Samkaup : Feeding a Country

Josh RayfieldLauren Kania
Josh Rayfield - Senior Head of Projects Lauren Kania - Editor
At A Glance
  • Samkaup, a holding company of four grocery store brands across Iceland, has grown exponentially to encompass the entirety of the country in both densely populated cities and rural areas.
  • Unlike Samkaup's competitors, the company is exclusively in food retail and has the highest number of outlets, with 65 stores and approximately 1,500 employees across the country.
  • Samkaup boasts one of the largest membership programmes in Iceland, with approximately 25 percent of inhabitants over the age of 25 having signed up.
  • “We are proud to say that we serve the whole of Iceland with fresh fruit every day,” says Gunnar Egill Sigurðsson, CEO, Samkaup.

As one of the largest and most diverse supermarket chains across Iceland, Gunnar Egill Sigurðsson, CEO of Samkaup, provides us with a deep dive into the company’s values, ambitions, and goals of a tasty future for all.

FEEDING A COUNTRY

Feeding an island that comprises distinct geographies, people, and socioeconomic backgrounds is no easy task. 

Providing them with consistently fresh and easily accessible produce and meals is an even bigger mountain to climb. 

However, one outstanding company has worked diligently over the years to satiate its many customers’ hunger for reliable, affordable, and appetising food options. 

Samkaup, a holding company of four grocery store brands across Iceland, was founded on the roots of two large Coops in 1998 and has since grown exponentially to encompass the entirety of the country in both densely populated cities and rural areas. 

“Samkaup is the only retailer in Iceland that spans the whole country. Unlike our competitors, we are exclusively in food retail and have the highest number of outlets with 65 stores and approximately 1,500 employees scattered across the country,” introduces Gunnar Egill Sigurðsson, CEO of Samkaup.   

The company prides itself on the values that have been ingrained in its DNA since inception – flexibility, commerce, boldness, and collaboration. 

“Being in retail, it can be difficult to integrate your core values into each and every staff member, but we do it constantly and always say that our values are the drivers for our mindset,” Sigurðsson continues. 

These values have allowed Samkaup to garner a reputation for being a leading company for business practices, product quality, and service, as well as an active participant in the local community. 

“We ask ourselves the question – ‘what is a merchant?’ – and we answer that question every day by putting our customers first and solving any problems they may have no matter the scenario.” 

Ultimately, the basis of the company’s services includes diversity and flexibility to meet the various needs of customers as well as forming positive relationships with consumers in all areas of the country.

A LEADING COMPANY

“I always say the day I wake up and am not excited to go to work is the day I will retire,” acclaims Sigurðsson. 

“Working in retail, that day has not yet arrived. There is never a moment without excitement at Samkaup!” 

After freshly graduating from Bifröst University with a business degree in 2003, Sigurðsson found inspiration from a close friend to take the plunge into the retail industry with Samkaup, thus embarking on a journey that would take him from Store Manager to Operations Manager, Commercial Manager, and finally, CEO. 

Having witnessed first-hand the immense growth and expansion that Samkaup has undergone over the past two decades has only further served to cement Sigurðsson’s passion and dedication to the ways in which the company can continue to be a leader in the industry. 

Operating in the Icelandic grocery market, Samkaup bases its business on quality, great team members, exceptional service, and a wide selection of products at the most favourable prices available. 

Currently, Sigurðsson is particularly interested in the merging of retail and ready-made food, with more and more people seeking restaurant-quality alternatives that are easy and equally as delicious. 

“We have seen a lot of development in this sector as people are coming to expect high-quality food and ready-made portions in store. We are focusing more on these options, whether it’s fully cooked meals, a restaurant business, or even do-it-yourself, portioned meals,” he expands. 

Additionally, throughout Samkaup’s many different stores and brands, optimisation and e-commerce development are challenging yet exciting opportunities that the company is placing further emphasis on as it continues to expand and look for new ways in which to appeal to customers across every demographic. 

“It doesn’t matter if it’s 2024 or 2005, there’s constant movement, speed, and different tasks every day – it is impossible to not find excitement in an industry like this” 

Gunnar Egill Sigurðsson, CEO, Samkaup

FRESH PRODUCE FOR ALL

Samkaup is the umbrella organisation for four distinct shops across the country, namely Nettó, Krambúð, Kjörbúð, and Iceland. 

“Samkaup operates the overhead, administration, purchasing, and logistics areas, while individual teams function under different banners within the business, however, we always come together as one Samkaup team,” affirms Sigurðsson.   

