The story of SPAR in the early years is the story of Adriaan van Well, an innovative Dutch wholesaler with a clear vision for the future of SPAR. He was inspired by a simple yet powerful philosophy - independent wholesalers and retailers can achieve more by working together than working alone. It was van Well’s belief that only through collaborative work could the independent sector survive and prosper in the face of increasing competition from multiple chains.
The first SPAR store opened in the Netherlands in 1932. It was originally launched as DESPAR, an acronym of a slogan created by van Well to describe the organisation: Door Eendrachtig Samenwerken Profiteren Allen Regelmatig, which translates into English as: All benefit from joint co-operation.
In Dutch, ‘De Spar’ means a fir tree and from the start the fir tree symbol was used to identify the organisation. The seeds for the international development of SPAR were already sown as ‘spaar’, which means ‘save’ in Dutch.
Evidence of the advanced thinking of van Well is seen in the fact that all SPAR stores had the same branding and logo. He also introduced a SPAR Own Brand range to offer customers more choice.
1932: The Netherlands
SPAR continued to develop in the Netherlands during the 1930s. In the late 1940s, the decision was made to abbreviate DESPAR to SPAR.
The popularity of the SPAR system in the Netherlands did not go unnoticed. In 1947, the SPAR system was adopted by Belgian wholesalers and SPAR was established in Belgium, marking the start of the internationalisation of the brand.
In the years that followed, van Well recognised that the SPAR concept had international relevance in offering an alternative to multiple retailers. SPAR International was established in Amsterdam in 1953 to support and develop the SPAR concept internationally and Adriaan van Well became the first President of the International SPAR Board. SPAR then expanded rapidly in Europe during the 1950s.
By 1959 the SPAR family had extended to include wholesalers and retailers in nine countries.
The SPAR Guild system of retailers and wholesalers working in partnership was by this time operating at regional, national and international level. The system not only supported the exchange of knowledge and information but also provided a structure to work together and grow the business. The holding of the first International SPAR Congress in 1957 was particularly significant. It signalled SPAR’s ambition to move beyond Europe and become a worldwide organisation. The stage was set for SPAR to continue to expand within Europe and to develop on new continents
SPAR was introduced to Germany in 1952 and was the third country where the SPAR concept was adopted. SPAR has experienced considerable changes in Germany over the years.
Denmark joined SPAR in 1954 when Dagrofa was granted the licence to operate SPAR in the country.
The origins of SPAR in Austria date back to 1954 when the first SPAR organisation was established. The modern SPAR AG was created in 1970 when the original founding families joined with other regional wholesalers to form SPAR Austria AG, a 100% privately owned Austrian company.
SPAR was introduced to France in 1955 and in the 1990s, SPAR International granted Casino the licence to operate the brand.
SPAR in the United Kingdom was established in 1956 when they were granted the licence.
SPAR Spain was founded in 1959 as a result of the coming together of a group of wholesalers who wished to be part of an international organisation. SPAR was the first voluntary trading chain to be established in Spain.
The licence agreement to introduce SPAR into Italy was signed in 1959 and the first store opened in the latter part of 1960. SPAR was the first partnership of retailers and wholesalers to operate in Italy.
In the 20-year period from 1960 to 1980, SPAR continued to increase its presence in Europe and also entered Africa and Asia.
During this period, the SPAR family expanded into 14 countries on three continents. A significant development in the sophistication of the SPAR marketing plan took place at this time and in 1968, SPAR International introduced the current SPAR Logo.
Two other milestones in the development of SPAR date from this period. The first EUROSPAR was opened in 1968 and a year later the SPAR Hypermarket formula, INTERSPAR, was launched.
SPAR South Africa was established in 1963 and operates four retail formats: SUPERSPAR (similar to EUROSPAR in offer) for weekly family shopping; the SPAR Neighbourhood and Rural Supermarket; KWIKSPAR, which focuses on convenience in city centres and high footfall locations; and SPAR Express, which is operated in conjunction with Shell. South Africa was the first country outside of Europe to join the SPAR organisation.
SPAR was introduced to Ireland in 1963 when the SPAR licence was granted.
SPAR Zimbabwe was the second African country to receive a licence. The head office is based in the capital city, Harare.
Greece became a member of SPAR in 1969, when the Veropoulos company obtained the SPAR licence. The business was sold and in 2019 a new license was granted to SPAR Hellas, which developed a strategic relationship with buying union, Asteras, to grow the brand across the country through a combination of company-owned and sub-licensed retail stores.
