Bouncing back

The industry remains committed to sustainability and self-checkout options at the store level as store size and selling space hold steady.

While supermarkets have pulled back in some aspects of their store operations—the burst of rapid expansion has subsided and store size was unchanged from a year ago—other areas such as self-checkout and the commitment to sustainability have remained strong.

The following are some key figures related to store development and operations from the Food Marketing Institute’s 2009 The Food Retailing Industry Speaks report.

Store size levels off

The size of the average retail food store has leveled off following a rapid expansion during the 1990s. In 2008, the median grocery store measured 46,755 square feet, virtually unchanged from the year prior.

The median selling area, which is defined as the space dedicated to the front end of the store and service areas for departments such as deli, meat and seafood, measured 35,085 square feet. On average, food retailers dedicated 74.8% of the total store to selling space in 2008, up slightly from last year.

While the average store size is essentially unchanged, the median new store size is slowly decreasing. Observers attribute this in part to retailers such as Tesco and Wal-Mart, which have been testing smaller floor plans.

Checkouts

The growing popularity of self-checkout offers a viable solution to the tight labor market and increasing la­bor costs. The average U.S. store has 11 checkout lanes, of which the majority—eight lanes—are cash­ier assisted. Self-checkout lanes are becoming increasingly common: 60.0% of stores have at least one self-checkout lane, with a median of 1.5. A variety of self-checkout systems are available today. More than half of companies use fixed checkout lanes. Others use pod systems and/or belted lanes.

A much greater number of stores (87.5%) have at least one express lane. Most stores only feature one, with some large stores featuring up to four. Retailers also appear to be converting some of their regular checkout lanes to express lanes, driven by shopper demand for convenience.

Chains are the most likely to feature self-checkout, while few smaller independent stores offer this service. Stores with the highest weekly sales per store tend to have the most checkouts. Su­per­centers have by far the most with a median of 32 lanes, and convenience stores have the fewest, with a median of two per store.

Sustainability

According to the report, there is now a great deal of evidence that sustainability is not just for the boom times and wealthy shoppers, but can make sound business sense whatever the state of the economy. As margins tighten, companies look for new ways of increasing efficiency, which bodes well for sustainability efforts with a strong business case.

About 60% of retailers say having a coordinated industry-wide effort on sustainability is somewhat important to their companies. While 13.2% do not find this an important initiative at all, more than twice as many believe this would be a very important project.

In their own companies, implementation of sustainability programs among respondents ranges from no projects to speak of (20.0%) to fully mature implementation of programs and services (5.3%).

As one retailer mentions, “It has become more routine to our business as we continue to look at ways to improve our operations and engagement with the consumer.”

The recession is clearly putting more pressure on the business impact of sustainability programs. When asked to select the top two benefits, reducing costs was the No.1 reason, followed closely by customer satisfaction, which has a clear link to profitability.

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