One Sydney design agency is on a mission to help Italy’s largest supermarket chain transform itself. A retail typology that has been slow to competitively evolve with the rise of e-commerce, supermarkets more or less look the same no matter where in the world you are. E-grocery’s relative slowness in being adopted means that grocers have a comparative advantage in time-to-adapt than other retail sectors, many of whom have been too late.

While digital technologies have made their way to many chains and ‘e-grocery’ has been around for some time already – think of AmazonFresh, Picnic, Ocado – our recently-published title Hybrid Food Retail points out that ‘the big online boom in food retail has not yet occurred…it remains to be seen whether e-grocery will develop into a mass market or remain as a niche one.’

Still, the online threat to standard brick-and-mortar grocery very much remains at large. That’s why supermarket chain Esselunga is getting strategic about its offer. Looking to be a legitimate player in the experience-driven economy, the Italian company tapped the Australian practice Landini Associates to execute a 4,600-sq-m store in Brescia. No stranger to developing food retail spaces, Landini has worked for global companies including Loblaws, McDonalds, Marks and Spencers, Walgreens, Emart, ALDI, David Jones and Selfridges.

The idea for Esselunga’s mega-store in Brescia was to develop a shop that would ‘challenge and radically reinvent the global supermarket layout,’ explains a spokesperson for the agency. The team introduced ‘boomerang’ aisles to the space, triangulated pathways that stagger out in front of the shopper like a ‘catcher’s mitt’. Merchandise is the primary signage here. An abundant use of glass throughout Esselunga Brescia places emphasis on transparency, primarily between the origin of the food product and its point-of-sale.

Interestingly, though, it is the last step in the grocery journey that Landini most adapted. Swinging the typical store layout by 90 degrees, the designers positioned pay points to the right of the store – a departure from checkouts that oft ‘monopolize’ a buyer’s first impression of a supermarket space. Instead, a glass ‘production’ box sits in front, showcasing a café, deli kitchens and gives a behind-the-scenes peek into the bakery. As shoppers leave, projected films depicting Esselunga’s manufacturing plants play – ‘entertaining masterclasses in food production’.

‘Placing payment stations in the most prominent and valuable space,’ explains associates director Paul Gates, is counterintuitive to any retail location. ‘The front of any high-street store is its shop window, normally a place where its product is promoted,’ says Gates. ‘That’s all we did here – promote Esselunga’s ability to make great food.’