“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
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.