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12 great global grocers to watch

From America's WinCo to India's Future Retail, we found a dozen rising supermarkets, including one from Canada

Auchan

Besides, Loblaw, Tesco and other giants of grocery, which stores around the world are kicking it into high gear? We asked the experts and found these 12 are worth watching:

Auchan, France: Auchan got a 30% productivity boost from a full self-service store with automated scanners and mobile-phone payment. Now it’s testing fingerprint recognition payment technology and encouraging click-and-collect shopping (20% of French consumers use this type of online shopping). Auchan is a true retail tech pioneer.

Family Mart, Japan: Japan is going grey. By 2030, one in three Japanese will be over 65. But instead of going grey with worry, FamilyMart is acting smart. It’s launched a delivery service catering to the elderly and is working with pharmacies to meet the aging population’s health needs in so-called “life solution stores.” As the home market shrinks, it’s also looking for growth from more youthful economies in Southeast Asia. By 2016, the retailer expects international sales to have doubled share of revenues to 20%.

READ: In 2013, it was the year of the big shift

WinCo, U.S.: The most interesting grocer in America is a no-frills discounter that happens to shovel money into its employees pension plans at such a rate that more than 400 clerks, department managers and non-executive staff have pensions worth more than US$1 million. Idaho-based WinCo operates some 100 stores in the western states, each offering rock-bottom deals. Stores average US$55 million in sales a year, and supermarket analyst Bert Flickinger recently called WinCo “Walmart’s worst nightmare.”

Nakumatt, Kenya: If proof were needed of the growing African middle class, Nakumatt is it. Sales were up 28.5% last year, and Nakumatt is now testing a rewards card that’ll allow it to circumvent a national shortage of small change by crediting shoppers’ cards (previously it was issuing sweets as change). The grocer also signed a contra agreement with Samsung, speeding its evolution into general merchandise.

Lulu Hypermarkets, United Arab Emirates: Fresh vegetables from the desert state of Abu Dhabi? That’s right. But LuLu’s pledge to sell more local veg isn’t why it’s on our list. Its 26% sales growth last year has more to do with it. So does its expansion across Arabia and farther afield in places such as India. Still, you have to admire the ingenuity of desert-grown lettuce.

Oxxo, Mexico: Convenience retail is expected to see 13.5% com-pound annual growth in Latin America in the decade to 2017, says Planet Retail. Oxxo, the region’s largest c-store player, will drive much of that growth. It just opened its 11,000th store, in Mexico, and is now going farther afield. Oxxo believes its format suits the young, urban populations of countries such as Colombia, which it entered in 2009. Oxxo also aims to have 230 stores there by the end of this year.

Ocado, U.K.: If being the world’s first and largest pure-play online grocer doesn’t make Ocado one to watch, the retailer’s recent exploits do. Sales surged 16.4% in the third quarter, thanks in part to a widening product line. With a 25-year deal to handle online for Britain’s No. 4 grocer, Morrisons, and an expected doubling in online grocery sales in Britain, Ocado appears to be headed for success.

READ: An interview with a pioneer in online grocery

Exito Vecino, Colombia: Colombia has the highest concentration of hypermarkets in Latin America, worth US$7 billion in sales per year. But the format’s share is being nibbled thanks to urbanization and demand for convenience. French retailer Casino’s answer is Exito Vecino, a 21,000-sq.-ft. mini-hypermarket stocking discounted fresh food and large amounts of non-food. Casino believes the format, situated in residential locations, will allow it to tailor ranges by neighbourhood, perhaps heralding the end of one-size-fits-all retailing.

Woolworths, Australia: Provenance and supporting Australian food producers are increasingly important for shoppers Down Under, as growing numbers voice unease with Woolworths and Cole’s grocery duopoly. Woolies has responded by launching delis, fruit and veg and even made-to-order sushi bars styled on rural farmers’ markets to convince customers that it’s more than just a big-box retailer. It seems to be working: the retailer announced annual sales growth of 6.8% in July.

Sobeys, Canada: The famous Avis slogan (“We’re No 2. We try harder.”) is apt for Canada’s second-largest grocer. A new store design hits the street next month, and newly acquired U.K. pitchman, Jamie Oliver, is going head-to-head with Loblaw’s Galen Weston in TV ads. Buying Safeway Canada makes Sobeys No. 1 in the West. And it’s already tops with Bay Street. Sobeys’ share price ($74.62 in September) was 60% higher than Loblaw’s.

READ: Stylish supermarket innovation from around the world

Future Retail, India: Debt-laden Future Retail recently lost the title of India’s biggest retail group, but it’s still one to watch. After teaming up with the Payback loyalty scheme, Future has used it to analyze customer preferences and create private labels for India’s cash-strapped shoppers. Through its Big Bazaar and Food Bazaar formats, it’s also adding western-style fresh-food displays.

ParkNShop, Hong Kong: This discounter is going places fast, setting up frozen food superstores in lower-income neighbourhoods to compete with traditional, open-air food markets. It also operates Hong Kong’s most widely used loyalty scheme (with 2.5 million card holders) and is rapidly expanding into mainland China.

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