How did a big chain like Lidl deal with the consequences of Covid-19 and what was the impact on the fruit and vegetable department? Marcello Candelori, Purchasing Director at Lidl Italy, addresses this question.
FreshPlaza (FP): How did the fruit and vegetable sector perform in 2020 and are there any notable changes compared to the pre-Covid situation? Marcello Candelori (MC): With the arrival of the coronavirus and its restrictions, consumers have adopted new lifestyles and habits. This has affected many product categories, including fruit and vegetables. The result is a positive trend that has shown some fluctuations over the months. In the first phase of the pandemic, there was a significant increase in the use of products that are easy to store. Think of potatoes, onions and apples. As a result, the sales of fresh AGF dropped. From May onwards, there was a stable situation.
FP: Did the pandemic affect the network of suppliers? MC: Our network has not changed as a result of the pandemic, on the contrary, we want to expand the number of suppliers, with a view to strengthening the regional supply.
A Lidl fruit and vegetable department
FP: What strategies will be implemented in 2021 in order to increase customer retention? MC: We are focusing on increasing our regional supply. This is a choice we made years ago and it applies to the entire range, not just fruit and vegetables. Italy has a rich horticultural tradition and a gastronomic heritage and we want to give this the attention it deserves. Consumers also seem to prefer local produce.
FP: And on the organic front? MC: We will continue supplying more organic products and it is catching the eye of an increasing number of customers. We also want to reduce the amount of plastic packaging. As part of this, we have made a concrete commitment that will lead us to reduce the use of plastic by at least 20% by 2025 and at the same time make 100% of plastic packaging recyclable. What we are also working on is the diversification of formats. What I would also like to highlight is our partnership with the Italian soccer team, where fruit and vegetables are the strategic focus of the collaboration. As the official fruit and vegetable supplier of the Italian national team, we will continue in 2021 to promote the freshness and quality of our products to our customers.
FP: Is there already a final layout of the fruit and vegetable department? MC: Our supermarkets have recently been redesigned. A shop in Milan was the first to apply this. The revamped visual format offers more space and visibility for each category, also thanks to the use of special advertising and clear colours. At the heart of this restyling is the fruit and vegetable section, which offers a genuine welcome to customers. We have significantly increased the display space of this department and also increased the range of sliced and ready-to-eat fruit and vegetables.
FP: What is your approach to organizing this sector?
MC: The offer of fruit and vegetables in our supermarkets varies, first of all, according to the seasonality of the products and, consequently, to their availability on the market. We are also always mindful of our customers' needs and try to shorten the supply chain as much as possible by working with direct local suppliers.