than France.
Over 50% market shares in food
Fifty years ago France called Marcel Fournier crazy. He had built the largest “grand magasin” in France, together with the brothers Defforey: 2,500 m² (three times the normal size in those days), with “all products under one roof” (5,000 products in non-food and food) and “up to 30% cheaper”.
The set-up seemed megalomaniac, but it was an instant success. To this day more than half of all food products in France are bought in the more than 2,000 hypermarkets in the country.
“The death of the hypermarket is being predicted for ten years now because of our changing shopping habits. The consumer prefers shops close to him, in cities. Families have also become smaller, making a weekly trip to the shop no longer necessary”, says retail specialist Philippe Nobile of consultancy Javelin in Le Figaro. “But the concept will keep on putting up a fight as long as the sales of food products through the internet doesn’t pick up.”
New ones still opening
In France, the biggest country for hypermarkets, new ones are still opening up every year. Over the last 12 months 23 new ones were opened and the number of hypermarkets has doubled since 1996. According to trade magazine Linéaires 77 new hypermarkets have been green lighted in 2012, racking up a total of 330,200 m² of extra shopping space.
And all big distributors are joining in. Casino, Leclerc, Système U, Intermarché: they all stick with “medium sized” hypermarkets with a maximum size of 5,000 m². “We want to double the share of this format in our sales by 2015 to 25-30%. We will have 150 of big stores by then, compared to 83 today”, they say at Intermarché.
Competitor Auchan, which is investing in the opening of six hypermarkets between 2010 and 2014, want to go even bigger: “Our dream size is 10,000 m².”
Carrefour also back in the game
Even Carrefour, the “inventor of the hypermarket”, has come back to the format. The group has learned from the past though: “The past ten years we haven’t expanded the number of hypermarkets; now it is time to start expanding again. There isstill room for slightly smaller hypermarkets, between 5,000 m² and 6,000 m², which should function as neighbourhood stores”, says current CEO Georges Plassat.
To underline his renewed belief in hypermarkets, the French CEO will be visiting the Carrefour hypermarket in Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois (Essonne) on 17 June, where it all started 50 years ago. To truly celebrate its birthday, that hypermarket was renovated and expanded to 8,000 m².