Ukrainian retailer Silpo is bringing new meaning to retail storytelling. Stephen Wynne-Jones headed to Kyiv to discover where one of the world’s most adventurous retailers gets its ideas. This article first appeared in ESM Issue 3 2020.
Last month, over the course of a few hours, ESM travelled to Monte Carlo in the Art Deco era, set sail in a Viking longboat, visited the mystical world of Mavka, got immersed in a steampunk universe, joined a yacht club, and encountered the Wizard of Oz – all part of the experience at one of Europe’s most inspiring and idiosyncratic retail groups, Ukrainian operator Silpo.
Silpo, or Сільпо, as it is known locally, is no stranger to the pages of this magazine, having featured in our yearly Europe’s Finest report on several occasions, but what is striking on paper is even more impressive in reality.
Part of Fozzy Group, a retail conglomerate that reported sales of UAH 78.8 billion in 2018 (€2.63 billion), Silpo is a retailer that puts storytelling, personalised service and experimentation at the heart of everything it does.
At the core of the Silpo offering is an array of unique store layouts, all based around particular themes, down the minutest detail. In a space-themed store in Kharkiv, for example, signs appear in Klingon, a fictional language from the series Star Trek, while a Jamaican-style outlet in Brovary features an in-house rum bar.
From the elaborate murals on the wall to the smallest fixtures and fittings, each store’s personality is methodically crafted.
As Ekaterina Oguryaeva, Silpo’s CMO, tells ESM, the first concept store unveiled by the group opened its doors in October 2014, featuring a pop-art theme – a launch that proved so popular that there are now close to 50 outlets featuring custom-themed designs, of which 39 are new-builds.
“Every new Silpo has its own unique design, and, on top of that, there is a programme for updating the design and concept of existing stores,” Oguryaeva explains, and with themes as diverse as the Wild West, the art of Vincent van Gogh, and a steampunk universe, care and attention is placed on ensuring that each project its realised to the best of its ability.
“Sometimes the store’s location naturally brings you an idea,” says Oguryaeva. “For example, a store in Dnipro, styled after a printing house, was opened in a building of a former printer.
“Often, the creative process is spurred by associative thinking. The interior of a store at Vita-Poshtova Village was inspired by a post office – poshtova translates as ‘mail’ – while the store at the River Mall in Kyiv is styled like a yacht club,” she adds. “If the architecture, location or associations provide no inspiration, we simply develop an interesting themed concept.”
Developing a store is a team effort, Oguryaeva explains.
After Silpo’s marketing department has developed a concept for the planned outlet, a design project is put together, taking on board the observations of the operational office, commerce department and administrative office – before construction commences.
“On average, a design project is ready in 40 to 50 days,” says Oguryaeva, adding that it generally “takes around three months” to launch a new store, including the time taken to develop the unique sculptures and fittings that adorn each outlet.
As to whether the cost of these stores is significantly higher than that of a traditional supermarket, Oguryaeva doesn’t go into specifics.
“The cost is on par with a decent renovation of a premium store, plus the cost of art objects,” she says.
Silpo is not the biggest retailer in Ukraine (that honour goes to discounter ATB Market), but it is the most adventurous, seeking out the finest produce and encouraging its loyal customer base to think aspirationally about food. The retailer feels that it ‘has a duty’ to get Ukrainians to eat better, experiment with new food types, and understand the origins of food.
Wandering around its stores, you get the sense that everything is on show. Counters are packed with appetising produce, open-plan kitchens shine a spotlight on back-of-house operations, and product sampling is rampant throughout.
This is perhaps most evident in the retailer’s four Le Silpo outlets, which are described as a ‘multifunctional’ concept: part retail store, part upmarket delicatessen (there’s even a truffle selection), and part in-store dining experience.
“In addition to shopping for food, you can stop for a coffee, have a glass of prosecco at the bar, ask the staff to cook the steak or seafood you have selected, and enjoy it with a bottle of wine right off the shelf, which can be opened for you without a corkage fee,” says Oguryaeva.
It’s an experience not dissimilar to that of La Grande Épicerie de Paris, or Harrods’ Food Halls, and an indication of how Fozzy Group refuses to cut corners in ensuring that its outlets exceed shopper expectations. As an aside, when the group opened its pizza restaurant business, Positano, it enlisted arguably the world’s most famous pizza chef, Neapolitan-born Enzo Coccia, to train up its staff – now that’s dedication.
As a group, Silpo refuses to stand still, undertaking a continuous store renewal process to ensure that its outlets retain their distinctive allure, as well as incorporating new concepts such as Silpo Confectionery (a premium confectionery shop-in-shop), a variety of in-store restaurants managed by the company’s development chef, Marco Cervetti, and Lavka Tradytsii (or ‘traditional shop’), an accelerator platform that celebrates Ukrainian food producers and small businesses.
As Oguryaeva explains, over the past eight years, Silpo has united 142 small local producers under the Lavka Tradytsii concept, rolling out some 1,500 SKUs across its store estate. As the platform has grown, so it has spawned offshoots such as the Chizarnia (or ‘cheese factory’) project, which sees fresh handmade mozzarella, ricotta, burrata and caciocavallo developed in store, as well as the roll-out of the ‘True & Local’ food festivals.
“Across the country, the Silpo team is continuously looking for new heroes of the food industry to bring into Lavka Tradytsii. We discover small farms, analyse products and the production sites, and assist with all the necessary paperwork,” says Oguryaeva. “Supermarket sales aren’t the only thing local entrepreneurs require help with. They also need development, community support, and inspiration. As many people as possible need to learn about these Ukrainian heroes and their efforts.”
Silpo also seeks to celebrate the best of Ukranian food and drink with its Kraftiar – kraftiar is Ukranian for ‘craftsman’ – range of handmade private-label products, including bread and pastries, deli products, juices, smoothies, vegan desserts and much more.
The group operates four additional flagship private-label brands: its Premiia range (everyday goods at a competitive price), Povna Chasha (entry-price products), Premiia Riki Tiki (a selection of products for children) and the aforementioned Marco Cervetti, who has lent his name to a selection of cooking utensils.
Much of Silpo’s own-brand offering is sourced via Fozzy Group’s Own Import business, which works with 930 manufacturers in 85 countries around the world to source around 15,000 SKUs in total, for the group’s fresh-produce, meat, seafood, coffee, tea, beer and wine ranges.
This integrated supply chain helps keep costs down, which, in turn, can be invested in the elaborate store constructions, the Silpo team tells me.
The Silpo journey has, in many ways, only just begun, with the business continuing to raise the bar with new-store openings. In February, it unveiled a new store in Kyiv, based on the concept of the kaleidoscope, while Dnipro saw the unveiling of an intergalactic-themed supermarket, where ‘aliens can stock up on their daily groceries’, according to the retailer.
“At Silpo, our mission is to inspire joy,” Oguryaeva explains.
Having spent a day touring some of the most impressive stores in which we’ve ever had the pleasure to set foot, ESM is inclined to agree.
© 2020 European Supermarket Magazine – your source for the latest retail news. Article by Stephen Wynne-Jones. Click subscribe to sign up to ESM: European Supermarket Magazine.