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Sahakari Bhandar: From a staid consumer co-operative to a modern and eco-friendly grocery chain

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is Mumbai’s most visited and preferred grocery store for more than 50 years. With 24 branches strategically located from Colaba to Virar, it offers convenience, good quality, safety and consistent availability of products to its customers. The legacy of trust continues since 1966, servicing more than millions of happy families. , although a co-operative, is an exciting blend of modern retailing with deep understanding of daily needs of its customers.

Progressive Grocer spoke to , Chairman – Sahakari Bhandar, about the metamorphosis of a once sleepy stateowned cooperative retail chain into a bustling, bright and swanky neighborhood store chain today, which sells everything from groceries and frozen foods to household care and with a pleasant ambience and hygiene that have the stamp of professionalism everywhere.

What is the customer proposition and market positioning of Sahakari Bhandar store chain today?

Sahakari Bhandar is primarily a neighborhood grocery store fulfilling the monthly baskets of consumers in and around the store’s neighborhood. We sell all the day-to-day necessities – fruits and vegetables, frozen foods, bakery, food grains, FMCG products, household care, general purpose items, among others. The product range also includes hand-made diya batti to an eco-friendly Ganesha idol, home-made (not branded) fresh dosa atta, chutneys, biscuits, etc. Basically, the stores have all the day-to-day necessities expected of an ideal convenience store.

With its positioning of ‘Sahi Quality, Sahi Price!, people from the middle-income group and local residents looking for a fair price deal form a major part of the target group of Sahakari Bhandar stores. Women initially formed the main target group; however, over the past decade or so, with all the infrastructural changes made at the stores, thanks to the JV with Reliance, consumers come to Sahakari Bhandar with their families and children to enjoy the overall shopping experience.

We have a loyal base of customers who have been shopping at our stores for over 10, 15, 20 years and more, thanks to the quality of the products and their very competitive price. Also, due to the cooperative legacy of 40 years, the strategic locations of the stores, and their fair price image, Sahakari Bhandar enjoys a strong customer connect, which we are determined to build on and improve further. Besides our neighborhood convenience stores, we have four new Smart SB stores, which are positioned as destination stores.

Tell us about the location strategy of your stores.

Sahakari Bhandar outlets are located at 24 locations in Mumbai – Colaba to Virar and in primary trading areas having high density of customers to the population. These locations mainly have (unplanned) kirana stores selling maximum of two category products. This where Sahakari Bhandar comes into play with almost all everyday use items sold under one roof! All the locations of or branches as well as their phone numbers are listed at the back of the bags available at the store.

Which are your top-selling PLs in food and what are your plans to augment and expand your PLs?

Our Private Label in staples is a leading contributor in that category. We are working on adding to our PL…recently we have added paper products to our private label range.

With 24 stores in different localities of Mumbai, how do you manage your product assortment?

The assortment at SB stores is neighborhood specific and based on our catchment study. We also work on community connect activities in our catchments, which gives us a better understanding of the requirements in different localities.

How are you making use of technology for more efficient store operations?

Our stores have embraced enterprise resource planning with (ERP) software. We also use SAP to manage the front-end and back-end operations of the chain.

How would you describe the path-to-purchase journey and the shopping experience at SB stores?

The design of SB stores is based on the allocation of floor space into selling space, merchandise space, personnel space, and customer space. All the stores are air-conditioned and sport a glass facade. The stores are open from 9 am to 9 pm through 7 days a week. Trolleys are arranged at the entrance and parking is available at the entrance of the store. With soft music playing in the background and an open assortment display of products, the consumers are encouraged to look and feel the products.

There are neatly labeled bays for consumers to easily identify and move to the required bay. Each bay has products arranged on the shelves at an easily reachable level. Products are arranged as per the categories in a rack display with competing brands placed on the same shelf so as to give the consumer a wider range to choose from. Products are arranged neatly on the shelves – heavy packets are kept at the base so that the consumer can easily pick it up from there. Th e shelves are arranged in a way that the highest one is just above the eye level and consumers can easily reach out for products. All the stores have uniformed staff , and store personnel are extremely friendly and helpful.

We have a Customer Care Centre too for the consumers in case they want to return the goods or replace and exchange the goods under warranty that are damaged, etc. We also operate a phone-based home delivery model called SB Suvidha.

Over the past few years, every aspect of the shop floor — shelves, racks, freezers, chillers, cash counters and hygiene — has been upgraded and refurbished to make grocery shopping a pleasant and enjoyable experience at SB stores.

How would you like grocery shoppers to perceive your store brand and what have been your initiatives towards fulfilling your customer promise and delivering on your brand values?

With our promise of offering “Sahi Quality and Sahi Price”, the SB brand has been consistent in delivering quality products along with the promise of food safety to its customers. Thanks to our supply chain strength, our stores are known for 100 percent product availability together with competitive pricing, offering service with a smile, and giving consumers the benefit of value-added promos and schemes.

Tell us about any interesting concepts or innovations that you have introduced at your stores to make shopping more consumercentric.

“Buy any 1 & Get any 1 free” is the new selling mantra and we are leveraging this formula to the hilt through prominent displays and product adjacencies. Also, from time to time, we conduct various shopping-centric activities, which include distribution of periodical leafl ets, SMS blast, Train Jingles, Diwali Dhamaka, SCAP, among other activities.

As a responsible retailer, we conduct and carry out various community-building -and consumerconnect initiatives, which have helped the SB brand establish a special place in the localities we serve in.

Can you elaborate on some of your community building and consumer-connect initiatives as a retailer?

Being a responsible retailer, we believe that “when a store becomes a good member of the society, commerce also flourishes”. We were first retailer in Mumbai to work on reducing plastic carry bags. To promote this cause, we first distributed 50K free cotton bags, and also offered 0.5 percent discount to the customer bringing cotton bags.

We launched a Tetrapak recycling initiative in our stores, wherein SB stores installed collection bins so that a customer could bring back a used
• Tetrapak carton back and deposit the same. We recycled those cartons into note books, school benches and garden benches. School benches were donated to municipal/ local schools so that children could sit on the bench instead of the floor. In all, we have recycled 3.2 million Tetrapak cartons, donated 250 school benches and 175 Garden benches so far. Our initiative was featured in the Limca Book of Records and National Geographic. Today many schools, corporates, institutes, housing societies, and food service operators are actively involved in this project that we started.
• Another initiative is to train and recruit differently-abled boys/girls, and offering them a job and professional recognition. Today, SB has recruited almost 50 plus staff from this pool who are working and earning a proud living.
• At our large stores, we have installed plastic bottle crushing machines, apart from putting in place E-waste collection bins.
• Every SB store has tied up with a local NGO and helps support the cause of the NGO.
• Every store periodically cleans/ sweeps the street/ neighborhood/ nearest railway station under the Swachhata Abhiyan.

How would you describe your strengths and achievements so far?

We are leaders in Mumbai city, a trusted brand with a legacy of more than 50 years. Our supply chain is our key strengths thanks to our partnership with the largest retailer in India.

What is your roadmap for the future?

We are looking at moving to Tier II/III cities of India where we see a great potential for our format