While Robinsons Supermarket is raising the bar for Filipino retailers, some other brands may be raising little more than our cholesterol. For many supermarkets, two-for-one deals on candy bars or assortments of chips and sodas in the half-price bins are a standard feature. When you walk into a Robinsons Supermarket, however, you’re met with fresh fruit and vegetables, and a wall of products with green tags, signifying that each item meets the criteria for good health and nutrition.

The Robinsons Supermarket ‘Healthy You’ product range is promoted throughout the store, along with regular display signs that detail nutritional facts and tasting tables. Each item that is considered nutritional and healthy features a green tag, awarded by the Filipino Department of Science and Technology’s Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI). Foods are considered ‘healthy’ if they individually pass at least three or more conditions based on the Codex Guidelines for Use of Nutrition and Health Claims.

Good health and nutrition about education and empowerment

The Health and Wellness section celebrates the goodness and wealth of good health. “It’s a very unique differentiation. We’re very clear about our equity on health and wellness. It is our mission to continue educating and empowering our customers in their choice of food and products, and to promote healthy living,” says Justiniano ‘Jody’ Gadia, General Manager of Robinsons Supermarket. Sales figures are sure to reinforce this message, as while many
of us can’t help eyeing off discount sweets, research shows that the Robinsons model better reflects the preferences of most shoppers.

The Nielsen ‘2015 Global Health & Wellness Survey’ revealed that respondents are becoming far more concerned about wellness and the large role that food and diet plays in healthy living. After surveying 30,000 consumers in sixty nations, consumers were found to be growing more concerned with food ingredients and nutritional content. “We’d like to be known in the industry for our robust assortment of fresh and healthy products. Where competitors could follow us down the fresh food path, what very clearly distinguishes us from our competitors is our focus on wellness and affordability,” says Jody.

Shoppers willing to pay a premium for health foods

The promise of lower prices for healthier goods is no doubt alluring to many consumers, as 93 per cent of Asia–Pacific respondents in the Nielsen survey said they were even willing to pay a premium for foods with health attributes. That may be why sales for healthy categories grew 15 per cent in the region between 2012 and 2014. However, as this trend continues, more shoppers will be expecting clearly marked nutritional information, and stronger scientific support to back up health claims, as less than two-thirds (63 per cent) of global respondents really trusted retailers to be transparent and honest about their products.

However, research from the FNRI found that with the green tag classification system, the majority of participants perceived the FNRI (62.6 per cent) and Robinsons Supermarket (59.2 per cent) as credible sources of food and nutrition data in the Philippines. The use of green labels guarantees nutritional benefit while also reducing the complexity of deciphering nutritional labels. Meanwhile, the inclusion of nutritional facts about certain food groups and products on display signs throughout the stores means that more shoppers can make educated decisions about what products they buy.

Retailer with an active partnership with a food and nutrition research institute

Put simply, when it comes to consumer needs and preferences, Robinsons Supermarket has ticked all the boxes. “We’re the only retailer that has an active partnership with a food and nutrition research institute, where we engage with them to evaluate the nutritional contents of our food offerings. We promote this extensively within the stores as a way of educating customers in their choice of food to promote healthy living,” says Jody. “We have always taken pride in activating the consciousness or awareness among our consumers on healthy products in our stores.”

On the corporate side, Robinsons Supermarket is a subsidiary of Robinsons Retail Holdings Inc (RRHI). RRHI is the second largest multi-channel retailer in the Philippines — operating six business segments, twenty-eight retail brands, and more than 1,528 stores as of June 2016. Established in 1985, Robinsons is the second largest supermarket chain in
the country with more than 130 stores.

Justiniano Gadia, General Manager of Robinsons Supermarket
It is our mission to continue educating and empowering our customers in their choice of food and products, and to promote healthy living.

It is our mission to continue educating and empowering our customers in their choice of food and products, and to promote healthy living.

Jody first joined the Universal Robina Corporation Branded Consumer Foods Group in 1992 as Logistics Director. In 1999, he was promoted as Business Unit General Manager of glossy magazine publisher Summit Media, concurrently with DIY chain Robinsons Handyman, steering both companies to market leadership in their fields.

As a specialist in operations process improvement and supply chain management, Jody says he’s been perfecting his abilities since he graduated from his Bachelor of Science in industrial engineering in 1982.

After college, he got a job as a logistics practitioner with Colgate Palmolive in the Philippines. “I moved around supply chain departments like production planning and control, warehousing and distribution, and even procurement. I worked with Colgate for close to six years but I left in 1989, then earned my Masters in Business Administration,” he says.

He then worked with Metro Pacific, Inc. subsidiary Holland Pacific Paper as Materials Director handling its supply chain for three years, operating everything from managing inbound materials to planning, purchasing warehouse and distribution, before making the move to the Universal Robina Corporation, with which he has remained for twenty-four years. In 2005, Jody was assigned to handle the merger of the group’s hypermarket chain with the Robinsons Supermarket Corporation.

A lot of things have changed for the company in the last eleven years. “We’ve expanded from the twenty-five stores we had when I took over, to more than 130 stores now all over the country. We’ve also introduced new formats within the food retailing industry.” While regular supermarkets retain the mainstream format, the company now also runs a high-end supermarket with more premium-imported merchandise called Robinsons Selection. In 2014, Jody also spearheaded the launch of the
mini-mart or small grocery format, named Robinsons Easymart.

