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The world's best grocers you've (maybe) never heard of


What makes a grocer among the world’s best? That’s a question asked last month by the British magazine The Grocer. To find an answer, The Grocer’s editorial staff decided to compile a list of the world’s 50 best grocers.

I was fortunate enough to be among the panel of judges from around the world that The Grocer’s editors asked to provide input. Considering all the superb grocers around the world, recommending one over another was not easy.

As you might imagine, the Top 50 included a who’s who of supermarket and convenience chains. Many are well known to anyone who travels frequently or who has worked in the food business for a while. For example: German discounters Aldi and Lidl, American grocers Publix, Wegmans, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, and big British chains Sainsbury's, Mark’s & Spencer and Waitrose.

In case you’re wondering, one Canadian grocer did cracked the Top 50: Loblaw Companies, largely on the strength and innovation of its President's Choice private-label brand and the enduring popularity of its No Frills discount format.

But the list also included a number of companies you may not be that familiar with. Here are a few I think we should all pay attention to–and perhaps visit next time we drop by their countries:

Oxxo: This Mexican and Columbian convenience chain, owned by a Latin American Coca-Cola distributor, is opening a new store every 12.5 hours. Wow! Oxxo is known for private-label innovation and prepared foods. At the end of last year it had some 10,600 stores.

Dia: Spain’s economy may have imploded but that hasn’t stopped this discount chain from growing. Profits rose 55 per cent last year. Dia is known for its sophisticated loyalty program and was among the first grocery retailers anywhere to do a good job mining loyalty data. As well as operating in its home country of Spain, Dia has expanded to Portugal as well South American countries Argentina and Brazil.

Alfamart: Convenience stores are all about immediate need. So what to make of Indonesia’s Alfamart, which launched an online shopping program earlier this year? Customers can have goods delivered to their home or pick them up at their local Alfamart.

Fairway Market: Up until recently the stock prices of many American grocery chains haven't been all that stellar. So why would a small grocer in New York City (just 12 stores) want to go public? Because Fairway Market figures its mix of conventional grocery products with a heavy dose of gourmet and organic offerings is just what shoppers want. The company went public this week and figures it can open up to 300 outlets across America.

La Boqueria: Some of the best food stores in the world aren’t stores at all. They’re outdoor markets. Case in point: Barcelona’s La Boqueria, described as “gastronomic temple” of fresh meat, fish and produce. More than just a market, it has its own cooking schools. If you’re in Barcelona you should probably check out the city’s biggest tourist attraction, the Sagrada Familia basilica, first. But put La Boqueria No. 2 on your list.

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