With nine locations across Malta – and another on the way soon – Welbee’s is a success story within the local supermarket industry. And as the company gears up for the next chapter, CEO Jonathan Shaw says there’s much to look forward to.

But first, a brief look at the journey that’s led them here. “It all started with a single grocery store back in the 1940s,” Jonathan says, explaining how, over the years, more supermarkets would join the fray, run by different families and owners. In 2005, these separate entities came together for the first time, stocking a single, own-label brand: Carrefour.

This cooperation culminated in a full merger in 2021, eventually leading to the rebrand, and the Welbee’s name we know today. “We now have nine locations, with a tenth opening later this year, employing around 500 people directly and another 120 indirectly through partners and counters,” Jonathan smiles, highlighting two main landmarks.

The first, he attests, is the original vision of the owners and shareholders to merge. “It’s quite radical to relinquish full control and merge with your competitors. I think that takes remarkable vision and courage,” the CEO reveals. Secondly, he considers the rebrand to have been another huge milestone. “Not just the rebranding itself, but the fact that we managed to make Welbee’s a household name so quickly,” he says.

Turning his attention to the present, I ask Jonathan about the current pricing scenario and competition within the industry today. Discussing the main differences between hard discount stores and Welbee’s ‘retail service supermarket’ experience, he says it’s important to understand that hard discount stores and traditional retail service supermarkets like Welbee’s have different business models. Illustrating this, the CEO affirms, “to start, discount stores will stock about 2,500 products, while we carry closer to 25,000 in each supermarket. This is providing choice, and a bigger selection.”

Additionally, larger supermarkets like Welbee’s stock a mix of both low cost items and private labels but also the full range of major brands, he continues, with top brands naturally carrying a higher price tag. “Hard discount stores will focus on large volumes with very few items, focusing strictly on price. Meanwhile, our busines model features a number of incentives for customers, like loyalty points, cashback, even free water and soft drinks – all of which comes at a cost,” Jonathan says, pointing out that it’s not a question of right or wrong, just different. “There’s overlap between the two, of course, especially in a small country like Malta, and we recognise that our clients may shop at both types of stores.”

Asked whether price is the biggest factor for customers, Jonathan says that it is about more than just low prices. “Obviously, the current economic climate makes price more important than ever. However, Welbee’s is about the broader shopping experience: engagement, quality, cleanliness, service, personalisation, familiarity with products, and innovation. This industry is surprisingly complex and dynamic. In short, people don’t just want low prices, but price is definitely more relevant now,” he says.

Such is Welbee’s focus on different incentives, the CEO continues, that they’re now gearing up to launch an updated cashback loyalty scheme, which will come into effect on 1st March.

Revealing what customers can expect, he says, “Welbee’s was the first to offer cashback and we’re a firm believer in rewarding customer loyalty. The new scheme will see us increasing the amounts. Now, if you spend €100, you’ll get €8 back instead of €7. More importantly, we’re also introducing new tiers, so, if you spend €150, you’ll get €11 back, €200 gets you €16, and so on. It’s quite substantial. When you factor in our cashback along with prices and other offers, the true value for our customers becomes clear.”

A new online shopping website is also in the works, the CEO reveals. “While a new website wasn’t an immediate priority after the merger, we’re now ready to launch a completely improved shopping experience. The focus is on the essentials: functionality, user-friendliness, product and price visibility, as well as efficient delivery,” he explains, acknowledging that Welbee’s existing online community loves buying groceries online, and he believes that this new site will serve them (and new customers) even better.

Finally, 2024 will also bring about a tenth location to the Welbee’s network – a much-requested supermarket in the south of the island. “We’re thrilled to join the Shoreline Mall at Smart City as their supermarket,” Jonathan says, adding, “it’s been great to see the project develop, and I believe it’ll be a major destination.”

 Set to open soon after the mall opens its doors, the supermarket will be sizeable, he reveals – around 1,300 square metres – and will offer all the expected amenities, like butcher, deli, and produce, plus a gourmet counter serving ready-made, home-style food. “With this location, we’re also introducing an updated ‘brand look’ to keep things fresh,” he teases, without revealing too much.

All in all, its looking to be an exciting year for Welbee’s – one in which the company will forge ever forward within an industry that continues to shift and evolve. “The industry is always evolving, and new competitors bring challenges. But they also give us a great opportunity to be even more customer-centric. At the end of the day, if our customer wins, so do we,” the CEO smiles.

Concluding our chat with a tip for shoppers who aren’t yet familiar with the Welbee’s system, Jonathan says, “if you are not already a Welbee’s customer, I suggest that you first download the Welbee’s app on your phone – it’s free and easy to set-up – and then, all you need to do is go to your nearest Welbee’s shop and scan your Loyalty App at cashpoint to start earning cashback and more!”

Main image: Photo by Bernard Polidano

Employers ‘not convinced’ that new H&S bill will address known safety issues

July 17, 2024
by Robert Fenech

The Malta Employers Association fears that a new law being pushed through parliament will ‘indiscriminately increase burdens’ on companies

Over 80% of breach reports of €10,000 cash restriction rule related to vehicles, property and seacraft

July 17, 2024
by Robert Fenech

Banks were responsible for the overwhelming majority of reports

Gozo Channel passengers decrease marginally, fast ferry users surge by 38.4% in second quarter of 2024

July 16, 2024
by Fabrizio Tabone

Almost 1.8 million passengers travelled between Malta and Gozo in Q2 2024