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Portugal's leading retailer focuses on "improving life"

A stock market flotation was the catalyst for Sonae to diversify its business into many new categories. Innovation lies at the heart of Sonae's vision for improving life. Most important platform for this is Sonae's Continente retail brand which has recently extended across Europe, and also take its own-label brands into other retailers in order to go further faster.

Sonae is a leading retail group, founded in 1959, by Afonso Pinto de Maglhaes, in Maia Portugal, initially focused on decorative wood laminates, although de Maglhaes himself also founded a bank.  During its first two decades, Sonae stayed small, focused on wood derivatives.

During the 1980s the company began a period of rapid growth, which coincided with Portugal’s entry in the EU and in 1985, Sonae Investimentos SGPS, S.A was created on the stock market. At this point Sonae began to diversify its business, through the acquisition and creation of new enterprises: the opening of the first hypermarket in Portugal (Continente), hotels development (with Sharaton), the purchase of Star (a travel company) and the opening of the two shopping centres (in Portimao and Albufeira). In the 1990s this was followed by expansion into IT, entertainment and tourism, plus taking many of the businesses into new international markets.

Today the business portfolio is structured as follows

Core Businesses

  • Sonae MC – Portuguese leader in the area of food retail, with a set of different formats: Continente (hypermarkets), Continente Modelo (supermarkets), Continente Bom Dia (convenience stores), Continente Ice (specialised in deep frozen food), Meu Super (franchising format of close-by stores), Bom Bocado (restaurant services), (bookshop) and Well’s (drugstores).
  • Sonae SR – Responsible for Sonae’s non-food related retail area, particularly sports, clothing and electronics, through the brands SportZone (sports), MO (textile), Zippy (Kids clothing and accessories), Worten(household appliances, consumer electronics and entertainment), Worten Mobile (mobile telecommunications), Pets&Plants (garden supplies and articles for pets).

Core Partnerships

  • Sonae Sierra – International specialist in shopping centres. Founded in Portugal in 1989, it is owned by Sonae in 50% of the shares. The remaining 50% are owned by Grosvenor
  • Sonaecom – Partnership in the areas of telecommunications, software, information systems and media, which develops an active role in the integrated management of the business units. The universe of companies that are connected to this area is formed by: NOS (telecommunications), Biztech (commercialization of multi-brand IT solutions), WeDo Technologies (supplier of software solutions) and Saphety (simplified solutions and processes automation). In the media area, Sonaecom also owns Publico, a reference daily newspaper.

Retail innovation

Sonae has investment in innovation, research and development, with an average annual growth of 14.5% since 2005. Ten years later, this investment has reached 110 million euros, involving over 150 partners from 25 countries across the world.

In 2015, Sonae carried on its strategic investment in innovation, generating and implementing hundreds of innovations which contributed to sustain leadership positions for its retail businesses in Portugal and to strengthen their global presence. 

According to the data presented in the “Retail Book of Innovation 2015”, a pioneer report in the international business sector which has been consecutively published for the past seven years, Sonae’s investment in research, innovation and development rose from 22 million euros in 2005 to 96 million euros in 2014, translating an average annual growth of 14.5%. 

This evolution surfaces as the teams dedicated to innovation tasks were duly strengthened, with the direct involvement of about 4,400 employees over this past year. Innovation processes also benefitted from the collaboration of employees from Sonae’s retail areas, helping to generate ideas and implement innovations. 

Nuno Lopes Gama, Head of Innovation and Future Tech at Sonae, states: “Innovation is strategic for Sonae, for which every year we insist on a strong financial and human investment so as to guarantee we remain on the path towards becoming even stronger and faster in fulfilling or customers’ needs and preferences, while also aiming higher in our performance. This investment allows us to generate hundreds of innovations every year, which contribute to our leadership positions and to establish Sonae as a benchmark multinational company, with interests in over 80 countries. The Retail Book of Innovation is a central piece of our investment, as it not only reports the balance between the activity developed and the results obtained, but  also recognizes and celebrates the collective determination of our people and partners in producing Innovation that has a positive impact in the performance of our businesses and in our customers’ shopping experience and quality of life as well.” 

The “Retail Book of Innovation 2015” presents a selection of 75 innovations developed and implemented by Sonae’s retail brands, where one can find the Deeply Zipperless Suit, that already represents 70% of its range sales; the Shopviewthat allows to automatically monitor shelves in Continente, reducing time spent on the task by 90%; and the Sales Assistantwhich allows Worten employees to begin, carry out and conclude the selling process via tablet or web page, reducing time spent in the process by 63%. 

Examples of innovation also include Zippy’s new children’s fashion store concept that improves the shopping experience for both parents and kids, with over 80% satisfied customers; the new Ice Transporting System in the fish centre; Worten’s new pricing system; the store model for Continente Bom Diathat is more efficient in terms of costs and operation; Continente’s new packaging for sliced smoked ham; or the new range of backpacks by Note! with built-in LEDs, speakers and GPS. 

Open innovation involves over 150 partners from 25 countries 

Sonae invests in an open innovation strategy, working in a growing collaborative ecosystem that acts as a propeller of innovation. This network includes universities, R&D centres, technology transfer units, startups, incubators and accelerators, business partners and companies from the most varied sectors of business, including other retailers. 

Nowadays, Sonae’s retail businesses work towards innovation with more than 150 partners around the world, involving institutions from 25 countries, in four continents. This is how Sonae intends to foster the sharing of knowledge and the development of initiatives through collaborative networks.

Download your copy of Sonae’s Retail Book of Innovation

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