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Behind The Design Of Ahold’s bfresh Format

by Mike Berger/senior editor, The Griffin Report

Ahold formed its Fresh Formats team in 2014 to explore and develop new store concepts.

Fresh Formats has an independent learning lab in Center City Philadelphia where staff and customers experiment with and evaluate new ideas to change the grocery shopping experience.

After a development period, the team last year launched bfresh, a concept focused on fresh foods, value and convenience. The design targets “foodies” and consumers embracing the urban lifestyle, but with value in mind.

Two bfresh stores now are open, in Allston, Massachusetts, and Fairfield, Connecticut.

Blink, a Scandinavian design agency working with retail firms across the globe, assisted Ahold’s Fresh Formats team in bringing the concept to life. Blink was founded by Richard Kylberg, who now acts as managing partner of the firm.

bfresh designed for today’s shopping

The debut of bfresh coincides with a significant change in the way people shop for groceries.

The “2015 American Pantry Study” recently published by Deloitte found that the attributes most important to food shoppers are: healthy, innovative, convenient and customized. This points to a need for high-quality, healthy products at reasonable prices and in a convenient location to fit busy lifestyles.

The 10,000-s.f. bfresh store offers more natural and organic options than a typical market and offers a “robust” selection of vegan, gluten-free and international items, according to Ahold Fresh Formats. Bfresh also offers fresh organic produce as well as full-service meat, seafood and deli departments stocked with organic, antibiotic-free meats and fresh, sustainable seafood. Bfresh also sells “indulgence” items and a selection of local household, health and beauty items to make it a one-stop shop for customers.

“Today’s grocery shoppers face several challenges, including balancing food needs with tight budgets, finding convenient shopping options to fit tough schedules and feeding a strong desire to support local businesses,” said Suzi Robinson, marketing leader for Ahold’s Fresh Formats and a developer of bfresh. “We sought to provide an easy-to-shop solution for the Allston community. Bfresh is designed for anyone who loves food and wants healthy, affordable, locally sourced options in their neighborhood.”

Freshly prepared foods are offered in bfresh’s Little Kitchen. Based on the model of La Place, a proven fresh food restaurant business in the Netherlands and Europe, Little Kitchen sells scratch-made, always fresh, seasonal meals. Menus change daily, showcasing simple recipes, and all the food preparation is done in front of customers. Shoppers can pick up fresh smoothies, salads, pizza, Asian stir-fry, breads, desserts, coffee and more.

Right after the Allston store opened in October, Robinson said, “We were incredibly proud and overwhelmed by the reception from the Allston community. When we were developing bfresh, an entirely new grocery concept, we wanted to provide an easy-to-shop solution for today’s modern grocery shopping challenges, including tight budgets and tough schedules. We spent a significant amount of time researching the Allston community and getting to know the people who live here. To see social media buzzing about our opening was a great feeling.”

A few months later, in February, Robinson gave an update on the two stores in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

“We’re happy to hear from customers they love the new shopping experience and consider us truly different. They feel we are delivering on fresh—from awesome produce to our scratch-made foods from our Little Kitchen and Bakery. Along with a great selection of grocery and household items, customers are happy to have a unique choice to now shop,” said Robinson.

The role of design in bfresh

Kylberg said he started Blink in 2005 with a goal to develop “businesses and brands at the moment of truth—when the brand meets the consumer.”

Blink’s assignment for bfresh was to develop a full solution, including brand strategy, “big idea”, architecture, merchandising, visual identity and packaging design as well as communication in physical and digital channels.

“Bfresh brings to life the blurring of grocery retailing and foodservice. A new kind of affordable neighborhood fresh market mixing food hall, restaurant and local convenience with integrated e-commerce,” he said.

Kylberg said the “small fresh” concept of bfresh is based on three insights: The New Value; Food Is Culture; and Joining the Urban Rhythms.

He said, “The opportunity for value is to have a better value than the competition, and that can be achieved by the right mix of highs and lows.”

For foodies, food is culture—just like music, theater or movies—and they can learn about their tastes through food culture.

In terms of Urban Rhythms, Kylberg says, “The urban lifestyle is attractive but also ever-changing.”

In fact, he said customers’ urban rhythms change slightly according to the time of the day. So in the store, mornings are about lots of daylight and breakfast food, while evenings have a club-like atmosphere with pumping house music and dimmed lights.

Kylberg said fresh produce is at the heart of the concept, with a strong focus on product display in branded produce trays in two different shades of green. Food-to-go displays are prepped with fresh products to create a “feast” for the senses.

“The tone of voice is fun, casual and inviting. Wayfinding is done in playful illuminated graphics on high-level signs posting key departments. Environmental and communication graphics inject personality with a range of moveable magnetic graphics and hand-drawn posters, which are updated on a regular basis,” said Kylberg.

*Editor’s note: Find more “grocerant” news and photos in Shelby Publishing’s new [email protected] section, which debuted in the April print editions of The Shelby Report and The Griffin Report.

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