With recent fresh retail awards, Lidl proving it's more than just a discount chain

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The bottom line: Lidl is doing more in its markets across the UK than just saving customers money.

The global German discount chain has expanded its commitment to encourage families and children to consume more produce. It has made fresh produce a priority in stores by pushing fruits and vegetables to be front and center while boosting displays. It has retrained staff members. And it’s even become one of the best places to shop for flowers. 

For those reasons, Lidl — not one of the Big Four — was named Fresh Produce Retailer of the Year and Fresh Flower Supermarket of the Year at last month’s Retail Industry Awards, held at Grosvenor House, London. It is the second straight year a discounter took home the Fresh Produce Retailer top prize as Aldi won in 2017. 

Meanwhile, Morrisons earned the top spot as Supermarket of the Year, while Co-Op won for Convenience Retailer of the Year.

Widely recognized as ‘The Oscars’ of the grocery retail sector, the awards honour excellence and outstanding achievement across a broad range of categories and include the smallest independent retailers alongside the largest supermarket groups. 

“The awards are based on business success, but that obviously needs to include a great customer proposition and excellent standards of merchandising and marketing as well as a good degree of innovation,” says David Shrimpton, Editor of Independent Retail News and one of the organizers of Retail Industry Awards.

Judges praised Lidl’s efforts to expand its campaign to encourage children to eat more fruit and vegetables, including seasonal vegetables in child-friendly portions. It also lauded the discounter for making fresh produce a priority category, which led the company to improve the way it displays and merchandises the category, as well as improving the skills of its employees. 

“Lidl is the fastest growing retailer, and this is a key category that is driving that performance and much of it is sourced from Britain,” said one of the judges. “It very definitely punches above its weight in this category.”

Another judge added: "The stuff Lidl doing with its kids’ ranges is really impressive. It is working very hard in terms of encouraging healthy eating among families and young children, which is very good to see.”

In addition to trying to improve eating habits through product innovation, Lidl is also merchandising fruit and veg at the front of all new stores, creating in-store theatre and expanding its Fun Size range. “All in all, it‘s a very strong package of support for this category,” one of the judges said. 

As part of the winning package, Lidl will be able use the display the award logo in-store and utilize other marketing collateral throughout the year. 

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Lidl has flower power, too

Lidl also took home Fresh Flower Supermarket of the Year for the second consecutive year, which was open to all larger multiple retailers, defined as companies operating more than 25 stores. Judges rewarded Lidl for “achieving the greatest development and success in the cut flowers category over the past 12 months.” 

One panel member was impressed by the retailer’s updated Flower Market branding, which has been rolled out in-store and is now featured on packaging. “It looks really good and underlines the retailer’s quality credentials.”

Shrimpton says the panel took into account several factors, including investment in staff training and development, commitment to improving the presentation of flowers in-store, range development, activity surrounding seasonal occasions such as Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Christmas and Easter, innovation and sales success in the flower category.

Among the comments from judges on Lidl’s flowers: 

  • “Lidl has put a great deal of effort into developing its fresh flower business – and the investment has paid off with success in this category for the second year running … It also boosted support for British growers by increasing the length of contracts for seasonal lines and bringing in more home-grown products.”
  • “Its flowers look the best of the bunch.”
  • “It is among the few retailers that, when you walk into a store, you know you will be impressed by the quality of its display.”

The panel also particularly liked the fact that Lidl had invested in staff training, now has a specialist fresh quality coordinator in each store, and sends buyers to the Covent Garden Academy of Flowers to improve their skills. “It is good to see such a high level of investment in staff training, which is now really paying dividends,” commented one judge. 

How they were judged

The awards marked the 20th year celebration of excellence in the retail industry.

To be considered, entrants answered a number of questions based on a set of criteria for each award. Retailers also put together Power Point presentations that detailed achievements over the previous year for the Fresh Produce Retailer of the Year and Fresh Flower Supermarket of the Year categories. The applications were judged by a panel of independent experts, as well as judging partners that included Nielsen, IRI and Mintel. 

For Fresh Produce Retailer of the Year, the category was open to retailers where grocery products account for more than 50 per cent of sales. They were considered in the following three subcategories: Multiple – Retailers with more than 10 stores; Independent – Retailers with 10 stores or fewer; and Symbol Group – Head office.