SPAR entered Japan in 1977 and through 'All Japan SPAR Central' built up a network of regional SPAR Partners operating both Neighbourhood Supermarkets and Convenience stores under the SPAR licence. The partner ceased to trade under the SPAR name at end 2016 but this market remains of interest to SPAR.
The period 1980-1999 saw SPAR continue its growth in existing markets, while expanding its presence in an additional six countries. By 1999, SPAR was present in 20 countries on four continents following the opening of the first SPAR store in Australia in 1994.
During this period there were a number of milestones for SPAR. The initiative of SPAR Austria in establishing an international daughter company, ASPIAG, to extend the SPAR concept into Eastern and Central Europe, marked an important new stage in the development of SPAR. This period also saw the holding of the 25th International SPAR Congress in Italy and the 40th Congress in Japan.
There was further development of the SPAR Brand with the launch of the SPAR Express retail format and the SPAR Own Brand range. The effectiveness of SPAR in exercising its joint purchasing was greatly strengthened with the establishment of IFAG in 1992 and BIGS in 1994 by SPAR International.
In 1984 SPAR moved into Scandinavia with the launch of the brand in Norway, as part of the NorgesGruppen ASA business.
In 1989 SPAR entered Switzerland, when a family owned business was licensed to operate the SPAR Brand in the German speaking region of the country.
SPAR Slovenia, a subsidiary of ASPIAG, was founded in 1992. The company was initially a joint venture with the Slovenian company, Mercator. SPAR Slovenia opened its first SPAR store in the capital city, Lljublana, in 1992.
The second subsidiary of ASPIAG to join SPAR was Hungary, also in 1992. The company built the brand with company owned stores, operating INTERSPAR Hypermarkets and SPAR Neighbourhood Supermarkets.
SPAR began trading in Australia in 1994 and has a history of changes in ownership due to structural changes in the retailing and wholesaling sectors. The current company was formed in 2006 and in late 2010 a new majority shareholder, Jardin Investments Pty Ltd, was confirmed. This development significantly accelerated the modernisation of the SPAR Brand in Australia.
Poland became a member of SPAR in 1995 and the first SPAR store opened in 1997. Following a series of changes to the ownership of the company, SPAR Poland now has an effective retail management team in place.
The new millennium has seen the continued expansion of SPAR, particularly in developing countries where the modern retail sector is a major driver of economic development. Since 2000, SPAR has entered three key developing countries, recognised as economic powerhouses: Russia, China and India. SPAR has continued to expand in Central and Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia. The continued success of SPAR in existing countries and the level of interest expressed by new countries in securing the SPAR license points to the continued relevance of the SPAR partnership model in modern food retailing.
The first SPAR store in Russia was opened in August 2001, following the granting of the license to a regional partner by SPAR International. A central office was developed in Moscow and partners were identified to operate the brand across many regions of this vast market.
SPAR was introduced into Mauritius in 2000 when the SPAR license was awarded to Rodgers & Co., a major local holding company with an interest in retail, leisure, property and agriculture.license The partnership ceased at the end of 2018.
SPAR was introduced into Ukraine in 2001, three years after the first modern supermarket was established in the country, in 1999. There have been many changes since the initial launch but the business continues to grow.
SPAR Zambia Ltd was registered in 2003 and commenced trading in December of that year with the first store at Arcades Shopping Centre, in Lusaka. The combination of independent retailers’ operating stores and company-owned supermarkets has seen the brand grow across the country.
The license to operate SPAR in Botswana was granted to SPAR Group Ltd South Africa in 2004 by SPAR International. SPAR Botswana operates SPAR Neighbourhood Supermarkets and SUPERSPAR stores.
SPAR International and SPAR South Africa concluded a license agreement for Namibia, which commenced on 1 January 2004. This market also operates both SUPERSPAR Supermarkets and SPAR Neighbourhood stores.
The first SPAR Hypermarket was opened in 2005 following the signing of the license agreement between ASPIAG and SPAR International in 1994. The group has expanded rapidly through take-overs of existing retail chains, resulting in strong growth through both INTERSPAR Hypermarkets and SPAR Supermarkets.
This important market was identified as having strong growth potential following the WTO signing in 2014. SPAR was introduced to China with the signing of the license agreement for Shandong Province in 2004. Expansion continues, with the head office in Shanghai supporting all the independent retailers’ to build the brand in the provinces or cities for which a license has been granted.
The license for SPAR in Portugal was granted in 2006 and the first stores opened in late 2007. A combination of company owned stores and licensed independent retailers has seen the brand expand across the country since the first opening.
