Dutch grocery store operator Landmarkt may be the smallest retailer in the Netherlands but its farmers’ market-style concept has rapidly won over customers thanks to its artisanal quality offer, coupled with in-store theatre, specialist staff and a fully-licensed restaurant. PBUK speaks with founder Thijs van Banning about adding value to the Dutch grocery retail trade.
“You need a reason other than the best price to attract customers,” explains van Banning, a former category manager for the poultry and fish departments at Albert Heijn, the biggest retailer in the Netherlands.
“At Landmarkt we focus on quality and not on price. We prefer sustainability over brands and we try to make most of the food we sell ourselves. We are involved, we know our suppliers personally and we pay them a fair price.”
Operating two outlets; Landmarkt Versmarkt, a 1,500m2 supermarket on the outskirts of Amsterdam; and Landmarkt Stadsmarkt, a 350m2 store in the city centre, the company works mainly with 100 small, local growers, farmers and artisan suppliers who operate within a 40km2 radius of Amsterdam.
Conventional and organic fresh produce accounts for 75 per cent of Landmarkt’s offer, including fruits, vegetables, fish, meat, bread, cheese, milk and eggs. The remaining 25 per cent comprises cupboard staples such as cereals, nuts, snacks, coffee, tea, pasta, oils and herbs, as well as juices, wine, chocolate, frozen food, pet food, cleaning products and medicine.
The in-store atmosphere revolves largely around the presentation of the fresh fruit and vegetable department, which represents roughly 25% of Landmarkt’s sales. Produce is displayed in wooden crates to create the effect of buying straight from the farm.
Open for seven days a week, the two stores are complemented by an online shopping service, online recipe ideas and social media activity, as well as lunch deliveries to local companies in Amsterdam. The out-of-town store also features live cooking demonstrations at the weekend and a restaurant that is open day and night.
Compared with other retailers in the Netherlands, van Banning believes Landmarkt’s biggest difference is its drive for authenticity.
“In the long-run, quality and experience will be the big differentiators in the retail trade,” he claims.
“We prefer to source local or regional produce ourselves. We like to find the most innovative suppliers – those that are one step ahead of the competition.
“My pepper grower just became the first in the Netherlands to come out with a brown pepper, while my potato grower also makes hand-cooked chips on his farm.
“These are the types of guys that we can relate to; they like to differentiate and they sit well with our ethos.”
On the customer experience side, Landmarkt has evolved its ‘local for local’ format into a much broader focus on artisanal quality food, much of which is prepared in-store.
“We used to buy butchered meat and prepared meals but now we buy whole carcasses of meat to butcher ourselves and we make our own meals,” van Banning notes. “We have our own fishmongers and bakers too.”
Specialist staff like these represent a major point of difference for the retailer, according to van Banning.
“My fruit and veg guy has been working in the sector for 30 years and my fishmonger has 15 years’ experience,” he points out.
“They’re not school kids. They know their trades, which means our customers can ask for advice such as how to prepare certain dishes, meats or vegetables.”
This personal approach and emphasis on quality has struck a chord with customers, especially cooking fans and shoppers concerned with sustainability.
“They love that there’s a guy who cuts their meat right in front of them,” says van Banning.
“Every weekend we organise a live cooking demonstration where we take the most seasonal products and create something special to inspire our shoppers.
“Customers love the experience.”
Landmarkt is active on both social media and email, from where it shares stories about its growers. But, at the end of the day, van Banning claims most customer interaction takes place in-store.
At a time when online retailing is evolving rapidly and bricks-and-mortar stores are closing, van Banning says mainstream retailers could learn a lot from the success of stores like Landmarkt.
“It’s a completely different atmosphere to a regular supermarket because we are trying to do more than just sell products,” he explains.
“We believe there is a different way to sell. At Landmarkt there is always something to do, see and experience. It’s not just a place for shopping.”
Standing out from the crowd
Landmarkt is clearly different from the outset. The doors to its first store, Landmarkt Versmarkt, opened in 2011 on the site of a former garden centre. The large, out-of-town plot benefits from a pretty garden, a children’s play area and small holding of animals.
Landmarkt Versmarkt also has its own restaurant that serves customers beyond the supermarket’s regular opening hours.
“The restaurant is something very different because other supermarkets in the Netherlands don’t have them,” van Banning claims.
“We were blurring the retail and foodservice channels before it became a concept. The restaurant creates a lovely atmosphere. Being able to have a bite to eat makes visiting the store not just about shopping but about coming together.”
The 25-cover restaurant is fully-licensed in its own right, enabling it to stay open until 11pm, serving lunches and dinners to shoppers and diners or both.
“Our restaurant chefs try to cook simple but incredibly tasty dishes with all the seasonal products they can collect from the supermarket every morning,” van Banning says.
“What started as a fairly simple eatery serving handmade burgers and the like, is now offering three-course dinners.
“The restaurant is full every night and it’s driving sales in our store too. We have customers that come only for the restaurant, but a lot come to eat a sandwich or small meal before they do their grocery shopping.”
Expanding the format
In the future Van Banning is eager to expand the Landmarkt store network and he believes developing larger, out-of-town plots is the way to go.
“I hope to open more stores and I’ve decided it would be best to open on the outskirts of major cities,” he reveals.
“We’re already in discussions with various garden centres to open a new store on-site. They’re very enthusiastic but government rules for supermarkets are quite strict in the Netherlands, so it takes a lot of time.
“I would like to expand still. We’re not the biggest nor the fastest-growing retailer, but that’s a reflection of our ambitions too.”
To experience the Landmarkt concept for yourself, book a place on the retail tour during The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference 2017.