Irish consumers moving to own-brand offerings is no surprise

Aldi and Lidl prove incredibly astute at tapping into what Irish consumers want

The share of the Irish grocery market held by the German discounters Aldi and Lidl has just increased dramatically, with confirmation due on Monday that nearly one in four Irish consumers do their shopping in either one of the two stores.

Last month, figures from industry analysts Kantar Worldpanel painted a very different picture.

Those figures put Supervalu on 24.9 per cent of the Irish market, while Tesco had 23.9 per cent -just 0.4 per cent ahead of Dunnes Stores.

Lidl and Aldi had 8.5 per cent and 8.4 per cent market share respectively - good certainly, but nowhere as near as good as the new figures suggest.

The change is due to a recalibration from Kantar rather than any shift in spending.

There is no change in the running order, with Supervalu still in the number one position and Aldi still in fifth - but the combined market share of Aldi and Lidl is 22.1 per cent. Lidl now has 11.5 per cent of the Irish market, while Aldi is just behind it on 11.2 per cent.

Aldi is arguably the better performing of the pair, because it has an almost identical market share with significantly fewer stores.

Brand names

That Irish consumers are eschewing brand names in favour of the own-brand offerings on the shelves of Aldi and Lidl in greater numbers than ever should come as no surprise.

In the mid-1990s, Lidl and Aldi were unfamiliar to most Irish shoppers. Then, in 1998, Lidl arrived and was joined the following year by Aldi.

In the early days growth was slow, with Irish people reluctant to swap branded products for unfamiliar labels, while Irish suppliers and producers were reluctant to do business with untested chains who were not highly regarded among shoppers.

People were amused by the pair’s eclectic weekly special offer - but the allure of delights such as jackhammers jostling for position with canoes, luridly coloured onesies and flat-pack gazebos was not enough to bring people through their doors in significant numbers.

Their Spartan shelves did Lidl and Aldi no favours either. A big Tesco outlet might have more than 20,000 different items on their shelves, while the discounters contented themselves with around 1,000.

Then the bubble burst - and everything changed. The growth of both retailers has been relentless ever since but it would be wrong to suggest that growth has been simply down to cash strapped times. Far from it.

Both Aldi and Lidl have proved themselves to be incredibly astute at tapping into what Irish consumers want. They tweaked their product lines to offer more Irish produce, their ranges improved dramatically and they established very good relationships with Irish suppliers.

Crucially, both Aldi and Lidl were also able to prove that people who did their shopping in their stores saved money, a lot of money.

Canny shoppers realised they could easily knock over a third off their annual grocery spend by shopping with the Germans, without sacrificing anything significant in terms of quality.

The perception of both companies is also very good. Both featured in the top 10 most respected companies in the Republic in a survey published last month by the Reputations Agency, while a separate survey from Amárach on consumers' attitudes published late last year rated Aldi fourth most highly rated company in Ireland in a poll of more than 2,700 people.

“That really surprised me,” said Gerard O’Neill of Amárach when the survey was published.

“We lived through the recession and watched as the discounters changed the retail rules and relentlessly pushed down prices, but now they are changing the rules again. They are aiming for better prices, better experiences, and better service.”

Speaking yesterday, O’Neill elaborated. “The recession gave them [discounters] a foothold - but there is more to it than that. They have completely changed the conversation about value and made people realise it is not all about price.

“It is about affordability, but also about the sense of how a person feels shopping. Aldi and Lidl have made people who shop in their stores feel prudent, discerning, more astute - almost German.”

O’Neill said the two had been “very clever in how they have dealt with their competition. It has been like a bait and switch. They made the conversation about price and then switched it to Irishness and community.

“If a Martian was to arrive in Ireland they would be sure that both Aldi and Lidl were indigenous companies, so embedded in the local communities do they appear,” he suggested.

Customer experience

He pointed out that customer experience “is driven not by value for money - because we rationalise that after the fact - but by something more emotional. We like to come away from the shopping experience feeling smug - in the nice sense of the word - and safe in the knowledge that we have got a bargain. Aldi and Lidl understand that.”

It is not just by offering good value and toying with our emotions that Aldi and Lidl have grown so strongly. Both have opened stores at a phenomenal rate.

Last Thursday, the former opened its 124th - and largest - store in Sallynoggin in Co Dublin, while Lidl has 147 stores.

Both have plans for more openings in the months ahead.

Damian O’Reilly, who lectures in retail management in the Dublin Institute of Management, described how effectively the discounters have been playing the retail game in recent years, capitalising on changing economic conditions, improving consumer knowledge and very effective store design and stock maintenance.

He pointed out that their modular units were very cheap to put up - a store can be opened for about €3 million - and their compact size means they can be squeezed into small spaces in rural towns which has allowed them to take on Supervalu in areas where that retailer used to be traditionally untouchable.

And, he said, Aldi and Lidl have been outspending their rivals on television and newspaper ads over the last two years, working relentlessly to promote their Irishness.

They also have some canny tricks they play. “They have longer conveyor belts leading to the cash registers, so shoppers think they are nearly there when they start putting their shopping out - even though there might still be three people ahead of them. The staff have to scan 30 items a minute - so the check-out process moves very quickly.”

But where to next? “In terms of market share I think they are nearly there,” O’Reilly says. “They might be able to grow another couple of per cent but the rate at which they are opening stores is slowing and that will put a limit on how much they will grow.”

O’Neill agreed, although he suggested the Germans could get to 30 per cent of the market. “They will be constrained by the amount of real estate they can buy and the competition is not just going to sit there and watch as they grow bigger.”