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Sobeys opens flexible store format

Orangeville, Ont. location implements the ‘Flexstore’ concept by Interstore | Schweitzer

A revamped Sobeys in Orangeville, Ont. has flexibility built in.

Earlier this month, the grocery retailer opened the doors to its new-concept store that uses the “Flexstore” system by European design and shopfitting firm Interstore | Schweitzer. The modular concept features mobile fixtures that can easily be rearranged, allowing grocers to expand, reduce or make other adjustments to various departments as needed. The units, many of which are on wheels, attach to building services such as water and electricity using connections from the ceiling that are fed into the counters and fixtures.

This allows retailers to change counters (or switch from service to self-service) and rearrange entire departments quickly and easily, without major construction costs. For example, the pizza counter can easily be replaced by a salad bar by simply moving and exchanging the counters.

Elements of the Flexstore concept are being used by some of Interstore | Schweitzer’s European clients, such as Swiss food retailer Migros. The Sobeys location is the first grocery store in North America to implement Flexstore.

In an interview with Canadian Grocer, Interstore | Schweitzer CEO Bernhard Schweitzer said there is strong interest and demand from grocery retailers in having the ability to adapt store layouts and product assortment more frequently as consumer trends shift. “For example, serviced meat departments are becoming smaller and areas like HMR and convenience products are becoming bigger,” he says. “Rather than have to completely change and renovate the store every eight to 10 years [when budgets allow], retailers have the possibility of changing or reconfiguring the store every year or two years without big investments.”

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The firm’s partnership with Sobeys began in late 2018 when Interstore | Schweitzer won a design pitch. The implementation of Flexstore was delayed by COVID-19, but Schweitzer said it normally takes around 15 weeks to implement the system. The Sobeys store remained open during the process.

“The big advantage is now whenever Sobeys wants to make changes, whether it’s to enlarge, reduce, or change the composition, they can do that easily,” said Schweitzer. “For example, if they want to include more service elements such as a salad bar or hot bar in the HMR area, ‘The Kitchen,’ they can do so easily because most of the fixtures are on wheels. Nothing is fixed to the floor, which makes it very quick and easy to adapt and that’s what Flexstore is all about.”

While a big selling point of the Flexstore concept is not having big renovation and construction costs down the road, grocers can also experiment with shorter-term changes. “In Europe, some of our clients are testing seasonal layouts, for example, expanding the offering in the fresh departments for the holiday period and then reducing them in January and February,” said Schweitzer.

“We have learned that once retailers understand the potential and possibilities of the Flexstore, they become more courageous and start trying different layouts and configurations.”

The Sobeys store also features a new customer flow based on the perimeter. The customer journey leads the shopper in a circle through the fresh food departments, which are positioned along the walls of the store. In the centre of the store, gondolas with dry goods are positioned where the customers can get the staples on their shopping lists.

“The loop gives customers access to the fresh assortment at all times,” said Schweitzer. “There’s really no area of the main loop where they’re not touching and feeling fresh or specialty departments.”

Milan-based lighting company Imoon developed the lighting solutions for the Sobeys store. The departments are illuminated by specific lighting to create a different feeling for each area. For example, Imoon’s Meat Fish HD LED lighting element enhances the natural colours of the white and red contrasts of the meat and fish on display. In the produce department, lighting fixtures are equipped with full-colour LEDs to accentuate shapes and colours.

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