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A Challenging Year For Asian Shoppers, But Growth Continues Unabated
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A Challenging Year For Asian Shoppers, But Growth Continues Unabated

Like shoppers around the world, consumers across Asia Pacific have become focused on saving and reducing debt this year, and as a result, have become less inclined to spend on bigger ticket items and out-of-home-entertainment. While this has had a negative impact on some industries, the grocery retail market has benefited, with Asian shoppers more likely to share a meal at home with their families rather than eat out.

Value has become a main focus for Asian shoppers, partly driven by the economic situation and partly as a result of increased retailer activity focused around price and promotions. According to Nielsen’s Asia Pacific Retail and Shopper Trends 2009 Report, more than 70 percent of shoppers claim to have become more price sensitive compared to last year. The effect: shoppers are more inclined to buy only what they need, spending their money on essentials rather than on treats or what they now consider ‘nice-to-haves’. They’re also consciously trying to cut down on the quantity purchased and are actively seeking out products on promotion.

Over the course of 2008 in Asia, grocery markets continued to show volume growth, led by India (+9%), China (+9%) and Vietnam (+18%), with only Taiwan (-7%) experiencing a decline in sales. Value sales increased by double figures in many markets on the back of high inflation for key food categories. But with inflation falling in all markets, we have seen value growth drop sharply in 2009, although overall volume growth in many markets has held up reasonably well with shoppers not cutting back significantly on grocery categories.

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Traditional trade continues to lose share

As expected, the traditional counter service trade continued to lose share in Asia, with overall share of trade dropping another percentage point to 47 percent in 2008. At the same time, the absolute number of traditional grocery stores in the region grew by one percent to over 12.3 million stores. In most developed countries, traditional store numbers fell by five percentage points or more. In Korea, where traditional store numbers dropped by nine percentage points, the share of trade decreased from 15.9 to 13.9 percent, while in Taiwan the traditional trade now accounts for just over six percent of sales, having lost 1.5 percent share in the last 12 months.

The retail landscape looks very different in Southeast and South Asia, however, where traditional store numbers actually grew year on year, and even though share of total grocery sales continues to decline slowly, the majority of shoppers in all markets continue to shop at this trade channel. The traditional channel continues to meets shoppers’ needs for everyday convenience, personal service and affordability – being able to buy the smallest sizes and quantities.

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Growth of small modern trade outlets

Globally, many large retailers such as Wal-Mart, Tesco and Carrefour have embraced a multi-format strategy that includes the development of smaller neighborhood stores. Similar growth in small modern trade outlets is also being seen across Asia, with mini-markets/small supermarket store numbers increasing by 17 percent in 2008 to over 100,000 stores.

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Indonesia has led the way over the last 10 years and in 2008 more than 1,500 new stores opened, taking the total to over 10,500. These stores now account for more than 16 percent of total packaged grocery sales. Shoppers in Indonesia are continuing to embrace the convenient location, relatively good service and acceptably low prices offered at mini-markets.

Retailers in China are also investing in this store format, with store numbers growing by 22 percent in 2008 to more than 70,000 stores, accounting for more than three-quarters of all modern self-service outlets.

In South Korea we are also seeing the leading Hypermarket operators expanding into small supermarket formats, or ‘Super Supermarkets’ as they are known in South Korea. Samsung Tesco is now operating over 150 SSM Homeplus Express stores and E-mart is planning to open 30 or 40 small, 300 square meter E-Mart Everyday stores. The expansion of these large chains into the small store arena has led to concerns regarding competition with small store owners, and the South Korean government is considering introducing a bill to regulate the opening of small supermarkets.