A supermarket that feels more like a farmers’ market? This is the way Woolworths – one of the major retailers in Australia – is transforming its space Down Under.
And the move is being led by a former Tesco executive, Claire Peters, now the managing director at Woolworths. She said the team had looked across the globe for inspiration to create the next-generation grocery experience.
The set-up has been rolled out first in a store in Sydney, with a focus on local producers and sustainability, at a time when the millennial age group is keenly focused on where their food comes from and how it is made.
So how has the company moved from the unsophisticated stereotype of the shrimp on the barbie to sleek store?
The first thing customers set their eyes on is the hydroponic lettuce, which continues to grow until it’s picked and placed in a shopping basket. Jets of mist keep the produce cool.
Cured meats are sliced to order, while the butcher team cuts, minces or vacuum packs the organic, heart smart and locally sourced fresh meat. There are 200 cheeses available in the cheese cave and a macro wholefoods market aisle with over 200 certified organic lines, including loose nuts, seeds and grains.
Online shoppers can pick up their orders in-store from lockers located at the front of the store, an idea that originally came from Amazon. Peters said she was incredibly curious to watch the rollout of Amazon’s queue-free grab-and-go concept, observing how successful it is and whether it could be adapted to work in Australia.
In a nod to the sustainability crowd, the store is also fitted out with LED lights to reduce power usage; there are carbon-efficient refrigeration and air-conditioning systems, and there is an area in-store where customers can bring in their soft plastics to be recycled.
But what about technology innovations? At Woolworths, these include an in-store product finder in its app and touch screens to tell bakery staff what they need to bake and when.
Woolworths’ chief executive, Brad Banducci, is also looking to the future. This includes a new barcode scanning technology from software company Digimarc, which embeds a code that is imperceptible to the human eye into a product's packaging design, meaning any part of the item can be scanned at checkout. Digimarc says it speeds up checkout times by 30%. US supermarket Wegmans has used the Digimarc technology on its entire range of home-brand products.
Other technology being considered is software that uses cameras and image-recognition software to monitor product levels on shelves and alert store managers when stock is low.
So does Sparkie see a UK future in this supermarket overhaul?
Bits and pieces of this exist over here. Most butchers or fish counters will offer some preparation options, some of them will offer vacuum sealing too now, and a lot of the in-store bakery ovens are moving in front of the customer.
Morrisons tried out a fogging system to keep vegetables healthier for longer, but customers didn't like it. We used to have a small retailer called Weigh and Save, which sold wholefoods and other things like cake mixes by weight, but the FSA slowly closed them all down, because they were not convinced that the hygiene could be maintained.
Amazon are expanding the locker range slowly, but as yet they are not really offering any reasonable incentive to use them over the convenience of home delivery. If a retailer wanted to do something similar, I think they would need to offer something more than the few pounds saving on delivery.
For the most part, consumer-facing retailer innovations seem to be met with scepticism and distrust, so while these things may be better for the consumer, I suspect it will take some time for them to appear in the mainstream.