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10 Items or Less

What Swedish retail execs learned from their U.S. counterparts

This post is part of the 10 Items or Less blog.

I had the opportunity recently to meet with executives of Sweden’s leading supermarket chain, ICA, while they crossed the U.S. on a scouting mission.

No, ICA’s not about to launch a chain of Scandinavian Superstores here; rather a team of its executives came to the U.S. for the purpose of igniting future business developments at home. The group visited Los Angeles, Atlanta and New York, where they familiarized themselves with uniquely American food retail offerings from Whole Foods 365 to Hello Fresh to Kroger and those in between. When I caught up with them in New York, we experienced firsthand one of retail’s technology-based competitors when we had lunch delivered by the trendy virtual restaurant Maple, which is taking on the entire Lower Manhattan restaurant scene—and delivery facilitator Seamless to boot—with app-based, chef-created, better ingredient-focused meals for quick delivery by bicycle. 

Food retailing trends often originate in Europe, then cross the Atlantic—before Kroger committed to partnering with dunnhumby, Tesco did; competing with Aldi and Lidl at once isn’t a theoretical threat there but a reality. Yet one thing from I learned from our visitors was that from the European perspective, the U.S. does have a valuable export to the rest of the food retail world: Coolness.

“Although exciting launches and developments are to be found in Europe, many U.S. grocers remain in the lead globally when it comes to pushing the supermarket experience as well as meeting new consumer demands,” says Mats Liedholm, SVP Marketing, ICA Sweden, who arranged the trip for his colleagues. “It is of absolute relevance for us to stay updated on the latest trend expressions and developments in this market in order for us to keep our position as Sweden’s largest and most successful food retailer. We are bringing home some guiding insights for ongoing projects and feel confident ICA will keep pushing the future development of Northern Europe’s grocery market.”

More specifically, Liedholm says ICA executives went home with the following insights gleaned from their American counterparts:

1. Curated coolness 

“We’ve seen a clear development in retail in general, where new competence is required to curate and handpick everything from product selections to in-store designs and partnerships. The demand for coolness from millennial consumers, even in the grocery store, is met through well-thought-out selections and curated activities to the communicative target group.”

2. Private label evolution

“Clearly private label in the grocery store has gone from mainly being an ‘everyday price-fighter’ to much more of a provider of ‘great value’ in the mid-segment, with more added values than before. The total brand experience of private labels is becoming increasingly important.”

3. Localization

“Grocery stores and food halls are paying tribute to their local neighborhoods. It’s not just about locally produced food, but also finding collaborations with local artists and creating a modern community hub with hyper-local pride.” 

Contact Jon Springer at [email protected]
Follow him on Twitter: @SN_Springer

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