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4 Days in Ahold Delhaize's Home Country

Time spent in the Netherlands provides glimpses of retail innovation
Amsterdam Trip
The Amsterdam suburb of Zaandam, hometown of retail conglomerate Ahold Delhaize, was my base on a trip to the Netherlands, during which I visited an Albert Heijn XL store and an Albert Heijn Home Shop Center.


Since the end of the pandemic, Progressive Grocers’ small but intrepid editorial staff has resumed traveling across the United States, but I hadn’t been out of the country on business since a lighting-fast 2018 trip to Barcelona for the Alimenteria trade show. So, when the opportunity arose to visit Ahold Delhaize’s hometown of Zaandam, Netherlands, for the retail conglomerate’s Strategy Day 2024, I jumped at the chance. 

Once settled at the charming Zaan Hotel in the quiet and picturesque Amsterdam suburb, I embarked on two visits, one to the Albert Heijn XL location within the Gelderlandplein shopping center in Amsterdam Zuid — a showplace for the ubiquitous Dutch grocery store chain — the other to the recently opened Albert Heijn Home Shop Center in Barendrecht, near Rotterdam, where the Ahold Delhaize-owned retailer has rolled out state-of-the-art robotics from Swisslog to streamline the picking of products destined for home delivery.

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All in Store

The immaculate XL store features hand scanners at the entrance for customers to use as they shop for items; syncing the scanner with their Albert Heijn app loads the implement with the customer’s personalized discounts.

The location featured a wealth of prepared foods and other meal solutions, including own-brand “fresh boxes” featuring all of the ingredients necessary to make a meal for two to three people. There were also options to which a protein such as chicken could be added, as well as plant-based selections under the grocer’s Terra brand. In fact, Terra products were in evidence at various places throughout the store, incorporated in such areas as a refrigerated grab-and-go sandwich ingredient section alongside dairy cheese and animal-based meats (the Dutch love their sandwiches).


In the realm of sustainability, the store offers such innovations as a ground beef package using less plastic than the rigid tray and overwrap most American shoppers are used to. Among the other green features were a bulk food section being piloted at the location, where shoppers could use provided jars and bags to load up on coffee, tea, nuts, seeds, pulses, rice and more, with a system of lights indicating when products were running low and needed to be replaced. Meanwhile, in the nonfoods section, eco-minded shoppers could fill and refill packages of detergent.

[RELATED: Ahold Delhaize USA CEO Reveals Effect of New Strategy on American Brands]

Despite the many upscale items available, there were bargains aplenty at the store, including blue-label “Prijsfavoriet” items featuring super-low prices, orange “Bonus” end caps, and discount bins overflowing with miscellaneous items.

Although manned checkout lanes were available, most of the store’s customers chose to check themselves out after having scanned their items while shopping. After a fun morning touring the store and talking to its passionate manager, Karim Triki, and enthusiastic team leader, Frits van Leeuwen, it was time for a quick lunch from the store’s food counter: I ordered a tosti, otherwise known as a grilled cheese sandwich. As I enjoyed my delicious Dutch treat, I reflected on Karim’s assertion regarding the store’s offerings: “Albert Heijn is for everyone!”

Like Clockwork

Later that same day, at the Home Shop Center, Ahold Delhaize representatives were justifiably proud to show visitors around the facility. Of particular interest was the grid where the Swisslog Autostore robots raced back and forth, Tetris-like, helping to fulfill customer orders.

Despite this level of technological advancement, there were still human pickers on site to complete the process — adding items such as flammable products and medicines that need to be kept at certain temperatures — and to make sure that the orders were correct before they were loaded on trucks and delivered to waiting customers. The picking is done in two shifts: in the morning for afternoon delivery, and in the evening for morning delivery.

The impressive operation owes at least some of its success to the good old U.S. of A., however: The Barendrecht Home Shop Center drew on learnings from a similar facility in Philadelphia serving The Giant Co. stores, part of Ahold Delhaize USA. 

Home Shop Center

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@progressivegrocer Progressive Grocer visited Albert Heijn's (the largest supermarket chain in the Netherlands!!) high-tech Home Shop Center in the town of Barendrecht. In the HSC, bins of products roll along an automated network of rails to end up in blue shopping crates that are delivered to customers' homes. 🏠 #FYP #automated #behindthescenes #grocerytech #robotics ♬ Robot Mars - HW
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