SPAR, the fastest-growing supermarket chain in Albania, has undergone remarkable expansion over the past eight years. Elona Hametaj, Managing Director, shares insights into the strategies that have propelled the company’s rapid growth.
Over the last eight years, SPAR has executed a robust expansion strategy throughout Albania, overcoming numerous challenges, notably a significant transition from Carrefour.
SPAR Albania, under the leadership of Managing Director, Elona Hametaj, has not only navigated these challenges but also embraced recent successes.
Hametaj’s trajectory in the food retail sector began in 2005 at Euromax in Tirana, the first hypermarket to open in Albania. Grateful for her Euromax experience, she acknowledges how it ignited her passion for the retail industry.
“Working for a company with the vision to bring the European shopping experience to Albania for the first time was not only ambitious, but also profoundly inspiring for me,” Hametaj expresses, reflecting on her journey.
The vision of bringing the European shopping experience to Albania stood as the foundations of SPAR’s strategic approach for strong market entrance and further growth.
In 2016, SPAR formally entered the Albanian market through a licensing agreement with Almark, part of the influential BALFIN Group.
Recognising BALFIN Group as a natural and strategic choice due to its prominence in the Albanian investment landscape, SPAR Albania leveraged the framework established by Almark, which already oversaw a chain of 18 Carrefour stores nationwide.
“Our first step involved the comprehensive renovation and rebranding of our existing stores, complemented by the training of 460 staff members,” Hametaj explains how the company initiated its expansion plan.
SPAR swiftly expanded its network and marked a significant milestone with the opening of its 81st store in December 2023.
Today, SPAR Albania successfully operates in two store formats – INTERSPAR Hypermarkets, strategically positioned in urban and rural areas for enhanced convenience, and SPAR Supermarkets, serving as comprehensive one-stop shops for diverse customer needs.
“The stores are efficiently managed both directly and through independent retailers, constituting a formula that is experiencing exponential growth,” Hametaj notes, emphasising the dynamic management approach.
Albania’s food and beverage industry is predominantly traditional, with only 40 to 45 percent of food trade estimated to occur in modern markets. The remainder is distributed across regional marketplaces and small, local food stores.
A commitment to ensuring customers receive products of unquestionable quality and trust is one of SPAR Albania’s priorities. In addition to upholding rigorous European health and safety standards, the company consistently ensures the reliability of its products.
To effectively convey the manifold benefits of the SPAR International brand to consumers, SPAR Albania strategically invests in an extensive marketing approach. This involves a comprehensive 360-degree communication strategy across various channels, providing customers not only with information on offers but also emphasising the brand’s values, advantages, lifestyle, and profound community commitment.
“We work every day to ensure a 360-degree vantage point for customers, presenting our extensive product assortment, best offers, and exceptional service,” Hametaj notes, elaborating on the company’s communication approach.
SPAR Albania actively nurtures constructive relationships with suppliers, prioritising the exchange of information with customers and their preferences.
“We view our suppliers as partners, aiming to align with their individual brand strategies while consistently surpassing our customers’ expectations,” states Hametaj, emphasising SPAR Albania’s collaborative stance.
The inauguration of SPAR Albania’s 81st store in December 2023 serves as a testament to the company’s commitment to solid partnerships, strategic communication approach, valuable people, and substantial growth.
Situated in the city of Lezha, with 122,000 inhabitants and a growing tourism scene in recent years, the store has displayed impressive initial results in terms of customer footfall and turnover. Notably, each new store opening over the past year has set a record for the highest turnover per square metre in SPAR Albania’s history.
Hametaj expresses confidence in these results, which signal a growing preference for SPAR Albania among grocery shoppers.
“These outcomes instill confidence in us and underscore that more customers are choosing SPAR supermarkets as their preferred store, suggesting the need for accelerated expansion to provide all Albanian consumers the opportunity to shop in our stores,” she surmises.
PRACTICING SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY
Demonstrating a commitment to social responsibility, SPAR Albania takes pride in its role as a retailer dedicated to giving back to the broader community. The company actively engages in numerous charitable and environmental initiatives, aiming to conduct national charity drives annually.
An annual supporter of the Light a Hope initiative in collaboration with World Vision & Food Bank Albania, SPAR Albania encourages shoppers to donate food items, providing assistance to Albanian families in need throughout the year.
Additionally, under the One Tree Planted campaign initiated by SPAR Albania International, the company has planted Tilia trees in the capital city, Tirana.
