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Raising the Bar by Creating New Retail Formats and Food Concepts

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India’s largest Retailer with nearly 1300 stores under its wing across various business categories and retail formats is not content to rest on its laurels or even take a breather. Whether it is creating new formats, foraying into new consumer segments or cranking up its store count, Reliance Retail has shown itself to be unstoppable.

Last month, Reliance Retail caused a stir by bringing an International convenience store chain to India under the franchise model and launching the country’s first experiential gourmet superstore in Mumbai, marking its entry into the ultra-premium food and grocery segment.

The launch of Freshpik can be seen as the start of a promising new chapter towards opening more gourmet stores in cities like Delhi, Bangalore, Gurgaon, among others. With about 800 food and grocery stores across 180 towns and cities, operating mostly in the value and mass segment, Reliance Retail’s foray into the super-premium grocery space and how it moves ahead will be watched with keen interest and anticipation.

Last month, Reliance Retail made a big splash with two spectacular store launches in quick succession. First, came the grand debut of International convenience stores chain 7-Eleven in India with the maiden launch in Andheri East, Mumbai. Following close on the heels was another glittering launch of Freshpik, Reliance Retail’s ultra-premium grocery superstore, at the ritzy Jio World Drive in Bandra-Kurla Complex, Mumbai.

The new launches have further burnished Reliance Retail’s credentials as the largest and most profitable retailer in India with the widest reach. It is also amongst the fastest growing retailers in the world and is ranked 53rd in the list of Top Global Retailers and is the only Indian Retailer to feature in the Top 100. The company operates 13,635 physical stores spread over more than 7,000 cities in India, spanning 37.3 million sq.ft. of retail space across retail verticals such as Fashion & Lifestyle, Consumer Electronics, Food & Grocery, and Pharma.

Reliance Retail operates neighbourhood stores, supermarkets, hypermarkets, wholesale and online stores in the Food & Grocery space and the business is focused on retailing food, fresh produce, bakery, dairy products, home and personal care products, as well as general merchandise items. It also has its own private label brands such as Best Farms, Good Life, Masti Oye, Kaffe, Enzo, Mopz, Expelz and Home One across categories like staples, food, home, personal care and general merchandise.

Ever since its inception in 2006, when Reliance Industries Limited entered the Food & Grocery business through its first Reliance Fresh store, Reliance Retail has scripted a blazing trail of success and innovation across India’s Food & Grocery landscape. In a short period, it has forged strong and enduring bonds with millions of consumers by providing them unlimited choice, outstanding value proposition, superior quality and unmatched shopping experience across all its stores.

Bringing Experiential Gourmet Format to India

The launch of Freshpik, a first-of-its-kind experiential gourmet food was a head-turning event and set tongues wagging about the store’s awesome features. This über-premium store is designed to allow in-house immersive experiences across various food and beverage categories with many novel and innovative concepts being introduced for the first time in India.

“All our F&B concepts are designed keeping in mind the refined sensibilities of the modern-day gourmand. Each of them offers something unique and wholesome appealing to a wider set of audiences. Coupled with technology and personalised service, these F&B formats will be trendsetters. That’s what inspired us to create Freshpik,” said Isha Ambani, Director, Reliance Retail.

The range of food items offered at Freshpik include staples; freshly picked fruits and vegetables – with specially curated exotic and organic varieties and live microgreens; essential ingredients for international cuisines such as Italian, Thai, Japanese, Korean; a rich selection of finest breads, artisanal cheese, ice creams, frozen desserts and chocolates from local and international producers; and handcrafted delicacies including muffins, cakes, cookies and pastries with keto-friendly, gluten, vegan, high-protein options.

Farm Fresh food and vegetables are always available at Freshpik where you can pick from a variety of exotic fruits and vegetables sourced from across the world. The store showcases new techniques of self-growing herbs like hydroponic and aquaponic, making it an experience that you cannot miss.

While the past few years have seen several gourmet and premium grocery stores open in India with the likes of Foodhall and Nature’s Basket in the vanguard, Freshpik has been conceived along a very different concept and format. The crux of Freshpik’s identity is of a store that is all about offering new engagements and experiences to the shoppers by way of discovery, new learnings and knowledge and through solutions that make your grocery-buying journey incredibly rich and enjoyable.

