The Italian grocery market has long been dominated by Coop Italia and CONAD, although the French retailers Auchan and Carrefour have built up a decent presence, the Selex buying group is another considerable presence and well-regarded supermarket chain Esselunga continues to attract legions of fans.

Discount – led notably by Lidl ad local rival Eurospin, continues to exert a significant impact, with Aldi hitting the ground running last year with market entry through the opening of over 50 stores.

Coop Italia, slightly ahead of CONAD in terms of revenue, is a retailer that I have admired for ages. Its key strengths lie in a formidable multi format strategy – encompassing hypermarkets, supermarkets, convenience, discount and online – and a really superb private label portfolio that covers off every conceivable niche.

Its stores are generally very well done. This store – a hypermarket that anchors a Milan shopping centre – was rather splendid. The non-food department comprised an impressive array of clothing and media, but it is in the food department where the retailer’s qualities shine through.

Fresh was done well: produce segued nicely into a very creditable array of meal solutions and ingredients – highlighting the premium PL range Fiorfiore – while the back wall hosted a great run of service counters including an excellent bakery and a lovely fish counter.

Service counters are very much in the news this week thanks to Tesco’s decision to close a batch in the UK, but it is very fair to suggest that shoppers are more enamoured by them in mainland Europe and consequently the retailers there do a cracking job of running them.

The chilled section was impressive. I’ve always been a fan of category segmentation and colour-coding, and this store deployed it well in categories like cheese and yoghurt, demystifying the ranges and making them incredibly easy to shop.

Promotions were executed very well across the store: some on dedicated fixtures with digital screens while others adopted a more typical position on gondola ends, such as a great example for Kinder Cards, a confection that is still scandalously unavailable in the UK.

With other nice touches like dispensers for PL washing detergent to minimise the use of plastic and a loyalty campaign that offered AquaAmici plush toys for kids, the overall experience was very positive indeed.

Bryan Roberts, Global Insights Director

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