Thursday, July 11, 2019

Elevating the Pantry Shopping Experience

I was at the FoodHall on Linking Road at Mumbai for a recce on behalf of an FMCG Brand that I am working as a Retail Advisor. This was my first visit to the store and I have heard quite a lot about the concept which has been around for over half a decade and with the number of Stores / Store business growing quite well, YoY. The 4 storied outlet spread over 6,000 sq. ft. approximately houses everything that a Food Bazaaar sells, from Grocery to Fresh Vegetables, Oils to Snacks and so on. Except that most Indian Brands do not find a place here. Most Indian “mainline” or mass FMCG Brands, perhaps. And its not just the merchandise that’s different, rather the entire shopping experience. With the assortment of products spread across the four levels, almost NIL promotions or Discounts and a very private shopping experience, I guess the concept has caught up quite well with shoppers. 

I did see atleast 3 Celebrities (Cinema related) in the 2 hours that I spent at the store. They had a private shopper along with them not just to carry a basket or push the trolley, rather to ably assist them in their choice of products to purchase. They seem to be at ease while just being there and of course the entire elevated customer experience which makes the format a hit with the high and mighty. 


Cut to 2002 when I used to run Foodworld Stores as Operations Manager. Even then, my store at RA Puram, would attract quite a bit of celebrities given that this was one of the premium locations in South Chennai. I would personally assist film stars likes Ms. Khushbu Sundar, Ms. Sarika Kamal Hassan, the former CEO of Ford India who would live at the Boat Club Area and the families of the top brass at Hyundai who had chosen this part of town to form small communities of their ilk. The reason for them to shop at an air-conditioned environment (in 2002) was not just convenience but privacy too. However, over the years, the much coveted “Grocery Shopping” has evolved along with Customers. 


Today, the good old Big Bazaar looks shinier than before. The Future Group has created a new vertical in FBB – Fashion at Big Bazaar which has actually evolved from the learnings of the apparel department of Big Bazaar. One would recall the Group sold its jewel-in-the-crown "Pantaloon" business to Aditya Birla Group couple years ago. And now they have built FBB from scratch as well as the upmarket Cover Story which is a dazzling women’s-only store with fast fashion curated from London & beyond. Similarly, FoodHall is a great evolution from the erstwhile Food Bazaar but with an elevated shopping experience. Note – the elevation is not just the imported olive oils and nuts, wide range of cheese, or organic vegetables, rather the entire experience. 


The FoodHall also has a Deli, a CafĂ© and a Chocolate Bar, an in-house curation where a Chef prepares fresh chocolates with a Tempering Machines to produce interesting cute-looking chocolates which costs upwards for Rs. 500 for 6 pieces. Connoisseurs Delight, perhaps. The Cellar stocks and sells some of the finest wines from the world. And the Fresh Poultry / Meat / Seafood is a massive hit with an exclusive area demarked in so manner that there is absolutely no stench that comes out of the area. Overall, FoodHall has elevated the Grocery Shopping in India. 



Recently, RP-SG Group which runs Spencers Retail acquired Godrej’s Nature’s Basket which is a similar concept as FoodHall but the latter beats the former hands down with it’s range, assortment, pricing and customer experience. There are similar concepts in all major cities but the trend is yet to catch up outside Delhi/NCR, Mumbai and Bangalore. Is the market ready for gourmet grocery? Yes. Are the Retailers / Mall Owners & Shopping Centres ready? Perhaps, No.  It’s not just the shop or the real estate that would elevate the experience, rather the Retailer’s vision and readiness to cater to this elite segment of customers. Actor Madhavan is the Brand Ambassador for Elite Matrimony (in this age and time when marriage is not an institution but more of convenience and social status). 

So the premium Customer not only exits but also waiting. Let’s see who expands first and fast.

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