Autonomous convenience stores are increasingly replacing company restaurants. Partnering with Ahold Delhaize, Selecta is expanding from market leader in coffee solutions to leader in foodtech. “The potential is huge”.
The pandemic has completely upended the corporate catering market. As many employees work from home at least two days a week, staffed company restaurants have become too expensive for many employers. Technology offers a solution: smart refrigerators and unmanned convenience stores are replacing the company restaurant. Selecta, until recently mainly a coffee distributor, is now attacking traditional catering players with innovative concepts. Out of sheer necessity, Tim Goossens explains: “We started innovating at breakneck speed.”
The maths behind the refocus are clear: “If people spend five days in the office, they consume about twenty hot drinks a week in the Netherlands, fifteen in Belgium. If people work at home for two days, you already sell eight fewer hot drinks per employee in the Netherlands and six in Belgium. Moreover, We do not see an end to this trend of working from home right away.” Healthy growth for the Swiss company must therefore come from foodtech: “We estimate that market at two billion euros in Belgium, almost twice that in the Netherlands. That is a much bigger pond to fish in than the vending market, which is worth 400 million euros in Belgium and 900 million in the Netherlands.”
Selecta offers three concepts. The entry-level formula is called Grab&Go: “It is a smart fridge of which we are the exclusive distributor. After you have identified yourself using the app or a payment card, you can open the fridge, which is filled with fresh food such as wraps, salads, burgers, sandwiches… If you take out a product, it is automatically registered by weight. You are charged for what you have in your hands the moment you close the door again.”
The second concept, Scan&Go, is a kind of small supermarket adapted for a work environment, usually in combination with a premium coffee brand such as Starbucks. Here you take products from the shelves and you scan and pay for them at a self-service checkout. There is a section with the standard snacks, waffles, crisps or noodles, as well as a chilled section. “Some customers still choose the classic microwave oven to reheat meals, but we have a more interesting solution with a steam oven. You choose one out of 32 steam meals, let the appliance scan the QR code, and in 30 to 40 seconds, you have a tasty and healthy steamed meal. This is a very valued innovation.”
For this second concept, Selecta has entered a partnership with Ahold Delhaize: in the Netherlands, these shops are called Albert Heijn to go, in Belgium Shop&go Delhaize. The retailers supply the range. “Those retailers value the fact that we are experts in the last mile to these customers. We have some 250 ‘joy ambassadors’ in Belgium and 350 in the Netherlands, who supply the vending machines and shops every day. They place their orders the day before, Albert Heijn and Delhaize deliver to us every morning around 5.30am and all locations are replenished before 10am. This way, we guarantee that fresh food is available 24/7.”
There also is a third concept, the most exclusive one, of which Selecta currently only has one in the whole of Europe: at the Corda Campus in Hasselt, a large business centre employing 5,000 people. It is the mini-supermarket of the future: it works roughly like an Amazon Go or an Okay Direct. You enter with a payment card or an app and the system then registers your purchases based on weight and camera recognition. At the gate at the exit, the system will recognise you and show you the owed amount. You then press OK and exit: checkout is automatic. The shop can handle up to fifteen customers at a time and is open 24/7.
“Obviously this is not a solution for every office, but Corda Campus really needed such a concept. There are catering facilities, but their opening hours are limited. We launched the shop in March last year. The customer is super satisfied and so are we.” Selecta has therefore decided to open a second store of the concept, coming soon in a large hospital in Lucerne, Switzerland.
How is the offer evolving? For retailers like Albert Heijn and Delhaize, health is important, while we often associate vending with sweets. “At the request of company doctors, we are bringing healthier snacks into our range, but you can not go without classics like Coca-Cola and Mars. They are also a guilty pleasure, after all. In fresh food, you can see the trend towards healthier snacks: we offer lots of salads and fruit. This more current offering is also part of the ‘war for talent’: an employer wants to be sexy these days. When people come to the office, you want to offer them something nice. That is where fresh food is an important driver.”
Now Selecta especially wants to further capture that food market. The big traditional caterers like Compass, ISS, Sodexo and Aramark are defending their position, but they have largely missed the foodtech train, Goossens points out. “There are many companies with 150 to 200 employees, who currently only buy their hot drinks, soft drinks and snacks from Selecta, as they are still stuck with a catering contract they cannot get out of. But once that ends, we can get to work: we now install two or three new locations with fresh food every week. We started it a year and a half ago and we already have just over 200 locations in the Benelux.”
Selecta wants to make a quarter of its business come from fresh food within fifteen months. “The nice thing is that we have this existing loyal customer base. We have a gigantically high retention rate: 99 % of the companies that are customers the beginning of the year are still customers the following year. The potential is huge!”
Switzerland-based Selecta operates in sixteen European countries and is number one or two in most of those. “We are a distributor of top brands. In coffee, these are our own brands Miofino and Roode Pelikaan – Pélican Rouge.” That Antwerp brand, at 160 years one of the oldest in Europe, has been owned by the group since 1863. Selecta is also a distributor of Starbucks, Lavazza, Nescafé and Illy.
In Belgium, the company has about 45,000 hot beverage machines, while in the Netherlands there are 60,000. You can find them in the hospitality industry, in public and semi-public places as well as in private. “We are especially strong in the ‘on the go’ segment: we deliver our coffee in 95 % of petrol stations in Belgium and the Netherlands.”