Shrimpton says applicants had to demonstrate:

  • A clear strategy for developing sales and offer in fresh produce
  • Strong relationships with growers and suppliers to achieve corporate objectives
  • Superior quality of in-store staff
  • Training initiatives introduced in the category
  • In-store theatre and cross-merchandising with other categories
  • Innovation, and differentiation from the competition
  • Examples of how this has been developed over the past 12 months.
  • How the company has responded to key challenges facing the sector 

Other winners from the Retail Industry Awards included: 

Most Improved Store: Tweney's Budgens, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Independent Community Retailer of the Year: Smeaton Stores, Premier, Kirkcaldy, Fife
Multiple Community Retailer of the Year: Henderson Retail
Digital Engagement Award: Dike & Son, Nisa Extra, Stalbridge, Dorset
Store Team of the Year: Spar London Road Bakery, Boston, Lincolnshire

Store Manager of the Year:

  • Independent: Jack Cross, Warner's Budgens, Bidford-on-Avon, Warwickshire
  • Multiple: Stephen McMahon, Co-op, Old Park Road, Belfast

Post Office Retailer of the Year: UOE Store & Post Office, East Finchley, London

Managed Store: McColl's Queensway Worle, Weston-Super-Mare, Somerset

Symbol: Best-One Long Crendon, Buckinghamshire

Food-to-Go Retailer of the Year:

  • Independent: McCullagh's Spar Classic Service Station, Omagh, County Tyrone
  • Multiple: Henderson Retail

Chilled Retailer of the Year:

  • Independent: O'Hares Supermarket, Eurospar, Mayobridge, County Down
  • Multiple: Aldi

Multiple Convienience: Henderson Retail 

Drinks Retailer of the Year: Lusty Centra Larne, County Antrim

  • Multiple: Aldi 

Seafood Retailer of the Year: Asda 

Fresh Produce Retailer of the Year

  • Independent: Mulkerns Eurospar, Newry, County Down
  • Multiple: Lidl 

Frozen Food Retailer of the Year:

  • Independent: Nash & Gardner's Budgens, Islington, London
  • Multiple: Iceland 

National Lottery Retailer of the Year: Nisa Local, Cherry Hinton, Cambridge

Company-Owned: One Stop, Rectory Road, Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands

Forecourt Retailer of the Year:

  • Independent: JET Abbeyside Filling Station, Selby, North Yorkshire
  • Company-owned: Eurospar Carrowdore, County Down
  • Multiple: Henderson Retail 

Franchise Group of the Year: One Stop Franchise 

Convenience Retailer of the Year: Co-op 

Online Supermarket of the Year: Iceland

Independent Retailer of the Year

  • Up to 1,200sq ft: Simply Fresh, Inkberrow, Worcestershire
  • 1,201 - 2,999sq ft: Day-Today Irvine, Ayrshire
  • 3,000 - 6,000sq ft: Nash & Gardner's Budgens, Islington, London
  • Over 6,000sq ft: Dike & Son, Nisa Extra, Stalbridge, Dorset

Symbol/Fascia Group of the Year: SPAR

Symbol/Fascia Initiative of the Year: Making a Difference Locally - Nisa 

Outstanding Achievement Award: John Agnew CBE – Henderson Group 

About the panel

John Heagney Consulting was selected as the lead judging partner, and the final judging session was undertaken by a panel of experienced independent retailers, symbol group heads and sector analysts. It also involved retail experts who carried out unannounced store visits and detailed assessments that included extensive video and still photography of every store.

This year’s retail experts: 

Jemima Bird: Bird has run her own brand consultancy for the past five years, helping lead the transformation of Moss Bros and development of the new Trainline brand. She also led the rebranding of Café Rouge and Bella Italia and was the marketing director of Musgrave Retail Partners, where she implemented brand strategies for the Budgens and Londis brands.  

Martin William: William has worked in the grocery trade for more than 40 years since leaving secondary school. He recently left Landmark Wholesale, having been a director for 19 years. He has completed three years as chairman of the Federation of Wholesale Distributors, which represents £30 billion of turnover from UK wholesalers.

Guy Ousey: Ousey leads IGD’s UK grocery retail research, focusing on the strategies used to meet current and future shopper needs. He is also responsible for delivering a mix of research outputs for IGD’s Retail Analysis service, building reports, delivering customised projects, briefings and events to help retailers and suppliers adapt and grow. 

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