Shopping versus buying: Louis Delhaize is trying to balance both in its very first “Open Market” in Gembloux, Belgium. The emphasis is more than ever on differentiation, transparency and sustainability, but price and promotion also play their part.
On 12 July, the Louis Delhaize group opened the very first Louis Delhaize Open Market, a new store format that will eventually replace all Match supermarkets in the country. The 1,400 sqm store underwent a major refurbishment that started on 11 April. During the store’s closure, customers could use a tent in the parking lot. A second, slightly larger test store (1800 sqm) will follow on 15 July in Braine-le-Comte, near Brussels. RetailDetail spoke with Sabine Muller, the enthusiastic driving force behind the new concept, and with Stéphane Génicot, marketing director.
First observation: the “Open Market” in the name is there for a reason. “We prefer not to call ourselves a supermarket. We want to differentiate ourselves. ‘Open’ stands for the transparency we strive for.” This translates not only into a clear, uncluttered store layout, but also into an offer that emphasises local, sustainable and small-scale products.
Two shopper missions
The brand-new Louis Delhaize Open Market is laid out according to the logic of ‘shopping versus buying’, distinguishing two shopping missions: in the spacious and well-organised fresh produce section, customers looking for tasty, fresh and traditional products will find what they are looking for. The private label Louis plays a leading role here: the range has been expanded from 600 to 2000 references and continues to grow. The Match private labels, such as Match or saveurs + découvertes, are making the switch to Louis.
Customers can restock in the ‘Entrepôt’, the area at the back where all ambient food, drinks and non-food products are grouped together. Here, price and promotions set the tone. Within the same logic, the retailer will soon be launching a ‘personal shopper’ service: via a touch screen at the entrance (or online), shoppers can order stock products, which will then be ready after the shopping trip. Next to the store, there will also be a ‘click & collect’ point. “We are first testing this in Jumet. We will have the groceries ready within two hours. Free of charge. You can order at shop.louisdelhaize.be.”
Unique: the “Recyclerie”
The store concept was developed after several roundtable discussions with customers and employees, in order to respond to their complaints. One of the remarkable innovations that came out of this is the “Recyclerie” where customers can bring old frying oil, small electrical appliances, batteries, bulbs and empties with or without a deposit. “This is how we highlight our eco-responsibility. This is a unique concept: no one else has it.” The washbasin where customers can wash their hands shows an eye for service and detail.
This attention to sustainability extends to the entire store, which is virtually paperless: the retailer communicates via digital shelf labels, innovative LCD screens in the fruit and vegetable department and displays made of electronic paper (‘e-paper’). The campaigns against waste are also striking: customers can buy yesterday’s bread with a 50% discount. Other food products also feature similar anti-waste discounts.
As we enter the store, the service counter draws full attention. “This is our theatre stage”, Muller says. Customers will find a grill section with roast chicken, meatballs, spare ribs, meatloaf… Meat – cut and packaged on site – comes in transparent rPET trays. Fish is filleted and packed sous vide in the shop. At the entrance, too, customers will find an ‘on the go’ zone with fresh meals, pizzas, pasta bowls, sandwiches, salads, etc. From here, you can go straight to the self-check-outs.
Louis Delhaize sells fruit and vegetables in bulk whenever possible. Bulk is also a priority in other departments. Customers can bring their own packaging to the store, which they can weigh at the entrance. There is an extensive organic department with nuts, cereals, pasta, legumes and rice in bulk. In Braine-le-Comte, Louis Delhaize will also test pet food and wine in bulk. So-called ‘alcoves’ play out strategic categories, such as tapas, world cuisine, the wine cellar, Belgian beers… Another eye-catcher is the Café Gourmand, where coffee, tea and chocolate are combined. Remarkable: a refrigerated cabinet with fresh chocolates. What other supermarket has that?
No visual pollution
The Entrepôt looks sleek, with clear visual merchandising that showcases the promotions well. “We wanted to avoid any visual pollution”, Muller explains. Here too, there is a limited bulk department with Bosto rice and Panzani pasta. “Strangely enough, we did not find a single brand manufacturer of breakfast cereals willing to join the story. In France, however, they do.”
Stocks are on top of the furniture: that’s good for productivity. The furniture has a rough metal look: it is not lacquered, also for reasons of sustainability. Also in this department: a low priced Discount Point. The shopping route ends with frozen foods and cosmetics, near the checkout area that combines two traditional checkouts with a ‘unique queue’ with two self-service checkouts.
Gembloux is a fiercely contested market where virtually all competitors are present. So you have to join the price battle. Match and Louis Delhaize have never been known for their sharp price positioning, but that is also changing: “We have lowered our prices. Not up to the level of Colruyt, but Delhaize and Carrefour will not beat us anymore”, we hear. Promotions get a more prominent place in the shop and on the brochure, which got a new, narrow format, similar to Albert Heijn’s Bonus folder. It contains fewer but more aggressive offers – about 60 a week.
What are the further ambitions with this concept? “This is a test,” our interviewees stress. There is no real roll-out for the time being, even though the original plan was that all 55 Smatch and 35 Match supermarkets would be converted by the end of 2025. The formula will first be thoroughly evaluated. “But that does not mean that we are standing still in the meantime. There are plans for store renovations in early 2023 and we are also converting some Smatch outlets to Louis Delhaize. So by the end of this year, we will have renovated at least a dozen stores.”