Walmart goes small with "Urban 90" Supercentre


Walmart Canada opened its prototype small urban Supercentre Thursday in Scarborough, an east-end suburb of Toronto.

The format–which company insiders call “Urban 90” because the store's footprint is 90,000 square feet–allows Walmart to build Supercentres on half the land normally required. (The largest traditional Supercentres top 200,000 square feet.)

In the Scarborough Urban 90 (photo above), this feat was accomplished by elevating the store above a covered parking lot. Shoppers enter through sliding doors on the first floor, then ride an escalator up to the store.

This setup allows for other tenants in the building. In the Scarborough store’s case, a Subway sandwich shop is one of several businesses that will go in on the ground floor.

Overall, Urban 90 stores require 4.5 acres of land, compared to eight to 10 acres for a regular Walmart Supercentre.

Groceries take up about 30 per cent of the floor space in the prototype Urban 90 store, with produce and meat among the first departments shoppers see when they reach the top of the escalator.

Half a dozen aisles devoted to packaged goods, deli meats, beverages and frozen foods are situated directly behind the fresh food department.

As with other Walmart Supercentres, there is also an International aisle, with signage indicating which region of the world the foods are from, such as India, Asia and the Mediterranean. The Indian section in particular has a large selection of snacks from Indian snack maker Haldiram Nagpur. Meanwhile, the Mexican section has the prerequisite El Paso taco kits.

Officials with Walmart said they have not sacrificed selection in the grocery aisles of Urban 90, despite the smaller footprint.

Rather, facings of individual products have been carefully parsed. That fact was confirmed by one manufacturer’s rep who told Canadian Grocer that all the lines his company has in a traditional Walmart Supercentre are available in Urban 90.

A quick comparison of the facings of some product lines at this new Urban 90 store and those at a larger SuperCentre store six kilometers away illustrates the difference. At the Urban 90 store, one-litre Heinz ketchup has 11 facings, while at the larger Supercentre it has 34. Original Pam spray has three facings at Urban 90 versus six at the large store down the road. And Aunt Jemima Original Pancake Mix has two facings at Urban 90 and six at the bigger store.

Even in produce, selection seems to have been maintained. Loose apples receive about 16 feet of space at Urban 90 while at the larger Supercentre they receive more than 20 feet. However, the Urban 90 store carries nine different varieties, just one less than its big-sister store.

Overall, the grocery section at Urban 90 has more of the feel of a traditional supermarket versus the sometimes warehouse feel of the extra-large Supercentres.

Other features of the first Urban 90 include a McDonald’s, a pharmacy and 16 checkouts. In addition, solar panels have been placed on the roof to generate electricity.

Walmart officials are calling this the first of many urbans-sized Supercentres they hope to open in Canada.

In the United States, Walmart is working with even smaller formats. For instance last summer the retailer opened a Walmart Express store in Chicago that is just 10,000 square feet.

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