Established in 1932, this group of independent retailers and wholesalers operates under the retail chain Spar, consisting of 13320 stores in 48 countries. The company was founded in the Netherlands and serves around 13 million customers per day. In 2019, the firm reached a turnover of € 37.1 billion, reporting an increase of 4.35% in revenue compared to 2018. Spar has a dedicated team of 370000 employees. In 2019, Spar international launched 208 stores under its different banners. 73.7% of its stores are based in Western Europe. 61.7% of its turnover was made in Western Europe in 2019.
We had a great discussion with the Buyer Category Manager at Spar International Stan Diepenmaat, who participated in Wabel Frozen Summit 2020.
How has Covid-19 impacted your company and your strategy?
I think it is a bit different than standard retail organizations. Since being located in the headquarter in Amsterdam, we only have a supporter role in the business’s execution and operation for our retail partners.
For us the impact was relatively low, but the impact we had on handling the Covid crisis for our partners was enormous. There are a few highlights I can mention, for example, we have sourced many products throughout our partners from one country to another. For instance, we have sourced over 1 million face masks from China to Italy in the early stages. From April on we have sourced lots of canned goods and dry grocery products from Italy to Ireland, for example, or from Eastern Europe to Central Europe in order to support our partners. I think our marketing team has put a lot of effort into making communication that would work properly to help and support our customers and partners.
Do you see any new consumer trends?
I think yes, and in general, what we have discovered from our meetings with Spar partners is that they are really keen on sourcing locally, and this is mainly related to the fresh and dairy products.
On the other hand, we see a lift in the value ranges, so cheaper solutions in categories. We have observed that consumers are looking for organic solutions, healthier solutions and want to know what is inside the product versus “we don’t know where it comes from, it just tastes good”.
I really hope that in the future, the organic group will be moreover standard products. Not the diversification you are looking for, but rather one of the standard items on every shelf, in every product group etc.
What kind of products are you looking for now?
In every product range, some changes are needed!
For example, we have five different partners in the UK, which are diversified per region.
With Brexit coming up, there are different implications for what they source, what they want and what they need, so they expect from our side to help them to source secure channels, secure lines from Europe, and also the other way around, since we are sourcing from multiple UK suppliers which has lots of implications we have to be prepared for.
The rules from the UK or European governments are not clear or set yet, and this doesn’t help.
In terms of products that I am sourcing now, following your events this week, Frozen Summit was very interesting for me, especially due to the frozen vegetables, potatoes and ice cream categories for next year. Overall, we are continuously looking to develop our ranges. There is not a specific point or specific time of the year when we are looking for any specific product.
How did you like your experience with Wabel?
It was really good and interesting!
I think we met 1 or 2 suppliers we already knew before, so it is always good to catch up.
There is never a direct line between the suppliers and our partners, we always stay in the middle. We are combining volume, so there is not a direct business that we are doing at this kind of meetings, when we can just close the deals immediately, but we are rather looking for potential suppliers we would like to work with and if we can set the product development that can be interesting for our partners.
So I will follow up with the majority of suppliers I talked to thanks to Wabel.
Why did you come to Wabel?
I can recall from my colleagues who took part in Wabel Summits in past years that it’s a lot to take in, but it is very valuable at the end, because we never know beforehand what will be the requests or what direction our partners will take.
So it is very useful and important for us to have lots of contacts, with whom you can easily reconnect in a year or two if we have some specific requests for those products.
Regarding this year, I have received some requests for frozen products from our partners so it is always very useful to have the right contacts for this or the next years to see how they think of the market.
I am always trying to see what their understanding of the market is, whether they are the producers or just the traders. In both cases, they can be very useful if they can provide value added for the chain or if they have a lot of knowledge about the market.