“In-depth know-how of im­ported foods is our core strength”

Su­nil Agar­wal, pro­moter of Pune-based Fine Foods, speaks to Pro­gres­sive Gro­cer about his stores’ spe­cialty and core strengths, trends in im­ported world foods and how his small for­mat store chain has played to its strengths and es­tab­lished a solid rep­u­tati

Progressive Grocer (India) - - Contents -

Su­nil Agar­wal, pro­moter of Punebased Fine Foods

Our cus­tomers come back to us re­peat­edly be­cause of the as­sur­ance that most of their re­quire­ment in im­ported gourmet foods and other cat­e­gories will be avail­able with us. — Su­nil Agar­wal Pro­moter, Fine Foods

How would you de­scribe the jour­ney of your stores over the years?

Fine Foods, a spe­cialty im­ported gourmet food store, opened in Jan­uary 2010 in the up­mar­ket Aundh area of Pune. We de­cided to open the store in this neigh­bor­hood as the area was lack­ing a pre­mium gourmet food store. We got good re­sponse at Aundh, which en­cour­aged us to ex­pand. We iden­ti­fied that the west side of Pune lacked pre­mium gourmet food stores de­spite the pres­ence of a good po­ten­tial clien­tele. We opened our sec­ond store on Karve Road in June 2010 and our third store in Bavd­han in Fe­bru­ary 2014.

Fine Foods stores fol­low the small gourmet store for­mat. Our pri­or­ity and fo­cus is to pro­vide an ex­haus­tive range of pre­mium im­ported food prod­ucts in all the pos­si­ble cat­e­gories. Over the years, we have in­cluded frozen, non-veg & veg sec­tions, lo­cal dairy & cheese sec­tions, home bak­ing sec­tions to our al­ready vast reper­toire in im­ported foods.

What is your lo­ca­tion strat­egy for the stores?

Our stores are lo­cated in the prox­im­ity of res­i­den­tial ar­eas that have a po­ten­tial clien­tele for our prod­ucts. Thanks to our lo­ca­tion strat­egy, our stores en­joy a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing the friendly neigh­bor­hood gourmet food stores. We of­fer the con­ve­nience of avail­ing pre­mium im­ported foods very nearby rather than hav­ing to travel far to the large for­mat stores lo­cated on com­mer­cial high streets.

What is the pro­file of your cus­tomer base?

We cater to and our prod­ucts ap­peal to all con­sumer seg­ments – young kids, work­ing cou­ples, ex­pats, home­mak­ers, home chefs, gourmet food en­thu­si­asts, to name a few.

What are the cat­e­gories you spe­cial­ize in as a gourmet re­tailer?

We carry an ex­haus­tive range in im­ported food prod­ucts: choco­late & con­fec­tionery, world

cuisines, snacks & savouries, dairy & cheese, bak­ery & bis­cuits, bev­er­ages, fresh & canned ex­otic veg­eta­bles, health foods, tea & cof­fee, home bak­ing needs, ready to eat, ed­i­ble oils, ex­otic gro­ceries, spe­cialty sauces & spreads, break­fast ce­re­als, frozen meats & veg, im­pulse items (mouth fresh­n­ers, gums & mints, etc), spe­cialty eggs & breads, spe­cialty ice creams, and many more prod­ucts across cat­e­gories.

What is your strat­egy for space al­lo­ca­tion across dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories?

In our stores, pri­or­ity and space is given to the cat­e­gories that have max­i­mum sales turnover. Such cat­e­gories in our stores are choco­late & con­fec­tionery, dairy & cheese, frozen foods and cui­sine sec­tions such as Ori­en­tal, Ital­ian, Con­ti­nen­tal, etc. High sales turnover cat­e­gories are given max­i­mum frontage and mer­chan­dis­ing space. As we have small for­mat stores – with 500 sq.ft. av­er­age area – the mer­chan­dis­ing flow is main­tained as per the in­di­vid­ual needs of re­spec­tive stores.

What is the sales con­tri­bu­tion from your ma­jor prod­uct cat­e­gories?

The ma­jor prod­uct cat­e­gories con­trib­ute 25-30% of our to­tal sales.

Which are the new and emerg­ing cat­e­gories at your stores?

Home bak­ing needs, lo­cally made Euro­pean style cheeses and or­ganic/ gluten-free/ sugar-free foods are the new and emerg­ing cat­e­gories in our stores. In the fu­ture, we ex­pect th­ese cat­e­gories will con­trib­ute con­sid­er­ably to over­all sales.

Which are the best-sell­ing brands for your fast grow­ing prod­ucts?

Im­ported choco­lates, Ital­ian foods like pas­tas, pasta sauces, pizza sauces, olives, ori­en­tal sauces, break­fast ce­re­als, cheese, fresh ex­otic veg­eta­bles, frozen non­veg, Con­ti­nen­tal sauces & spreads are the fastest mov­ing cat­e­gories in our stores.

Brands like Amer­i­can Gar­den, Lindt Choco­lates, Fer­rero, Bar­illa Pasta & Sauces, Pan­tai, Tabasco, Haribo, Rit­ter Sport, Tif­fany, Cavendish & Har­vey, Yan Yan, Hintz Co­coa Pow­der, Monin syrups, Kara, Batch­e­lors soups, etc, are some of the best sell­ing brands in our stores.