“The perception of good food is evolving every day. So is the benchmark for product quality, trust and shopping experience. Food shopping has moved from monotonous and transactional to one full of fun, exploration, learning & discovery — a process where one bonds with food, feels it with all the five senses — and the heart, and then takes a conscious buying decision. Designed keeping in mind the refined tastes and delicate aesthetic sensibilities of food connoisseurs and well-travelled gourmands, the Freshpik store offers a melange of food products and beverages presented through a bevy of immersive shopping concepts”, said a Reliance Retail statement put out on the eve of Freshpik’s launch last month.

Through discussions, innovation charts, Freshpik engages with all its vendor partners for developing a theatrical and interactive retail display, rather than simply displaying the stock. That’s how even a mundane activity like munching on popcorn or waffles or buying tea takes on a whole new magical transmogrifying dimension at Freshpik. The store ensures that only the best assortment in each category is on sale. Further, Freshpik regularly collaborates with vendor partners to come up with novel and products and thus create new experiences for the customers.

In fact, the store works with its vendors to create new food concepts and enriching experiences and showcase what’s the latest in each category. Take, for example, a product like tea. At Freshpik, a tea buyer gets to learn and experience about new trends and concepts in the tea category, like bubble tea, which is the latest trend in the category. Similarly, customers not only get to savour the best popcorn variety but also learn about how it can be mixed with other ingredients to create exciting new flavours and recipes.

At the store’s snacking section, which also houses Epigamia’s first yogurt bar in India, one comes across different ways to make snacking healthier. The yogurt bar offers a one-of-a-kind experience where the in-house experts create healthier and yummier snacking options made with fresh, locally-sourced ingredients that keep you healthy and happy.

At the yogurt bar, fun and flavour go hand in hand as shoppers are presented with an array of healthy options like yogurt bowls with the most delicious and wholesome toppings, freshly made waffles with yogurt, mouth-watering yogurt ice-creams, smoothies and more. Shoppers also get to learn about how to mix a purely indulgence product like waffle with healthy ingredients to make the consumption tasty but guilt-free.

“If good food is your thing, Freshpik is a paradise. It’s a playground to delight all our senses, touch, see, smell, hear, taste, enjoy. Come with your own wish-list of food. I promise, the discoveries will surprise you. Freshpik is a food experience, not just a store,” says Damodar Mall, CEO, Grocery Retail, Reliance Retail.

His words find an echo in the sentiments expressed by Laltendu Panda, Snr. VP & Chief Marketing Officer, Reliance Retail – Grocery, who says: “Having launched 1200+ stores across India, I was sure I had seen it all. But then came Freshpik. A first-of-its-kind experiential gourmet food superstore that combines innumerable immersive concepts with a digitally enriched, personalized shopping experience. Cut-and-dried? Well, try out the Chef’s Table at Freshpik. Julienned, brunoised, macedoined — any way you like, all of it a cut above the rest.”

Avinash Tripathi, Vice President, Concept Head – Premium Grocery at Reliance Retail, says: “Freshpik is complete food destination where you find wholesome solutions to your and your family’s food desires. It is not just another gourmet food store stocking International and imported food products…it is a technology-driven format…here you get to enjoy the experience of being surrounded by an array of creative food solutions and engagements to delight your senses, which you cannot find at any other gourmet store in India. At every point along the customer’s journey, there are many levels of engagement and experience via live food concepts and innovations to excite the shopper.”

The layout of the store has been designed very intelligently and intuitively so as to offer a seamless buying experience with the category adjacencies and customer requirements kept in mind. For instance, wine and cheese have a common area to encourage pairings and adjacent to the wine and cheese section is the area stocking cheese accessories.

Likewise, bang opposite to the bakery section is the area where a shopper can find all the ingredients and accessories for baking needs. In terms of engagement and experience, the wine section has an in-built tasting room where customers can try wines and beers of their choice, and even engage in appreciation and education sessions.

Similarly, the confectionery section boasts of customised 3D printing of chocolates, introduced for the first time in India, at the Cadbury Purple room, a unique Cadbury experience zone. Not only do you get to enjoy live 3D printing of chocolates, but also get treated to the entire range of Cadbury chocolates, interactive chocolate gaming, savour Oreo milkshakes, and much more. Chocoholics can also buy the finest and best of chocolates from Godiva, Smoor, Cadbury and a host of finest farm-to-bar, bean-to-bar and artisanal chocolate brands like Paul and Mike.

