EkoPlaza and Groenhof Passage: two large organic supermarkets open in Alkmaar (Part 2)
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The organic pioneer Jos Kamphuys found the inspiration for EkoPlaza abroad in the large scale organic and natural food stores. In his mind, these retail concepts provided the answer to the problem of interesting more consumers for organic products: lower prices and a more generous shopping atmosphere. He first presented his ideas in 2004 in the form of the EkoPlaza concept, which has large format stores of at least 2500 m² at their heart. According to Kamphuys, the free advertising arising from the opening of such stores should attract customers both to the main store and to the smaller outlets. All stores should be characterised by personnel intensive activities in order to distance the stores from an anonymous supermarket identity. "Food will be prepared fresh in the stores. Basic products will have a high organic quality and be at the same time affordable" declared Kamphuys (picture, middle) in an interview with Biofood Magazine in the spring of 2004.
The reality is that the first EkoPlaza outlet looks more like a typical supermarket. The difference between the vision and the reality of the first EkoPlaza store has according to Kamphuys to do with the specific conditions in Alkmaar. “At some point I got impatient and wanted to drive the project forward. The cooperation with Food Factory enabled to get things going quickly. But things will change a lot and we will get closer to the original concept.”
Food Factory is the supermarket concept of project developer Manpro, which is being implemented in Alkmaar (4500 m²) and in Enschede (3000 m²) in shopping centres developed by Manpro. The Food Factory concept offers lower priced branded products instead of an own label strategy and has no organic range. Manpro believes that EkoPlaza provides a perfect complement to its own concept.
The neighbouring stores are both accessible via an underground car park and share both shopping trolleys as well as certain facilities such as cool stores. With its round fruit and vegetable section and a sitting area between the bread and wine sections the supermarket has a relaxed and playful feel. The central area is dominated by parallel high shelving opposite five checkouts (picture). The entrance to the underground car park is next to the shop’s street entrance.
Food Factory and EkoPlaza are situated on the relatively calm north side of the Noorder Arcade shopping centre, in which outlets from Albert Heijn, Mediamarkt and Toys R'us are to found. The south side of the shopping centre is connected to Alkmaar’s city centre by a well-used pedestrian bridge over the North-Holland Canal, which means that people coming from the town already pass by the Groenhof-Passage. Kamphuys comments on the store location: "We have already opened a number of stores in locations, which people considered to be less than ideal. Our experience shows, that shoppers are attracted to any location by attractive offers and concepts.”
Kamphuys expects that the design of the store, with its range of more than 9000 products, will attract a new and significantly larger public. He also hopes that a future turnover of around 100,000 Euros/week (annual turnover of ca 5 mio. Euros) will enable the store to sink the prices further. Basic products are already offered at the same price level as the comparable range at Albert Heijn (AH-biologisch), the market leader amongst the multiples. Groenhof Passage has the same plans in order to avoid unnecessary organic price wars in Alkmaar.
EkoPlaza was officially opened by Alkmaar’s Mayor at 8.00 am on 21st April 2005.
Kamphuys was in a buoyant mood at the end of the first day: “We have had so many positive reactions, that I’m sure that we have a concept which many people have been waiting for. (…) The shop will change the way people in the Netherlands think about organic food.” The shop had a turnover on the first day of an impressive 20,000 Euro.
Interestingly Van Kessel and De Boer reported no negative effects of the EkoPlaza opening on the turnover in the Groenhof-Passage, which was no different than usual. During the following week the average daily turnover was unchanged; Van Kessels turnover was even higher on the opening day. This situation has not changed significantly in the following weeks, giving the other stores little cause for concern. Their current weekly turnover is around 35,000 Euro and should quickly reach 40,000 Euro with the new store.
Most of EkoPlaza’s staff has little or no experience in the organic sector, a clear decision on the part of Wilmink: “We want to distance ourselves from the typical whole food store image, and for this reason we want to develop our personnel ourselves.” Product information is integrated into the pricing system, as Kamphuys explains, “There are many scanner stations in the store where customers can access product information automatically. At the same time I think that a large group of customers are already well informed.” EkoPlaza aims to open around fifteen stores in the next few years. According to Kamphuys there is enough interest in the concept. “Seven or eight independent retailers contacted us about the concept in the first week”.
(Pictures: Bavo van den Idsert und Remco Vogelpoel/Art Digital)