During festive periods, SPAR Albania extends its support by organising Christmas lunches at elderly care centres or delivering gifts to children in local orphanages.
The company’s most notable ongoing collaboration, spanning six consecutive years, is with World Vision for the “Tungjatjeta Jete” (Hello Life) initiative. For every bottle of Spar water sold, five cents are donated to this project, aiding in therapies for children with disabilities in remote areas of Albania, including Dibra, Bulqiza, Librazhdi, and Prrenjas. In 2023 alone, a total of 5,656 physiotherapy, speech therapy, and developmental therapy sessions were provided to 123 children through this programme.
SPAR Albania is also deeply committed to supporting local producers. Since 2005, Albanian factories have undergone substantial investment in their production lines, promoting elevated food standards. The adherence to European food standards ensures the production of high-quality products from Albanian factories at competitive prices.
“In 2005, local production faced skepticism, leading people to prefer imported products, mainly from neighbouring Italy. Today, 20 to 25 percent of our total product volume is sourced locally,” Hametaj recalls, reflecting on the past.
“We remain focused on supporting Albanian producers,” Hametaj notes, emphasising the company’s brand philosophy as an international entity investing locally.
SPAR Albania recognises that fostering local producers is key to accelerated growth, aiding the company in enhancing its packaging, advertising, and sustainability awareness.
REACHING NEW HEIGHTS
The pursuit of innovative solutions to enhance the customer experience and operational efficiency stands as a central strategic focus for SPAR Albania.
A groundbreaking achievement for the company was becoming the first supermarket in Albania to introduce self-checkout systems, a significant milestone that took place at the flagship INTERSPAR Hypermarket in the Tirana East Gate (TEG) shopping mall in December 2023.
Hametaj expresses excitement about the positive reception from customers, as the self-checkouts quickly gained popularity.
“The success of this venture was evident, with over three percent of the flagship store’s total turnover generated through the self-checkout system within its inaugural week.”
This rapid adoption underscores the demand among Albanian customers for an easy, time-saving shopping experience.
In addition to pioneering self-checkouts, SPAR Albania has embraced a range of digital innovations to elevate the grocery shopping journey nationwide. This includes the successful launch of an online shopping platform featuring a diverse selection of over 2,500 products, complemented by daily offers to enhance customer satisfaction.
Further contributing to an enriched shopping experience is SPAR Albania’s Happy Card Loyalty programme, currently boasting over 600,000 members and accounting for a substantial 83 percent of the company’s total transactions. Beyond providing customers with immediate benefits and discounts, this loyalty programme serves as a valuable tool, offering insights into customer behaviours and preferences.
Elaborating on the company’s commitment to technological advancement, Hametaj emphasises the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) solutions to provide customised experiences for SPAR Albania’s shoppers.
“The Happy Card Loyalty programme stands out as the company’s most potent advantage, differentiating the company not only from local competitors but also from international ones that will enter the Albanian market in the future,” she reveals.
Presently, SPAR Albania serves a daily customer base exceeding 60,000 individuals across 16 districts through its extensive network of 81 stores, with a dedicated team of 1,600 employees driving the company’s success.
Looking ahead to 2024, SPAR Albania, despite achieving significant success in just eight years, remains committed to its trajectory of expansion.
The company’s forward-thinking aspirations are underscored by recent survey results, indicating that an impressive 92 percent of consumers in the country prefer SPAR Albania as their primary supermarket. Moreover, the survey highlights that the majority of shoppers rely on the supermarket chain to consistently provide all their needs, ensuring satisfaction with each visit.
Hametaj unveils the company’s strategic focus for the next five years – comprehensive nationwide expansion employing various formats to optimise coverage.
“The commitment to nationwide growth is evident through investments in the opening of 16 to 20 stores annually. A targeted emphasis on tourist areas aims to enhance brand visibility and capitalise on increased footfall,” she comments.
Citing the burgeoning tourism sector in Albania, Hametaj expresses confidence in the country’s potential to attract even more visitors in the coming years. Notably, the Albania Institute of Statistics reports a substantial 35 percent surge in last summer’s tourist numbers, with over 3.54 million visitors recorded.
“We anticipate not only expanded reach among Albanian customers, but also the trust and recognition of a growing international visitor base,” Hametaj explains, underscoring the significance of establishing the SPAR brand in key tourist destinations.
In conclusion, she emphasises the pivotal role this strategic expansion will play in fostering brand credibility and connection with diverse audiences.