I don’t think I’m being overly harsh to suggest that Carrefour Market – in all its guises across several European markets – did not used to be a store concept that I looked forward to visiting. However, recent visits to several Carrefour Market stores in Madrid and Warsaw have convinced me that the chain is rapidly becoming an inspirational example of best practice in two key areas: serving the needs of urban consumers; and self-defence against discounters.

Up against Biedronka and Lidl in Poland, and Mercadona, Dia and Lidl in Spain, it could have been easy for Carrefour to follow the lead of countless other retailers across Europe and embark on a cost-cutting race to the bottom. Instead, Carrefour has adopted the right strategy – swimming upstream to distance itself from discount competition and capture the aspirational and experiential end of the market.

We’ll take a look at an example from Poland in a week or three, but this week we’ll lavish some attention of the lovely, lovely Carrefour Market Orense in Madrid.

Opened in June last year, the Orense store has made a virtue of what might be considered a drawback for a number of Carrefour Market stores in city centres: it is spread over two floors. This can make for a disjointed experience and clunky merchandising, but here Carrefour has judiciously segmented the range, allocating the bulk of the small ground floor to organic and free from ranges.

It is here that one gets the first experience of many nice deployments of technology throughout the supermarket: a kiosk that scans barcodes to reveal nutritional and allergen information about each SKU.

Heading into the much larger basement opens up a world of culinary joy. While there is much to be said about the visual appeal of the place, it is also worth noting that the smells one encounters here – tomatoes, cheese, fish, meat, coffee, bread, Haribo – really bring the store to life. Compared to supermarkets in the UK, where the only smells are of cellophane and anguish, the sensory delights of this store serve as a timely reminder that food shopping can be (should be) an exuberant pleasure rather than a grudgeful chore.

The store offers around 12,000 SKUs across its 24,000 sq. ft., a very strong focus indeed being placed on fresh. The fresh departments are arranged in a ‘market square’-style environment, with service counters ringing the perimeter around sumptuous displays in the centre.

Produce is beyond awesome. Alongside standard displays of self-service produce is a kind of mini-greengrocers counter where staff can pack and price items from a tremendous display of fruit and vegetables, perhaps a reflection that independent greengrocers are still a thriving sector within Spanish food retailing.

The service counters – butchers, delicatessen, bakery and fishmongers – are brilliant. I was there on a Monday so the bulk of the fish counter was (reassuringly) empty, but the limited stock available was displayed beautifully. The meat counter was replete with amazing local product as well as imports from Argentina, the USA and Ireland, while the bakery was heaving with product made in store rather than hauled off a truck and baked through.

There was also a nifty prepared meals counter where shoppers could either buy items to eat later at home or consume instore at the seating area, perhaps accompanied by a glass of wine from the chilled wine dispenser.

The BWS department itself was top-notch. Wines were split into sections such as trends, discovery and bestsellers and were accompanied by a digital kiosk that provides product details and food recommendations for each wine. Great stuff.

The rest of the store includes lots of other lovely touches, such as fresh fruit atop the juice fixture, an excellent health & beauty department, a Haribo pick & mix (yes!) and some of the best store standards I’ve encountered.

This is best-in-class urban food retailing built around an unbridled celebration of fresh and local food. Why can’t more supermarkets be like this?

Bryan Roberts, Global Insights Director

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