As 2009 draws to its end, the food industry will look back with relief that the economic meltdown has failed to lived up to some of the worst fears expressed at the start of the year. Nevertheless, the crisis in the financial markets has had a profound impact on the ‘real economy’. 2009 was the year of the value message. Grocers have had to adapt their offer to appeal to more price-conscious consumers and competitive activity has stepped up around price and promotions. In a competitive environment, there are winners and losers and here is just-food’s take on the food retailers that have prospered over the past year and those who have become casualties of the adverse economic conditions.

2009 was a good year for:

1. X5 Retail Group
Russian retailer X5 has continued its march this year, driving growth through its multi-format strategy and focus on value. Despite an increasing tendency to trade down among Russian consumers, X5 has posted resilient like-for-like sales since the onset of the economic crisis, outperforming its competition. During the year, X5 bought out franchisees and, at the end of November, sealed the acquisition of the Paterson chain – a move that will increase its store count by around 25%. Looking ahead, X5 has announced plans to open up to 275 stores in 2010. However, challenges lay ahead. Russia’s economy remains exposed to volatile commodities markets and unemployment and poverty are still on the rise. Add to the mix the likelihood that Moscow will move to curb the growth of retailers in the country and to oversee their relationship with suppliers, and X5 could be in for a rougher ride in the new year.

2. Waitrose
Upmarket UK grocer Waitrose has been viewed as slightly out of the mainstream of retailing in the country. However, this year the company has moved to broaden its appeal. Waitrose has moved to realign its private-label ranges with the good-better-best model so popular among retailers. The success of Waitrose’s newly-launched entry-level Essentials line has proven that value is about more than price to UK consumers. The company has also side-stepped the fact that its mid-level Waitrose line is strongly associated with quality – and that consumers already pay a premium for the fact – by teaming with Duchy Originals, the organic food manufacturer established by the Prince of Wales, for the launch of its new top-of-the-line range. A key challenge facing Waitrose is that its narrow store base fails to reach millions of consumers. The company has responded with plans to invest in opening new stores and expanding in the convenience channel. 2010 looks set to be anothr interesting year for the high-end grocer.

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3. Coles
Under the ownership of conglomerate Wesfarmers and with a new management team now firmly entrenched, Australia’s second-largest supermarket has made progress on its turnaround strategy in 2009. Coles’ strategy has focused on ushering in a top-to-bottom cultural change – from the formation of a new leadership team, to better incentives for store management, to training at store-level. In a bid to improve its appeal, Coles has also re-evaluated its consumer offer, placing greater emphasis on customer service, better store layout and improved in-store availability. Meanwhile, Coles has also looked to improve its fresh product assortment. Despite what the group has termed a “cautious” and “value-conscious” consumer environment in Australia, Coles has been able to post a series of solid sales figures – a far cry from the turmoil the group previously faced.

4. CBD
Brazil’s largest retailer, CBD, has seen a buoyant 2009. The company, better known through its trading name Grupo Pao de Acucar, has followed a policy of aggressive price cuts and cost controls. The group has grown both sales and profits during the period and is currently on the look out for strategic acquisition opportunities. CBD, jointly controlled by French retailer Casino, recently secured funding of BRL600m (US$318.4m) to fuel acquisitive expansion. While the company has remained coy about whether it has identified any specific targets, industry watchers would not be surprised were the group to announce that it had snapped up a local peer in the coming year. At the tail-end of 2009, CBD indicated its intention to drive further growth in its home market through the formation of a strategic venture to sell food and non-food products with Casa Bahia Comercial, the country’s largest retailer of durable goods.

5. Pantaloon Retail
Pantaloon Retail has a significant and growing share of the mouth-watering Indian food retail market. In fiscal 2009, the company booked an 11% jump in annual profits, despite a slowing of India’s growth rate due to the economic crisis. Growth has continued into the first quarter of fiscal 2010, when profits jumped 21%. The company, which operates retail chains including Big Bazaar and Food Bazaar, span off its food businesses into a wholly-owned subsidiary in order to drive growth at the unit. The move is designed to increase the focus of the Bazaar businesses and Pantaloon intends to increase the number of Big Bazaar outlets it operates from 119 to 275 stores by 2014. The company is also seeking potential acquisitions to expand its food business. Pantaloon has clearly got the march on foreign retailers, whose expansion in India is held back by logistical issues and rules governing foreign direct investment.

2009 was a bad year for:

1. Carrefour
The optimism the market felt for Carrefour following its appointment of new CEO and former Nestle executive Lars Olofsson has – for this year at least – failed to translate into a tangible improvement in performance. Despite a focus on pricing, promotions and marketing, the world’s second-largest retailer has failed to turn around its French business. The group has expanded its supermarket and convenience store activities and focused on brand-building with the launch of its Carrefour Market brand. However, hypermarket sales remain lacklustre. The format has struggled as French consumers continue to turn to local shopping options and the recession depresses demand for non-food. Carrefour has also had problems overseas. Just four months after launching its first hypermarket in Russia, Carrefour beat a humiliating retreat from the market.

2. Penn Traffic 
In November, the regional US supermarket group was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The company, which operates P&C, Quality and BiLo supermarkets in the north-east of the US, has seen a long decline in profits and revenues. Management attributed Penn Traffic’s declining footfall and sales to the difficult consumer environment and fierce competition. Aggressive cost-cutting measures have proved unsuccessful. Since entering Chapter 11, Penn Traffic has trimmed under-performing stores and insisted that it hopes to return to profitability. Nevertheless, rumours have persisted that the group could be a potential takeover target – with the likes of Price Chopper and Tops cited as likely suitors.

3. Supervalu Inc
US supermarket group Supervalu has witnessed declining sales and profits this year and attempts to adjust its value positioning have had limited success. Supervalu has attempted to move away from promotional activity and towards everyday low prices and has implemented this new strategy on a market-by-market basis. In a bid to improve profits, Supervalu quit the Utah market where its Albertsons stores had lost their market leading position. The company has also indicated that it plans to double the size of its Save-A-Lot discount format over the next five years in a bid to increase its appeal to price conscious US consumers. Despite attempts to rejuvenate the business, Suoervalu has been forced to repeatedly cut its forecasts for the fiscal and 2010 looks set to be another challenging year.

4. Casino
French retailer Casino has seen its sales dip this year on domestic weakness. Like Carrefour, Casino’s French hypermarket business has struggled, despite targeted price cuts at the unit. However – and perhaps of greater concern for the French retail giant – Casino has also seen sales fall at its convenience formats, Monoprix, Casino Supermarkets and Franprix. In the highly competitive convenience sector, Casino could well have to increase its focus on price if it is to win back momentum – but it will have to do so without sacrificing margins. The company may also have to focus on the development of increasingly popular private-label products. In a bid to improve its French performance, Casino has said it will reorganise its operations, bringing responsibility for its supermarket and hypermarket units under one roof. As these changes come into effect, Casino’s increased focus could have a considerable impact on the French market in the coming year.

5. Seventh Continent
Despite growing sales, Russian retailer Seventh Continent has struggled to remain afloat this year due to high debts at a time when the financial markets are drying up. The company was the subject of on-again, off-again takeover speculation for much of the past twelve months, with Carrefour cited as a primary suitor. However, when a deal failed to materialise, reports suggested that the company was nearing financial collapse. The company narrowly avoided bankruptcy through an agreement to restructure its debt. Majority owner Alexander Zanadvorov – who holds a 74.8% stake in the retailer – will reportedly surrender part of his stake to Seventh Continent’s creditors. According to Russian retail watchers, the company’s new financial structure will help the company get out of debt and resume the development of the chain.