What are the trends in your stores for the ma­jor cat­e­gories?

Home bak­ing needs, lo­cally made Euro­pean style cheeses, or­ganic, sugar-free & gluten-free foods and ready-to-eat In­ter­na­tional foods are cur­rently trend­ing in our stores.

What are the marked dif­fer­en­tia­tors of your stores that put you apart from the other re­tail play­ers? Which are the el­e­ments that are the hall­marks of your stores?

Reg­u­lar re­plen­ish­ment and con­sis­tent avail­abil­ity of the most pop­u­lar im­ported SKUS is our spe­cialty. We have main­tained ex­cel­lent re­la­tions with our ven­dors (Im­porters & Sup­pli­ers), due to which we have been able to build a loyal cus­tomer base. Our cus­tomers come back to us re­peat­edly be­cause of the as­sur­ance that most of their re­quire­ment in im­ported gourmet foods and other cat­e­gories will be avail­able with us.

Fine Foods stores fol­low the small gourmet store for­mat. Our pri­or­ity and fo­cus is to pro­vide an ex­haus­tive range of pre­mium im­ported food prod­ucts in all the pos­si­ble cat­e­gories.

Do you run loy­alty pro­grams/ schemes for strength­en­ing your cus­tomer base?

We are con­stantly pro­vid­ing schemes and of­fers to our cus­tomers on var­i­ous prod­ucts. We have a sep­a­rate ‘Of­fer Sec­tion’ for cus­tomers and in our ex­pe­ri­ence the schemes and of­fers pro­vide a good boost to our av­er­age sales.

Any mar­ket­ing ac­tiv­i­ties that you pre­fer for push­ing sales in your stores?

We pre­fer to do ‘Di­rect to Cus­tomer’ pro­mo­tional ac­tiv­i­ties like dry & wet sam­pling of prod­ucts. Po­ten­tial cus­tomers get to ex­pe­ri­ence the prod­ucts first hand be­fore mak­ing a pur­chase. We run sam­pling pro­mo­tions of var­i­ous com­pa­nies and prod­ucts dur­ing most week­ends. We have built a good clien­tele by word of mouth and we en­joy a strong rep­u­ta­tion for prod­ucts’ avail­abil­ity in our stores. We also pro­mote our stores through our Face­book page.

How do you take care of the cus­tomer feed­back loop at your stores?

Our stores run on a very cus­tomer-cen­tric model. The en­tire prod­uct mix of the stores vary ac­cord­ing to the feed­back and needs pro­vided by our es­teemed

cus­tomers of the re­spec­tive ar­eas. Of course, all SKUS are stan­dard­ized in our stores, but we do some dy­namic cus­tomiza­tions in the prod­uct mix as per the cus­tomer needs, which is as an added value for our cus­tomers.

How do you keep up with the fast evolv­ing food trends and how do you keep re­fresh­ing your sup­plier base to align with the emerg­ing con­sumer de­mands?

We remian con­stantly in touch with the re­tail scene in our city and na­tion­ally. As such, we get to know about the lat­est and emerg­ing trends for dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories of prod­ucts. We also visit var­i­ous trade ex­hi­bi­tions like An­napoorna and Aaa­har. Mag­a­zines like Pro­gres­sive Gro­cer, too, pro­vide valu­able in­puts on the lat­est food and gro­cery trends and based on th­ese in­puts we work on im­prov­ing our ven­dor base and the qual­ity of sup­pli­ers.

What is the ex­tent of your di­rect sourc­ing?

We source mostly from lo­cal dis­trib­u­tors but we do source di­rectly from im­porters for some prod­uct ranges.

Pro­vid­ing the most pos­si­ble va­ri­eties and cat­e­gories of im­ported foods prod­ucts in small for­mat stores con­sis­tently for the last seven years has been our most ful­fill­ing achieve­ment.

Are there any in­ter­est­ing con­cepts or in­no­va­tions that you have in­tro­duced at your stores?

Al­tough it is not re­lated to food, we have started a small cat­e­gory sec­tion of pre­mium im­ported cos­met­ics, as per a cus­tomer re­quire­ment sur­vey done by us. We are get­ting a very good re­sponse to this ini­tia­tive.

Any ini­tia­tives to strengthen your sup­ply chain model?

We have a back-end ware­house fa­cil­ity, which en­ables us to stock and re­plen­ish our stores with­out any gaps.

What is the scope for uti­liz­ing and lever­ag­ing tech­nol­ogy for your store for­mat?

There is tremen­dous scope for lever­ag­ing tech­nol­ogy. Soft­ware sys­tems for man­ag­ing in­ven­tory con­trol, POS, accounting, etc, pro­vide us the ex­act in­for­ma­tion to per­form in a bet­ter way and stream­line our op­er­a­tions.

What do you feel are your strengths and achieve­ments?

In-depth know-how of im­ported food cat­e­gories is our core strength. Pro­vid­ing the most pos­si­ble va­ri­eties and cat­e­gories of im­ported foods prod­ucts in small for­mat stores con­sis­tently for the last seven years has been our most ful­fill­ing achieve­ment.

What’s in store for the fu­ture by way of your ex­pan­sion?

We are cur­rently look­ing to in­crease the floor space at some of our stores to ac­com­mo­date more prod­uct cat­e­gories. We are also look­ing to in­crease our store count in other cities like Bangalore & Mum­bai.

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