The largest chain is Nettó, which opened its first store in 1989 and offers a large product range with prices that are competitive with other discount stores. In 2017, it was the first discount store in the country to open an e-commerce option, allowing customers to order from 14 Nettó stores at the same price as shopping in person. 

“Our second banner is Kjörbúðin, which is located in smaller towns and offers fair pricing, but its main focus is being the local grocery store in all rural areas, while Krambúðin is a local neighbourhood store that offers longer opening hours and is smaller in size, making it very convenient,” elaborates Sigurðsson. 

Finally, Iceland is a franchise from the UK that focuses on accessibility and frozen goods with four stores in the capital, one of which is open 24/7. 

With such a vast number of storefronts that service the entirety of the country, supply chain operations and relationships are of the utmost importance to Samkaup. 

“Being in Iceland, a small island in the North Atlantic, we are very dependent on imports. About 25 percent of what we sell is locally produced; this mostly includes meat, dairy, and beverages,” insights Sigurðsson. 

“It is an incredibly important and key competitive advantage for us to operate our own warehouses and gain control of the supply chain from producers to customers, whether it be local or imported goods.” 

This control allows the company to make quick decisions that ensure customers are always provided with fresh, diverse food options regardless of storms, volcano eruptions, avalanches, or any other form of disaster that may appear.

“We are proud to say that we serve the whole of Iceland with fresh fruit every day”

Gunnar Egill Sigurðsson, CEO, Samkaup

FEEDING THE FUTURE

Samkaup differs from the competition in a variety of ways, with one of the most prevalent being its focus on membership. 

“Membership has been a priority for us for over 60 years, and in 2020, we expanded this even further by launching a membership programme app to drive customer loyalty,” insights Sigurðsson. 

“This app makes us truly unique. It’s something that nobody else has done in the grocery retail market in Iceland.” 

Today, Samkaup boasts one of the largest membership programmes in Iceland, with approximately 25 percent of inhabitants over the age of 25 having signed up. 

In 2023, three years after the installation of the app, the company saw more than 20 percent of its total turnover through the app itself, along with members shopping more frequently with larger baskets at checkout. 

In return, loyal customers are receiving the best prices in Iceland with a two percent discount and special promotions unique to app users. 

“We are the only player in the market focusing on this niche, and it is paying off tremendously,” Sigurðsson enthuses. 

BUILDING AN EXCEPTIONAL TEAM

As the company continues to look towards the future, it is highlighting the efforts and advancement of its people, introducing a programme called People and Culture, which drives diversity, equality, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace. 

“It’s our people that make Samkaup what it is. We have been focusing on building an education system for people regardless of age or experience. We say that everybody has the chance to find progression and longevity within the company, as long as they have the ambition,” excites Sigurðsson. 

Not only does this pose a great benefit to those who make up Samkaup, but it also ensures that as new technologies and ideas emerge, there will be personnel ready to not only handle the changes but excel and be at the top of innovative advancements that will come to shape the sector. 

The company emphasises being a sought-after workplace with a strong frontline. Employees in every department are also valued and provided with opportunities to advance both as individuals and members of staff. 

Alongside these programmes, the company is continuing its environmental endeavours both locally and nationally. Waste has been reduced by 60 percent at individual storefronts, whilst the company began its ‘Less Waste’ initiative five years ago, providing customers with discounts on products that would   otherwise have been disposed of due to their shelf life, which has proven to be incredibly popular. 

“Last year, we started a programme with the Red Cross in Iceland where we donate products that are out of date, but still safe to consume, to local charities across the country,” explains Sigurðsson. 

There are many accomplishments that Samkaup prides itself on having achieved due to the hard work and dedication of its expansive team, including the Highest Award in Education from the Federation of Icelandic Enterprises, and the Blaze Award, given to companies who have succeeded in DEI. 

As the future continues to shift and pose new hurdles, the company is ready to face these challenges head-on and come out the other side stronger and more united than ever. 

With plans to diversify, digitalise, and expand its online infrastructure, Samkaup will continue to be a trailblazer in customer service and satisfaction.

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By Josh Rayfield Senior Head of Projects
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Josh Rayfield sources the collaborations with business leaders, brands, and C-suite executives that feature in Food & Beverage Outlook Magazine. Josh is actively seeking collaborations for future editions.
By Lauren Kania Editor
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Lauren Kania is an in-house writer for Food & Beverage Outlook Magazine, where she is responsible for interviewing corporate executives and crafting original features for the magazine, corporate brochures, and the digital platform.