For kids, there is The Candy Paradise with lip-smacking delights and which also serves as a candy wonderland for any adult’s inner child. They can dive into a world of colours and watch them come alive with interactive counters, never ending rows of candies and fun games. At Freshpik, you also get to access the exclusive M&M’s merchandise, and the option to pick and buy your favorite color M&M’s from an interactive dispensing unit – that is signature to the brand globally.

You feel like passing through a rainbow dream as you experience the world of M&M’s come alive around you at Freshpik. Again, in a first for India, Freshpik brings India’s First M&M’s Experience Arena, where you connect with the iconic M&M’s brand in a fun and memorable way.

And it doesn’t end here for the kids and their parents! They can also enjoy a serving of fresh milkshake and waffles at Epigamia’s Yogurt Bar or live popcorn and cotton candy pop-ups at 4700BC popcorn. At the staples counter, they can watch nut butter or nut milk being freshly prepared.

The ‘Good for You’ range of premium and healthy food products caters to the diverse dietary preferences of the health-conscious customers. Apart from this, customers can also choose from exotic varieties of tea and coffee; a wide range of personal care products, including premium ayurvedic and natural products; a host of kitchen accessories like cooking ware, serveware, and bespoke and ready-to-pick gifting options.

Freshpik has a bay dedicated to good-for-you products where health-conscious customers can find a melange of products across various categories to suit their dietary needs: sugar-free, gluten-free, vegan, organic, cook-and-freeze, and more. About 80% of the products at Freshpik are artisanal and imported while the rest belongs to the class of very select assortment. Most artisanal products are sourced from niche Indian suppliers while others are from reputed International food companies but Freshpik is careful about not being perceived as a store for imported foods.

Another centerpiece is the Gift shop at Freshpik where you can pick from a world of personalized choices for the most sophisticated palates — ranging from artisanal cheese to confectionaries to luxury chocolates to handpicked teas to spa cosmetics and much more. Shoppers can choose the perfect Gift Of Joy from ready-to-pick curated hampers, or customise a hamper with the help of the gifting experts at the store. One can pick from a delectable range of options from Macarons to cupcakes, Indian sweets & savouries to dry fruits, from cheese platters to luxury chocolates, the choices are endless. All this goodness comes presented in expertly designed, exquisite packing options. Freshpik’s wide range of hamper options is available ranging from Rs. 600 onwards.

For consumers wishing to switch to an eco-friendly-zero-waste lifestyle, Freshpik offers wholesome, completely organic cold-pressed oils that are good for you and Mother Nature. One can pick from the best in Groundnut Oil, White Sesame Oil, Safflower Oil, Sunflower Oil and more.

For instance, the oils from Adrish – a zero waste organic store – are wood pressed, organically cultivated and extracted by traditional processes. Apart from being nutrient-rich, they come packed in glass bottles for zero waste. You can bring in your own containers and refill the oil, thus avoiding packing waste.

The store offers completely organic spices like garam masala, sambar masala, rasam masala, idli podi, dalchini powder, buknu salt, black pepper powder and more. The spices are stone-ground, indigenous seeds, organically cultivated, extracted by traditional process, nutrient rich and packed in glass bottles.

Apart from artisanal products that cater to gourmet tastes and meet niche needs, the focus is also on traditional and ethnic foods. For example, at Freshpik one can find exquisite ethnic foods and other curated traditional products like different varieties of samosa, apart from foods in Japanese, Mexican, Italian and other International cuisine range. The House Of Cheese, at Freshpik boasts of the finest and wholesome artisanal cheese collection from across the world.

“Gourmet is not just about celebrating western foods and international cuisines but also about our own regional and ethnic foods. At Freshpik, you can find a rich range of gourmet products from reputed ethnic food brands,” notes Tripathi.

One such food brand available at Freshpik is Postcard, which sells over 40 snack products, namkeens, pickles and sweets. These foods are made by reputed food artisans and families that are in the business since decades. The brand has become synonymous with authentic, local Indian Food, by introducing specialty food from different parts of India, enabling consumers to discover diverse taste, ethnicities and their local flavours, with an assurance of quality.

