My tortuous quest to visit every supermarket chain in The Netherlands received another boon recently when I was able to tick PLUS off the list, leaving about seven or eight to go. PLUS is another member of the Superunie purchasing organization which consists of 13 independent supermarket retailers with over 1,500 stores and a market share of around 30%.

Utrecht-based PLUS oversees around 260 supermarkets operated by 230 retailers and can trace its history back to the formation of the Sperwer organisation in the 1920s. The stores adopted the Plusmarkt name in the mid-1980s and changed again in 2001 to the current PLUS identity.

These days the 260 stores account for a turnover of some EUR2.4 billion and a market share of 6.4%. I quite like the group’s take on this combination of scale and decentralised store ownership, stating that “it is big enough to make a difference, and small enough to be flexible. Our local supermarket entrepreneurs play an important role here – with their personal service and involvement they are connected to the neighbourhood.”

There’s a connection to the UK supermarket sector here as well. This week saw Duncan Hoy take the reins as PLUS CEO, his previous role seeing him work as managing director of Large Stores at Tesco since June 2016. Prior to that he held senior roles at Dutch chains Jumbo and C1000. Under his tenure at Tesco, the performance of the Extra hypermarket business certainly picked up a fair degree of traction, so it will be interesting to see how the PLUS proposition evolves in the next year or two.

PLUS states that it has a pretty robust ambition: becoming the best supermarket in The Netherlands. I was certainly impressed with what was on show in this store in North Amsterdam and it’s also been interesting to see the retailer’s recent initiatives to make its proposition better able to deliver on health and wellness.

One such move was insisting that any ‘unhealthy’ items that might conceivably be targeted at children should be displayed instore no lower than 1.2 metres (thus removing the offending items from kids’ eye level) and replacing 330 ml cans of sugary soft drinks with 250 ml alternatives.

The large number of awards around the store – for best supermarket and for particular categories such as wine and meat – suggest that PLUS’s ambition is already being at least partially realised. This store is certainly a handsome affair. An impressive bakery counter – with plenty of timber and benefitting from bespoke lighting – kicked off things well, followed by a lovely cheese counter that included colour-coded segmentation and lots of claims around provenance and local milk sourcing.

Produce was executed well. Smart produce displays utilised vibrant red fixtures to highlight promotions, with the ‘Vers veiling’ (loosely translated to fresh auction) strapline and the use of a clock motif underlining the fact that the promotions are of a limited duration. The produce department also housed meal & recipe kits, both private label and branded, that allow shoppers to create family meals through the addition of a handful of other ingredients.

The store boasted an excellent wine section with some great displays that call out premium wines plus a digital screen that assists shoppers in selecting wines to accompany their planned meals and also allows shoppers to retrieve information about wines by scanning barcodes.

While one might debate the ‘best supermarket’ in the Dutch market, there is little doubt that PLUS is in the top four or five and offers up a great proposition. Standards were generally great and the offer is testament to the benefits of decentralised store ownership. Good stuff.

Bryan Roberts, Global Insights Director

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