Expectations were high: the discounter Mere hit the headlines when it launched in Germany in 2019 as “Russian Aldi”. In the first branch in Leipzig, the new chain actually undercut the prices of the previous tenant Aldi – for butter, for example, by more than half. A bottle of Austrian wine cost 1.04 euros. Mere, so it is expected, could close a gap that Aldi and Lidl have left with the modernization of their stores: the very cheap sector, known in specialist circles as “hard discount”. It was fitting that the family business from Siberia announced that it wanted to quickly open 100 branches in Germany.
The big plans are now apparently on the verge of failure. According to Google Maps, only three of the seven branches that Mere currently lists on its German website are still open. Customers report in the reviews of significantly deteriorated product ranges.
There were large gaps, especially in the case of chilled and frozen foods. According to Google reviews, some of the local items have exceeded their best-before date. Mere now seems like a residual stock shop, hardly like a market for everyday groceries. The company acknowledges “short-term delays in deliveries” in the comments, but these would be resolved.
The specialist magazine “Lebensmittel Zeitung”, on the other hand, reports on considerable permanent problems. The sanctions against Russia caused problems for the dealer in the supply of goods. Therefore, there are significant gaps in the range. For example, alcohol such as sparkling wine is no longer available from Russia. Mere did not comment on Tuesday’s request.
The problems are obviously not only related to war and sanctions. By the end of 2021 and the beginning of 2022, Mere had already given up the first shops or – as in Leipzig – at least temporarily closed. The much-heralded push by Russia into the western European countries from Germany to France and Great Britain to Spain has stalled.
In Great Britain, the only branch opened so far closed in March, although 300 stores were planned a year ago. According to media reports, the eight branches in Spain are also to stop trading. How the German business will continue is still unclear.
The discounter, which claims to have more than 2,200 branches in Russia, is not the first foreign retailer to find out how difficult it is to break into the four German phalanx of Edeka, Rewe, Aldi and Lidl. The French chain Intermarche, for example, joined Spar in Germany in 1997 – a billion-dollar, ultimately unsuccessful experiment.
In 1998, the US giant Walmart bought the German hypermarket chain Wertkauf. Eight loss-making years followed before the sale to Metro. The Dutch company Ahold also tried in vain for five years to establish its Albert Heijn To Go neighborhood shops in Germany and closed all eleven stores in 2017.
A major challenge for attackers is to keep up with the established players when it comes to purchasing conditions – especially since the European chains have joined together in purchasing communities. For Western Europe, Mere is apparently trying to solve the problem by buying more B goods and food that is no longer sold elsewhere due to short best-before dates. In addition, Mere sells unusual goods in Germany, for example from the Baltic States, where the Russians already operate a number of their own foreign branches.
A wide-meshed branch network also makes efficient logistics more difficult. In any case, Mere is now concentrating entirely on East Germany: Only the shops in Berlin, Leipzig and Zwickau are still open.
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