It seems these days that most airports I go to have either a BILLA or sister concept REWE supermarket within them. This is a good thing, as I get a bonus store visit while waiting for my flight, I get to stock up on Haribo and because BILLA and REWE stores are generally rather lovely.

My most recent encounter was in Prague, encountering the obligatory outlet in the airport as well as this store which was located in the Fenix shopping centre adjacent to my hotel. In addition to BILLA, the shopping centre also included an M&S and a KFC, ensuring that my diet that day consisted primarily of fried chicken and Percy Pigs. Marvellous.

Thanks to a flurry of internationalisation in the 1990s, the Czech grocery sector is a remarkably cosmopolitan affair, with leading players consisting of REWE (BILLA and Penny), Schwarz Group (Lidl and Kaufland), Ahold Delhaize (Albert) and Tesco. This make-up means that the market is also intensely price-driven: Kaufland, Lidl and Penny leading the price agenda, with others like Tesco, Albert, Globus and BILLA scoring well on criteria like quality, experience and loyalty.

BILLA has forged a presence as leader in the supermarket space, other operators primarily focused on discounting or hypermarkets. It now trades from nearly 220 stores with an average sales area of around 900 sq. m. (9,700 sq. ft.). The stores have a strong focus on fresh, chilled, service counters and local sourcing. While this approach is by no means unique, BILLA’s positioning puts it towards the premium end of the market and the strength of this proposition serves to offset less favourable price perceptions to some extent.

Local sourcing is well communicated throughout the store (which sells predominantly Czech items), particularly in produce, with plenty of messaging and imagery around Czech farmers and suppliers. Elsewhere around the store, Czech products are called out through national flags on the shelf.

The produce section itself was most pleasant: wooden fixtures, some good lighting and colourful graphics coming together very effectively. There was a nod towards efficiency too, with supplier’s crates and BILLA’s own crates able to be slotted onto shelving with a minimum of fuss.

As one progressed through the store – which as a kind of an odd L shape thanks to its shopping centre location – the service counters were arranged along the right-hand wall, with bakery, deli, meat and fish all more than respectable. The bakery service counter was being used to supply the self-serve bakery area that was made up of quite an attractive basket / plastic dome combination, while the fish counter and the meat counter both offered solid ranges with some nice touches like handwritten signage.

BILLA sells an extensive array of PL items that sit alongside their branded equivalents. The mainstream BILLA brand with its distinctive yellow branding offers an alternative to brands, with the Clever economy range offering an option for more budget-conscious shoppers. There are also PL lines that cover off premium, organic, convenience and Czech produce, combining to create an impressive portfolio.

I quite liked the way in which BILLA calls out the seven various ways in which shoppers can achieve enhanced value for money, including general price cuts, the BILLA Bonus Club, multipacks and via the Clever economy range. While this can occasionally mean that there is something of a POS overload, it nonetheless convincingly signals BILLA’s credentials in affordability.

With splendid BWS and seasonal areas to explore on the way through to the checkouts, a trip to BILLA is always a pleasant experience. The staff are always faultlessly polite and helpful, notwithstanding my weaknesses in foreign languages, and I get the sense that BILLA is offering enough in terms of differentiation, service and range to ably fend off price-driven competition from elsewhere.

Bryan Roberts, Global Insights Director

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