06 August 2018, 11:17 AM
  • We speak with Nicolas Trentesaux, director of SIAL Paris, about the worldwide evolution of food retail
“Food retail worldwide is in the throes of a revolution”

Food retail is changing… and quickly. More quickly than ever in fact! Structures, organisations, market positioning, offerings, partnerships: no facet of this sector is exempt from the ongoing revolution. “Not only is food retail completely overhauling its models, across the board, but it is also buzzing with innovations, further cementing its position as a global food laboratory,” says Nicolas Trentesaux, SIAL Network Director.

What is food retail like today?
It’s something that we are all familiar with when we do our shopping: food retail today is nothing like it was yesterday. From product offer to store concept through payment or delivery mode: the metamorphosis has been nothing less than radical! And the phenomenon shows no signs of slowing down, driven as it is by the appetite of consumers, keen for new things, and the ingenuity of manufacturers, always at the cutting edge of innovation. In fact, food retail, which experienced relatively little in terms of upheavals over the past 30 years - unlike other sectors-, is currently going through a period of accelerated change. Proximity, service and hybridisation are undoubtedly the buzzwords of this revolution. Illustrative of this are the world rankings of the biggest food retailers. Every year the cards are reshuffled, with the latest big change being the rise to prominence of Amazon. The current buzzwords also explain why independent retailers are doing so well in the current market, since they are often local and, because of their independence, have historically provided bespoke and excellent customer service.

You speak of an “ongoing revolution”: does it really span the world?
Absolutely! You will be able to see this for yourself in October, when you come to SIAL Paris 2018, the showcase of world food retail. There is terrific convergence between the first-hand accounts of our experts, the feedback from our exhibitors and visitors throughout the SIAL network, and the information issuing from studies that we conduct with our partners. It really is the entire planet - at different stages of progress depending on the country and the continent - that is concerned by this ongoing revolution. It is a globalisation of food retail that grows stronger as tastes and flavours travel and become established, as is demonstrated by the worldwide success of the US burger, Japanese sushi, French baguette and the like.

Does the digitalisation of trade not carry the risk, ultimately, of homogenising taste and loosening the link between consumer and food?
At the risk of sounding perverse, I would say that digitalisation is more like a means of bringing people closer to food! Because the major phenomenon that we are witnessing today, in food retail, is in fact the re-humanisation of trade! For example, store chains all over are reducing the size of the sales floor. Small supermarkets, Click & Collects and markets are riding high while, at the same time, hypermarkets are being trimmed down by several hundreds - or even thousands - of square metres. Town centres are seeing the return of retailers who had abandoned them, and the short supply chain model is going from success to success! The tendency now is towards smaller and shorter distribution networks, this is why independent retailers and smaller businesses are doing so well. The consumer wants to see his food up close before buying; being able to taste food in store is becoming really popular!

Is proximity therefore becoming the essential value in food retail?
I’d prefer to evoke the notion of pleasure! It is indeed for this reason that smaller stores and independent retailers are doing well. Along with being able to taste in store, by giving shopping a ‘unique’ feel, they encapsulate this. This is the crux of the issue: sharing and pleasure are back in vogue! It is a trend that is loudly echoed in the emergence of “food halls”, such as Eataly, or indeed SIAL Paris, which can claim in 2018 more than ever to be the biggest events “food hall” in the world! It is for this reason why SIAL Paris will very important for independent retailers and small business, SIAL is a laboratory of ideas for all professionals, but above anyone for those on the distribution end. We will show how to play on smaller retailer’s biggest assets in the current climate which favours what they have to offer.

What is the locomotive - or flagship country - driving retail today?
Every country is a model in itself since, in the field of food retail (and SIAL Paris is in the perfect position to know this), every region continues to preserve its traditions, its recipes and its successful formulas. You don’t do your shopping in the same way in Canada, Indonesia, France or India. That said, China today is leading the way on the world markets, stealing the thunder from California, which nonetheless remains a cradle of innovation in the field of retail food. The particular strong point of the Chinese model is this terrific capacity to develop communicability and services, and make commitments to consumers.

Can you give us an example to illustrate this Chinese dynamism?
I’ll speak with my consumer hat on, to offer up one example that gets my mouth watering just thinking about it! One of the biggest supermarket chains, firmly established in the country’s major cities, uses a high-performance mobile app to propose a comprehensive series of options to its users. You can use it to do your shopping and have it delivered to your home or your workplace in less than half an hour; you can use it to get a chef to prepare one or more meals with selected ingredients; or else you can turn up on site to select products, or sample them in a foodservice zone set up within the supermarket. This really goes down a storm, because everyone involved in this success shows commitment to the consumer: simply and transparently!

So the food revolution is affecting retail, too, with so many innovations disrupting the market. How will SIAL Paris 2018 take this phenomenon into account?
I am used to saying that SIAL Paris is the biggest supermarket on Planet Food. All the short-, medium- or long-term trends that you will discover one day on the shelves and in the aisles of stores start out at SIAL. Why? Because we are an ideas laboratory, for all professionals, and first and foremost for retail professionals. And to measure and stay one step ahead of this ongoing revolution, which affects every area of retail, nothing beats a visit to the biggest food lab around!