The Portuguese market – often overlooked by folks in the industry when it comes to places that are worth a look for inspiration and education – is actually a cracking destination, with some of the best operators in Europe plying their trade in the face of economic headwinds and shifting consumer behaviours. The top two spots are taken by domestic conglomerates SONAE and Jeronimo Martins, leaving in their trail a Franco-German roll call comprising Intermarché, Auchan, Lidl, Leclerc and Aldi, with Spanish-based discounter Dia also making an appearance.

Portugal is an interesting microcosm that brings out some key themes that reflect the world of grocery retailing in general: slightly creaking hypermarket models; disruptive discounters; e-commerce and smartphone innovation; interesting developments around loyalty schemes and campaigns; and rapid evolution to meet changing dynamics in society and dietary habits.

I’ve already paid homage here to the majestic reinvention of the Continente (SONAE) hypermarket concept, so for the sake of even-handedness, here’s another interpretation of the big box of the future from Pingo Doce (Jeronimo Martins). I have only just this minute realised that I have no idea what Pingo Doce means, so thanks to the magical powers of the internet, I now know that it translates as Sweet Drop. Every day’s a school day.

JM is perhaps best known in global retail for the discount concept that it invented in Poland in 1995: Biedronka (which I already knew means ‘ladybird’) now trades through nearly 2,800 stores and has achieved market leadership from a standing start in a little over 20 years. Remarkable stuff.

Back in Portugal, Pingo Doce is the heart of JM’s retailing business, largely operating through smaller footprint supermarkets in urban settings. The retailer has carved out a reputation for value, largely in the guise of an EDLP approach, together with decent credentials in fresh produce and service counters. Private brand has been another area of focus and the range that has been created stands up pretty well in comparisons to any other retailer in mainland Europe.

The Pingo Doce stores that I’ve in encountered on my travels in Portugal in the past have tended to be fairly run of the mill: standard neighbourhood or urban stores, often with quirky or constrained footprints, which have meant that my experience has been broadly neutral. Nothing wrong in terms of availability, range, quality, price or service, but nothing massively energising or aspirational either.

The store in the Telheiras suburb of Lisbon was totally renovated two years ago and has changed my point of view somewhat. Trading from a hefty 6,000 sq. m. (compared to a chainwide average along the lines of 1,200 sq. m.), the store would most likely be characterised as a hypermarket bey any other retailer. However, Pingo Doce has a minimal assortment in terms of general merchandise – its stores might typically offer a smattering of media, toys and kitchenware. So, in this store, there are no departments devoted to sports, fashion or electronics.

Instead, what we have is a remarkably spacious food store with lavish amounts of square footage afforded to fresh, frozen and ambient grocery; a superb array of service counters; a 300-seat restaurant; an excellent showing in specialty areas like organic and free-from; and some frankly awesome supplier promotional space.

I’m a million miles away from being remotely qualified to discuss topics like graphic design, architecture, or fixtures & fittings, but my lack of authority should not undermine my opinion that this store is drop-dead gorgeous. Features such as the tessellated tiling above the fish counter bring to mind the ocean; the dropped ceiling in BWS evoked (to me, at least) bubbles; and the rest of the store was full of similar design touches that really enhanced navigability and shopper experience.

Service counters were excellent: whether one considers fresh fish, salt cod, meat, food-for-later, meat, charcuterie or cheese, the levels of presentation and value-added services were second to none. Produce is another highlight: the graphics, fixtures and lighting conveyed freshness and abundance and actually lived up to the designers’ pledge of recreating a traditional market to some extent.

I’ve already mentioned the opportunities afforded to suppliers in the store, and these included some absolutely storming end-caps, including some belters in unlikely categories such as laundry and booze as well as the more obvious categories like confectionery. I know that I’m a sucker for a jaunty end-cap, but these are just world-beating.

What was great about this store was that Pingo Doce had resisted the temptation to jam the store with non-food or third-party operations to use up the space for the sake of using up the space. Instead, they’ve allowed their areas of expertise some room to breathe, creating a shopper journey and environment that encourages repeat visits. What I love about this job is being pleasantly surprised – this store is a wonderful example of that feeling.

Bryan Roberts, Global Insight Director

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