Walmart Canada has partnered with the Italian grocery retailer Coop Italia to bring products from its premium private label brand Fior Fiore to Canada. It’s one of a growing number of retail tie-ins that reflect the industry’s continued pursuit of differentiation.
A Walmart exclusive, the Fior Fiore line includes more than 40 products spanning pasta and pasta sauces, pesto, bruschetta and pâtés. It is expected to grow to more than 100 products by the end of the year. Ivo Petroff, Walmart’s senior category manager, grocery, describes the product line as “top-quality Italian food, sourced directly from local, family businesses in Italy.”
Walmart Canada first approached Coop Italia about a partnership in the spring of 2019, with the first wave of products hitting shelves across the country less than 11 months later. “There is great alignment on level values and corporate culture,” says Sourabh Malik, Walmart Canada’s senior director omnichannel grocery merchant lead, noting that Walmart’s customer proposition save money, live better resonated “exceptionally well” with Coop’s leadership. “Common values open the door to tremendous business opportunities,” he says.
Coop is Italy’s largest grocery retailer, with more than 2,100 stores and a 14.8% share of the market. It established an international division called Coop Italian Foods in 2015 with the goal of distributing its private label products around the world. It now boasts some 4,000 SKUs, sold under the Fior Fiore, Vivi Verde, Bene.Sì, Solidal and Crescendo brand names.
The Walmart/Coop partnership is one of a growing number of international partnerships undertaken by North American retailers in recent years. The deals tend to be built around exclusivity, providing them with a point of differentiation from their competitors and the all-encompassing retail giant Amazon.
In 2017, for example, Overwaitea Food Group’s Save-On Foods banner partnered with U.K. retailer Tesco to bring approximately 100 SKUs from its standard and premium private label brands to its stores, while U.S. grocery retailer Ahold Delhaize also partnered with Coop Italaian Foods to bring its products to the Food Lion, Giant Food, Giant/Martin’s and Stop & Shop banners, as well as its online grocer Peapod.
Retail analyst Bruce Winder says the deal’s exclusivity could help Walmart attract shoppers that might otherwise opt for a competitive grocery banner in a highly commoditized and competitive space. “What they’re doing is becoming more relevant to select consumer segments, and if it’s exclusive, that’s a win,” he says. “Theoretically, it could be a reason for food shoppers to go to Walmart and not go anywhere else.”
While the Fior Fiore products still need to reflect Walmart’s promise of everyday low-prices, Winder says their exclusivity will also allow the company to achieve higher margins than it does on widely distributed products. “You can take a premium margin because it’s a hard-to-find item that’s only available in your stores,” he says.
Looming over all deals of this nature, says Winder, is the spectre of Amazon, which is poised to have the same disruptive impact on grocery retail as it has on other industries. In a December 2018 report, McKinsey & Company said the combination of higher costs, falling productivity and “race-to-the-bottom pricing” spells big trouble for the $5.7 trillion global grocery industry, predicting that more than US$700 billion could shift from traditional grocery to other formats and channels by 2026.
“Amazon has 550 million products, and you kind of have to find a way to sell stuff that’s different from them,” says Winder. In other words, failing to attain a unique selling proposition could mean arrivederci for some grocery retailers.