The history of Carrefour began in 1959 with a meeting between two families: the Fourniers, owners of a department store, and the Badin-Defforeys, owners of a wholesale store. One year later, the first Carrefour supermarket opened its doors in Annecy. Building on their success and inspired by their American counterparts, the new brand inaugurated France’s very first hypermarket in Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois in 1963. More success then followed over the years: in 1969, expanding beyond its homeland, Carrefour launched its first shop in Belgium, while the 1970s witnessed the openings of stores across Italy, Spain, and Brazil. The merger of Carrefour with Promodès in 1999 marked another crucial stage in the group’s international development, effectively turning it into Europe’s leading retailer. As of 2021, Carrefour is present throughout the world with over 13,000 stores spead across more than 30 different countries.
The complex recipe for Carrefour’s success
While the various crises experienced worldwide have not completely spared the group, it still remains one of the leaders in global mass distribution. Indeed, they rely on a complex strategy based on many factors such as a solid international presence, a multi-format approach, successful diversification, and strategic acquisitions.
A key example would be Carrefour’s several distribution formats that include – but are not limited to – super and hypermarkets, online, cash & carry, and small local convenience stores.
The multitude of brands owned by Carrefour (Bio c’bon, So.bio, Gross Iper, Atacadão, Carrefour City, etc.) has created many opportunities for the group. Furthermore, in addition to its retail business, Carrefour also has a strong foothold in other sectors. It is the parent company of Carfuel (fuel distributor) and is active in the travel, insurance, and banking sectors. All-in-all, Carrefour has managed to establish itself as a multi-local, multi-format, multi-channel retailer throughout the years.
Still in the shadows of giants
While undoubtedly a success story, despite its complex strategy, Carrefour has yet to catch up to some of its domestic and international competitors.
Worldwide, the group generated roughly 73 billion euros in net sales in 2021. Unsurprisingly, the corporation’s homeland made up the largest share of its global revenues. Nonetheless, Carrefour’s many brands often struggle to reach the very top of the list of leading retailers in France, whether it be in terms of turnover, number of stores, or surface area.
On the global stage, the U.S. Walmart and Kroger, or the German Schwarz Group (owner of Lidl and Kaufland), usually place higher on global retailer rankings. What’s more, the French multinational sometimes does not even appear on such lists.
Ultimately, despite decent numbers, as well as its diversity in terms of distribution, diversification, and acquisitions, Carrefour still has some room for improvement should the corporation wish to reach the top spot globally.
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Research Expert covering global food topics with a focus on the French and Spanish markets.