“There are artisanal producers in India for every food category and Freshpik sources from these gourmet artisanal brands from India as well as from overseas. Most other premium gourmet stores lean heavily toward imported and International foods, but at Freshpik most products are from niche artisanal brands of India, which can be part of the buying basket of aspiring and discerning shoppers. So, a lot of our gourmet products are sourced from local artisanal producers in the gourmet category and we are looking to partner with more such artisanal and start-up brands making premium products,” says Tripathi.

In many ways, Freshpik serves as a platform for niche and artisanal brands to showcase their products to discerning customers. “We are going deeper and further into every food category and their sub-categories…we are looking for the new and emerging trends in the market across these categories and we are trying to bring into our sourcing network all such artisanal brands who meet these trends with their high manufacturing standards and who can offer us a unique value offering in their niche.”

Inspired by the Best Retail Models from across the World

A distinctive aspect of Freshpik is its imaginative integration of digital and physical themes designed to elevate the experience of shopping to a whole new plane. The store offers ‘Omnichannel’ service complemented with digitally enriched in-store experience that features a ‘Personal Shopper’ where customers can do a quick self check-out and enjoy a smooth and hassle-free shopping trip.

In fact, the use of cutting edge technology in all operational areas is a major differentiating highlight at Freshpik. All end-caps in the store are LED-enabled, and they play out educative videos about the products and the sourcing stories behind those products. Freshpik is also working to introduce the concept of an “endless aisle”, which will enable customers to buy even those products that may not be available in the store. Customers can browse through the assortment on a screen and can choose to buy a product even if it is not currently available in the shop — all that one needs to do is to place an order for the product, which will be automatically delivered to the customer’s doorstep at the earliest.

Freshpik plans to begin online delivery soon, and it is working on an App that is expected to be launched in the coming months. The online delivery service will be facilitated with state-of-the-art conveyor belt technology. Online orders will be fulfilled with an aerial conveyor belt, which will not disturb the regular shopping regimen of the store. Online orders for the products will be serviced via a conveyor belt that moves along the store’s ceiling, and is connected to the back-area from where the products are collected, sorted and delivered. The inspiration for introducing this technology came from Alibaba’s new concept Hema grocery store in Shanghai, which has become the cynosure of all shoppers’ eyes in China’s biggest commercial megalopolis.

Tripathi says that the inspiration for the different innovative retail models at Freshpik has come from looking at some of the most superlative formats and benchmarks across the globe…from places like China, the US, Canada and from global avant-garde retailers.

“Freshpik is not a replica of any single new concept store; we have picked the best from different models in use by the best International stores and from multiple formats across the world. We have also tailored and customized many of these models to suit our requirements and developed them into a unique Freshpik model that does not exist anywhere in India or even globally. The Freshpik model is a unique mix and mash of technology, experience, engagement, assortment, and formats.”

With so many first-time concepts, experiences and technology applications in place, the big question remains if Freshpik can buck the trend and emerge as a profitable centre? Gourmet stores in India, after all, incur heavy costs and overheads but their throughput remains slim and so breaking the profitability barrier remains their biggest challenge. Moreover, in the face of insufficient volume turnover, scaling up gourmet stores has always been an uphill and daunting task.

“Through all our experience and learnings from the study of various retail models, assortment, sales mix, etc., which have gone into building Freshpik, we will redefine the conventional industry norm that gourmet stores cannot be profitable and we are determined to make this store become a profitable model,” avers Tripathi, adding that the pursuit of profitability will be achieved without raising the price or jacking up the profit margins.

“We want to be an approachable brand, be accessible to the aspiring customers, and we want more and more customers to try our store. And I believe that with robust sourcing and supply chain capabilities of Reliance, we will be able to build a strong foundation to make Freshpik profitable.”

When asked about if more Freshpik stores are expected to come up in the days ahead in other metro cities of India, Tripathi says that it is too early to comment when the next store would come up. “This is like a model store and we would like to wait and watch and judge the consumer response to this new model. Before we make any new move, we would like to absorb all the learnings from this store and assess if certain other modifications and tweaks are required to the model and plan ahead.”

Going ahead, one can expect a lot to come out of the stable of Reliance Retail, including new super-premium Freshpik stores, a swift expansion of 7-Eleven convenience stores, and many more premium formats.