While in the Sydney CBD for lunch on a recent Saturday, I took the opportunity to visit two new CBD supermarkets. Woolworths Barrack St is the latest in their small format metro convenience stores, whereas Romeo IGA has gone down the premium supermarket route – almost like a Thomas Dux of yore – with its new Martin Place store.
WOOLWORTHS BARRACK STREET
This store on the corner of York and Barrack Sts is a small footprint – it felt even smaller than the WW Central on Elizabeth St. This limits its fresh and premium impact.
You’re greeted by a wall mural depicting different types of store shoppers, and the checkouts dead ahead and a ‘fresh to go’ chiller on the right containing $9 lunch sandwich/snack/drink sets. Beyond this is a couple of bays of bakery and a bay of hot foods (ie, pies), adjacent the soup station (which is easy to miss).
Around the store:
Up a couple of stairs is the centre store and frozen foods chillers. All pretty standard aside from some interesting merchandising of confectionery at the bottom of the dairy chillers. Commensurate with the food-to-go focus, an entire aisle side featured noodles and other ready to eat meals. A display of health food bars talked to the store’s pushbike riding contingent, but may have been better placed near the checkouts. A surprising display was the Nutri Ninja smoothie blenders, on special for $44.50. Despite the obviously well-heeled crowd that would visit this store midweek, I did wonder if they would spend nearly $50 on an impulse item when their planned basket spend would only be around $20.
The small store footprint and dull grey flooring compromises both the premium feel and range. A utilitarian store but not a premium experience like the other Woolworths small format stores. It serves its purpose for quick in and out lunch to go and a destination or emergency item purchases but lacks wow factor.
ROMEO IGA MARTIN PLACE
This store underneath the MLC Centre is slightly confusing to find. Nearing the size of an average Coles or Woolworths, its emphasis is on premium products. More than half the store is given over to fresh and premium items.
As you descend the escalator you encounter the mini café with barista made coffee. You’re then funnelled around to the left where the fresh section starts. The first thing you hit is a wall of premix tub and bag salads (but no salad dressings – missed opportunity), and premium soups. This is the first of several areas with fresh soups.
The bakery has a number of single serve items, but also upmarket larger cakes for entertaining purposes (and likely office birthday celebrations). Further down from the bakery is a curved delicatessen section containing meats and cheeses and, oddly, a double-up of the premix salads, this time presented open in dishes. Near this is a chiller half-filled with various ready to eat meals based on duck.
On the other side, around past the island fresh benches, is a wall of packaged baked goods followed by an interesting little sit-down area featuring (unpriced) premium nougats presented in Christmas-tree style. These were very tempting, but because they were unpriced I didn’t buy one as I didn’t know whether a wedge would be $5, $10, or $20.
Once you get past all the fun stuff, the centre store categories let the rest of the store down a bit. There are no aisle, category or subcategory headers, so even though the aisles themselves are low profile, navigation is not easy. The branded illuminated headers in the personal care corner don’t match the products beneath them, which is confusing.
A wall of Lindt chocolate products (single, block and box formats) adjacent to the checkouts was a premium and canny impulse touch, marred somewhat by the excessive yappiness of the self-checkout machines all yammering in unison. For a store this size, it is well served by numerous self-serve and serviced checkouts to cater to busy lunchtime and post-work trading periods.
Warm lighting and nice flooring along with good fixturisation help give this store a premium look and feel. Although not necessarily appropriate for suburban locations, this type of format is a step in an interestingly differentiated direction for IGA and has sufficient interesting products to keep regular shoppers returning to try new things – even if the ‘premiumness’ in some categories such as soup and biscuits is inconsistently carried across into other categories, such as condiments. Its premium range is well suited to its corporate shopping target. I’ll be back – just not for centre store items.
*Disclaimer: author’s experience not necessarily representative of all stores in the chains visited, as is based on that store on that day.
Norrelle Goldring is shopper lead, APAC at global research and retail datahouse, GfK and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.