The SPAR license was granted to the Artee Group in 2009, a leading retail operator in Lagos. A number of large SPAR Hyperrmarkets are bringing the brand to shoppers in key cities, such as Port Harcourt, offering modern retail solutions, often located in shopping malls.
This decade is characterised by rapid expansion, seeing the brand enter the Middle East, expand in Asia and focus on southern European markets.
The first SPAR store was opened in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 2012. SPAR UAE operates three SPAR formats: SPAR Hypermarket, SPAR Supermarket and SPAR Express, with the move into Dubai in 2019.
The license to operate the SPAR Brand in Mozambique was granted to the SPAR Group Ltd South Africa in 2012. Independent retailers have licenses to operate the brand in the key cities.
Q.N.I.E. was identified as a partner for the roll out of the SPAR Brand into this market. The first stores opened in 2017 and expansion is taking place gradually. Retail space is not easily available in this highly competitive environment.
In August 2014, SPAR International and Max Hypermarkets entered into a new partnership agreement. The focus remains on developing company-owned SPAR Hypermarkets across the country whilst building a solid supply chain system.
SPAR Group Ltd South Africa was granted a license to operate the SPAR Brand in Angola but after an initial trial in 2014, the business has closed; options to relaunch the brand continue to be sought.
The license for Oman was signed with Khimji Ramdas, a US$1 billion Distribution Company, in 2014. The combination of convenience and neighbourhood retailing will typify the SPAR Supermarkets and SPAR Express stores in this market.
The SPAR Partner in Georgia is Foodmart, an existing food retailer with a strong and successful business. The license to operate SPAR was granted to SPAR Georgia by SPAR International in early 2014. SPAR was launched in Georgia later that year, with the opening of three supermarkets in the capital city, Tbilisi.
In September 2014, PT. Ramayana Lestari Sentosa Tbk (Ramayana) was granted the license to operate SPAR. Following an initial trial, the partnership concluded in December 2018.
SPAR International granted the license to operate the Brand to Peoples Trading Centre (PTC), which has a 100-year history of operating in Malawi. SPAR Supermarkets are the right format for the market, however roll-out is very gradual.
Azerbaijan is the second country in the Caucuses region to receive a SPAR license from SPAR International. After research into possible partners, Araz was selected and has subsequently converted or built SPAR Supermarkets, starting in the capital city to develop brand awareness. .
The licensed SPAR Partner in Cameroon is L’Atrium SA, a joint venture between two existing family owned companies (Dee-lite Sarl and Groupe ARNO) that have experience and local expertise in wholesale and retail operations. The first SPAR store in Cameroon opened in Douala, the country’s largest city.
SPAR International granted SPAR South Africa the license for Seychelles in 2015. The SPAR Group sought a partner to launch and develop the brand in this new, albeit limited market and supported the development of the first store on Eden Island.
In early 2016, SPAR International granted a license to Bangchak Retail Company (BCR) to grow and develop the brand through a combination of company-owned and independently operated stores. Convenience and neighbourhood will typify the business here.
The license for this market was granted mid-2016 to Almark, a private company owned by the Balfin Group. The first stores which were conversions of existing formats took place later that year and subsequently independent retailers’ have been granted sub-licenses, resulting in rapid growth.
Mid-year a license was granted to Malta Retailing Ltd, a member of the Azzopardi Group, which saw possibilities to develop company-owned stores in the market.
The AlSadhan Group have been granted a license to develop the retail market in Riyadh, building on their infrastructure and distribution network. There are opportunities for large supermarkets, hypermarkets and neighbourhood stores in the city.
In December of this year, a license was granted to Almi Group’s subsidiary Unifood CJSC to develop and grow formal retailing in the market, focusing on large EUROSPAR Supermarkets and neighbourhood SPAR Supermarkets.
Mid-year a license was granted to Ermes Department Stores PLC, a division of Cyprus Trading Corporation PLC to develop SPAR branded supermarkets across the country. There are opportunities to support independent retailers’ and operate company-owned stores.
In January of this year, a license was granted to Galaxy International, a division of Burque Group, to develop retailing in the city of Karachi, building on the company’s diverse interests and knowledge of FMCG distribution.
A joint venture between Ceylon Biscuits Limited and SPAR Group Limited South Africa has resulted in the founding of SPAR Sri Lanka, a business aimed at developing retail in the market through company-owned and independently operated stores.
In July, a license was granted to a consortium with international experience operating in the areas of distribution, retail and investment to operate the SPAR Brand in the Republic of Kosovo.