“I sense that we are at the forefront of change, and our venture into high-end supermarkets was a great accomplishment for us — all of those supermarkets are doing very well. Our foray into Robinsons Easymarts has also addressed the issue of accessibility and convenience, particularly in metro Manila where traffic is terrible, so this has been running extremely well,” says Jody. “We’re very heartened to see that these new stores have been accepted by the public, so we are rolling them out as fast as we can. It has inspired us to continue to embrace change, which has helped us to remain competitive against our Asian peers.”

Taking advantage of a robust economy and growing middle class

With its health and wellness focus already popular among consumers, who have proven to be actively relying on this as part of their shopping and wellness experience, Robinsons also plans to drive growth through further expansion throughout the country, including up to fifteen new stores every year over the next three years, either through organic growth or mergers and acquisitions. “We want to take advantage of the robust economy and the growing middle class, so now is the best time to expand as much as we can, as there are still a lot of areas in the country that could benefit from our goods and services,” says Jody.

In the past few months, RRHI purchased A. M. Builders, a big box hardware store chain based in Mindanao, along with becoming the majority shareholder for The Generics Pharmacy (TGP), the country’s largest and fastest growing generics drugstore chain with more than 1,800 stores. “There are many smaller family-owned chains in the country ripe for acquisition. One of my main priorities right now is to negotiate with these chains and see whether there is synergy, or determine what can be leveraged from a merger or acquisition,” says Jody.

“I would love to bring our standard of retailing to provincial areas that, a few years ago, could only dream of having such a supermarket nearby. As we continue to prosper, and the economy becomes more robust, there will be many opportunities to roll this out.” Supporting this growth is also a focus on technology investments, as Robinsons Supermarket has spent the last five years investing heavily in upgrading front- and back-end
systems in a bid to enhance the customer experience.

“We now have new Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software where we are able to access customer shopping behaviour and purchase data, which we constantly mine. We then collaborate with our vendors to come up with targeted promotions and programs,” says Jody. “We also have business analytics software that serves as a vendor portal, where we can flow information to our trade partners in sales, inventory, and payments in real-time.”

Justiniano Gadia
We’re the only retailer that has an active partnership with a food and nutrition research institute, where we engage with them to evaluate the nutritional contents of our food offerings.

We’re the only retailer that has an active partnership with a food and nutrition research institute, where we engage with them to evaluate the nutritional contents of our food offerings.

Jody anticipates that off the back of the success of these technology initiatives, the company will be continually looking for ways to implement new systems and digital capabilities to foster more growth, innovation, and customer support. “We will do a lot more, going ahead. At the moment we’re just scraping the surface of the power of technology. There’s a lot more we can do, both with new investments and with those things we already have in place, as well as forming new partnerships. We take pride in our collaborative relationships with our trade partners, concessionaires, and suppliers,” he says, “and technology helps us to ensure that they have all the information necessary to enhance customer experience and loyalty.”

Successful retailing is all about collaboration, with many partners playing a crucial role in the growth initiatives at Robinsons, as well as identifying areas for improvement.
“We pay special attention to carrying every item that we should be carrying, at all times,” says Jody.

“We can only do this through collaboration with suppliers through monthly reviews of our SKU assortment and staff availability across all of our chains, and sales forecasting, while also making sure that our distribution centres are effectively managed.”

Robinsons Supermarket actively engages suppliers to ensure reporting and tracking of its investments and inventory. “In an industry where margins are very thin, it’s important we’re able to manage levels of inventory so we don’t unnecessarily tie up working capital, which we need to fund our expansion,” says Jody. On a quarterly basis, business reviews of the performance of the top vendors are held to ensure that sales, margins, and inventories are on track versus targets. From that, Robinsons will collaborate with them on how to proactively speed up the offtake of slower-moving items or replenish important SKUs that are running low.”

Ultimately, supermarket sales driven by quality

Ultimately, Robinsons Supermarket’s sales are determined by its quality of food and merchandise, consistently high product availability, and compelling promotions — something that Jody credits to the strong support of the company’s vendors. “Without
the active collaboration of our trade partners, Robinsons Supermarket would not be the success it is today with its industry-leading same-store sales growth,” he says.

We take pride in our collaborative partnership with our members and suppliers, and technology helps us to ensure that they have all the information necessary to enhance customer experience and loyalty.

Robinsons Supermarket also values its partnerships with charitable organisations as part of its corporate social responsibility program. “Robinsons advocates supporting World Vision, a non-profit organisation that supports the education of under-privileged children. We have been funding this, and have helped to develop around 420 scholars on a continuing basis,” says Jody. “We were also able to do this by engaging our key partners to come up with promotions for World Vision all year round, where some of the proceeds of certain items or services will go towards funding the scholarships of those 420 kids. Our aim is to bring in twenty more scholars every year.”
Jody also personally sponsors an additional number of underprivileged scholars through World Vision, as well as supporting the feeding program of St Maria De Mattias Mission Center for malnourished children in Barangay Culiat, Quezon City. Alongside generosity and social responsibility, Jody also upholds the key values evident in the Robinsons corporate culture.

“Aside from its large focus on good health, convenience, and affordability, the entire RRHI group believes in integrity, competency, and hard work. Our success is born from our values as a fiscally responsible, disciplined, and hard-working organisation, with strong supplier collaboration,” Jody says.

The eagerness to experiment with, and drive change in the retail sector is also a strong value that Jody ascribes to as a part of his leadership style. “To be able to lead an organisation that is actively introducing change and uplifting the standards of Filipino retailing — that’s what drives me. Being at the forefront of change and elevating the standards of Filipino retailing has been a challenge, but I am very proud of the work we do.”