Friday, 28 June 2013

A Look at Lidl - The "Other" Discount Store

Despite running more stores than fellow discounter Aldi, (nearly 600 versus Aldi’s 400)  Lidl remain smaller in market share, and have not managed to achieve Aldi rates of growth. In the last quarter Aldi’s market share was 3.6% and its sales grew 30% year on year. Lidl’s share was 3%, and it grew by 9%.

Why might there be this disparity in performance? I visited the Lidl store in Penicuik in the Scottish borders to find clues.

Both Aldi and Lidl sell products at prices far lower than available in mainstream supermarkets.( The dark chocolate pictured sells at 79p versus the branded equvalent at £1.85p).   Lidl follows many of the practices embraced by Aldi, designed to make the cost of operating the stores very low, and passing the benefits of the low cost base on to shoppers. Both sell a small range of products under brand names that few have heard of, many of which are imported. The small range means smaller stores which are cheaper to run. Products are displayed in their outer cases as opposed to being unpacked and placed on the shelf, saving staff costs. Costs are also saved by having fewer checkouts, and employing super fast till checkout operators. Both stores encourage those with alot of shopping to pack away from the till, again speeding up the process.

Lidl differs from Aldi in that it offers more big name brands and it is difficult to judge whether this deviation from the standard discount model results in increased sales by attracting shoppers who like to buy known brands or whether the added cost means that prices are possibly not quite as low as Aldi.

Lidl’s fresh food offer seems more attractive than Aldi’s. Many breads are baked on the premises, and attractively displayed in wicker baskets. Most of the meat on offer was produced in Scotland, well displayed in stand alone  chiller cabinets, and accompanied by an explanation of Lidl’s animal welfare standards. Some ham was imported but British product was available. Certainly the Scottish produced pork chops purchased at the Penicuik store were excellent.

The fruit and vegetables looked fresh enough, but do not display a sell by date (another cost saving action employed by both discounters as once a sell by date is reached product has to be sold at a heavy discount.) It was therefore disappointing that my Jersey Royal potatoes, albeit  costing 18p per kilo less that Sainsburys, had turned green by the day after purchase.

Overall though, the combination of availability of major brands and generally good quality fresh food made the  shopping experience in Lidl Penicuik  more like that in a major supermarket than does Aldi  and the company embraces more consumer trends like attention to animal welfare and supporting local produce.
So why would Lidl be growing more slowly than Aldi?

One answer could be that Aldi are opening more stores than Lidl.

It could be that prices are not as sharp, or product quality in general not as good. Aldi seems to do particularly well when it comes to food awards.

My guess is that Lidl’s marketing is not as good as Aldi’s.  Aldi generates more publicity in the papers than Lidl - it is always Aldi that journalists write about when doing a feature on discount stores.  And Aldi has promoted and advertised its products more heavily.

This could be why Lidl have embarked on two advertising campaigns, one talking about the quality of its fresh food, the other highlighting packaged products that consumers rate as highly as major brands, but which cost considerably less.

If Lidl wants to grow faster it needs to make sure its activities are squeaky clean.

Lidl, like Aldi, was caught up in the horsemeat scandal. There has been a recent allegation that Lidl only pays UK tax of around £12,000 on a business with a £3 billion turnover. Lidl of course claims that it complies completely with UK tax laws. Whilst unlikely to have impacted on sales growth to date, such an allegation will do little to enhance the company’s reputation. 

Which is unfortunate as it seems to have much to offer its customers, particularly in difficult economic times.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

ALDI - Winning Awards but Misleading Consumers

Discount supermarket Aldi is in the news again. It scooped 16 gold awards at the supermarket industry magazine “The Grocer” s taste tests of various own label brands. And it has been criticised for misleading consumers by putting a Scottish flag on packs of beef and turkey from South America and the EU.

The awards story is impressive. Aldi came first, Tesco came in second with 12 golds, Asda scored 11, Marks and Spencer 8, Waitrose 3, and fellow discount supermarket Lidl achieved 4 golds. The awards come on top of Aldi’s Oliver Cromwell  gin winning silver in the International Spirits Challenge, beating  Bombay Sapphire which sells at twice the price, and collecting a silver award for champagne.

The Scottish flag story is shameful, and only came to light through the vigilance of NFU Scotland.  Aldi’s limp response was to say that no laws were broken but they recognised that featuring a Scottish flag could make shoppers think the products were wholly Scottish, and they have promised to re-label. At best their action was naive, at worst deliberately misleading.

Low prices combined with a growing reputation for quality mean that Aldi is showing the fastest growth of all supermarkets in the UK, up by 31% in the last twelve weeks according to Kantar Worldpanel, the company which monitors grocery sales. Fellow discounter Lidl grew by 9%. The only other grocer showing significant growth is Waitrose, which operates at the premium end of food shopping. The big four are stumbling along with growth in the low single digits.

The combined share of Aldi and Lidl now stands at a record 7.9%, and industry watchers are asking how far it can go. Conventional wisdom says that the strength of UK competition means that discounters will never touch the heady heights achieved in home country Germany where they enjoy a combined share of just under 30%.

But both Aldi and Lidl are raising their game. Aldi had just launched a trial convenience store in Kilburn, tapping int0 the growing tendency of shoppers to visit local stores to save petrol costs and  ensure they buy only what they need and not be tempted by the plethora of stuff available at bigger shops.

Lidl has just announced that it is increasing the shelf space it devotes to fresh meat and poultry by 50%.
Across the water in Ireland Aldi and Lidl together command a share of 13.6% of the grocery market, up from 11.6% last year. Their growth is coming from new customers as well as regular shoppers, which has not to date been the case in the UK.

There seems to be room for further discounter growth, but to achieve it requires continued rock bottom prices, whilst improving quality.

It also requires consumer trust, especially when it comes to buying fresh food. And here is where the discounters have stumbled. The Scottish flag issue reflects badly on Aldi, and both Aldi and Lidl were caught up in the horse meat scandal. Aldi and Lidl will be painfully aware of the need to take a firm grip on supply chain issues, and stop any erosion of consumer trust in its tracks.