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INNOVATION IN CRISIS TIMES_Aquí é: A case of successful retail innovation


One of the most effective ways of innovating in retail is to draw inspiration from philosophy, culture or other humanity-based themes.

Ourense’s Aqui é is an example of a new-generation supermarket that is based on a contemporary philosophy and discretely uses technologies to give shape to the concept.


On 30th October 2008, at the AECOC Conference in Barcelona, the General Manager of a major Spanish retail company said that, in times of crisis, he preferred ‘fine management’ over innovation.

By ‘fine management’ he meant eliminating unnecessary expenses, increasing productivity and avoiding projects with a high degree of uncertainty, despite the possibility of a positive outcome.  In other words: no innovative projects.


Meanwhile, in Ourense…

One day early, the inauguration of an innovative supermarket called Aqui é was celebrated 1080 kilometres away. This new chain was created by the Cuevas Group, a Galician food company famous for its Marron Glacé. A few years ago, Cuevas decided to open its own neighbourhood supermarkets. The group quickly realised that it had no choice but to innovate if it wanted to survive in this highly competitive environment.


The innovation process

The company’s executives, led by Manuel R. de la Fuente, are known for ‘thinking outside of the box’. They are hard-working and dare to fearlessly imagine things that don’t yet exist.

First of all, Rosa Franch, senior consultant and psychologist at m+f=!, organised focus groups to identify what ‘grocery shopping’ really means for end consumers. Based on these insights and under my guidance, the m+f=! team devised a range of possible options to define the shape of the new retail business model.

Finally, we found a source of inspiration: grocery shopping and cooking are such repetitive activities that they lead to tedium.  As a result, many people find themselves asking: ‘What should I make for lunch today?’.

Consequently, the m+f=! team decided to create an anti-tedium store that would not only help shoppers answer this question, but further link it to a contemporary lifestyle philosophy.

The Cuevas Group opted to sponsor a nutrition professorship at the University of Vigo. The University faculty develop daily menus based on seasonal ingredients. By using only products available at a specific time of the year, the food becomes not only more tasty and nutritious, but also more affordable. Besides, priority was given to products originating from the Galician region with the aim to reduce transport pollution.

Each day, in a special section of the supermarket, shoppers can read and print out the recipe of the day from an easy-to-use touch screen. Of course, all of the necessary ingredients are located nearby, as are pre-cooked versions of the menu of the day.


A meaningful shopping experience

The products at Aqui é supermarkets have electronic labels that ensure that there are no discrepancies between the shelf price and the price charged at the till. Furthermore, the scales are calibrated to make sure that customers don’t end up paying for packaging as if it were gourmet food.

The layout of the supermarket allows customers to shop in various ways: a quick trip to pick up some essentials, or a major purchasing route to fill the cupboards for a longer period. Moreover, Aqui é does not use the typical tricks like putting high-demand products at the back of the store, as this does nothing but annoy the customers.

When they are ready to pay, the customers form a single queue – that way they never get stuck in the slower queue. The chain also strives to be environmentally friendly: customers who do not ask for a plastic bag get a discount of 3 cents.


Success with a solid foundation

An average of 1,250 customers visit Aqui é every day. This creative company has had a spectacular impact in the media. Besides, it has proven capable of withstanding the crisis through innovation based on a contemporary philosophy.

To conclude, Aqui é offers a more authentic way of shopping, delivering a multi-sensory experience and more nutritious food, while maintaining affordable prices and protecting the environment.

Its slogan – ‘Where everything has a sense’ – reflects this sentiment.


Lluis Martinez-Ribes

Source: Distribución Actualidad, the spanish magazine of retail

(nº 397, December 2008)