COVID-19: Hirota opens micro-convenience stores in shipping containers in Brazil

Date : 08 July 2020

Oliver Butterworth

Retail Analyst

Hirota, a Brazilian supermarket chain with around 35 stores in São Paulo, is opening micro stores (of between 15 and 30 sq. m) in adapted shipping containers. They are being opened in common areas of residential condominiums and are aimed at supporting communities by enabling them to buy groceries on their doorstep during the Covid-19 pandemic.

"With the pandemic, we realised that many did not want to go to the supermarket, especially the elderly, who began to order purchases by WhatsApp. Then came the idea of setting up small shops inside condominiums". Hélio Freddi, Hirota director.

Source: Hirota

Fully autonomous stores

The Hirota Express em Casa (Hirota Express at Home) stores are fully autonomous, requiring no staff. A Hirota employee visits the container twice a week to replenish stock and clean, while CCTV is used to prevent theft.

Residents download an app and register their biometrics and receive an exclusive QR code that gives them access to the container. They then select their products and use a self-checkout to pay using credit/debit card details, which are saved and registered in the app. This removes the need for cashiers and the necessity for face-to-face contact.

For another example of an autonomous retailer in Brazil, see our article on Zaitt here.

What is the product assortment?

These small units act as an extension to residents’ pantries. The range consists of over 500 SKUs covering food, beverages, hygiene and cleaning items, fruits, vegetables, and refrigerated products (including meats and ready meals). 

Source: Hirota

Proposition helps to support the community

One of the first Hirota Express em Casa stores is in the Tatuapé neighbourhood. The development has three tower blocks and 350 apartments. Of the approx. 1,000 residents, around a third are elderly who are most at risk during these times. Under its agreement, Hirota pays the condominium 2% of its monthly revenue, which it estimates to be around BRL50,000 (US$9,400).

Hirota’s website provides a form for people to request stores in their condominiums. This page states: “In times of pandemic don't go to the supermarket, take the supermarket to you!”

Aim to reach 100 units by the end of 2021

As of July 2020, Hirota has opened two units in São Paulo. It plans to open 20 by December 2020 and to operate 100 by the end of 2021. According to Brazilian retail press SA Varejo, Hirota is already in talks with a large property company regarding installing another 40 containers in the buildings they manage.

How might Hirota benefit in the long term?

In the short term Hirota will benefit from positive shopper perception by supporting vulnerable sections of society. It will also profit from sales that it might not have generated otherwise.

In the medium to long term there is the potential for a rapid expansion of these units in São Paulo and other major cities in Brazil. They are well-suited to densely populated cities where consumers want access to goods 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The units are low-cost to build and their small footprint will enable the business to open in built-up areas, closer to the customer.

As shoppers are required to download and register their details in an app, Hirota will have a wealth of customer data and insight into consumption habits. It could utilise this information to drive shopper loyalty through targeted promotions.

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