June 1, 2007
The design of a Berlin supermarket addresses the needs of an aging population.
The new Kaiser’s supermarket in the East Berlin neighborhood of Friedrichshain gleams like a beacon among the bland high-rise housing projects on Andreasstrasse. Different from the usual cramped, chaotic inner-city supermarket, at first glance Kaiser’s—with wide aisles and generous checkout counters—suggests a slick American-style grocery, but a closer look reveals a series of subtle details that make it clear this store is geared toward an older clientele.
The customer begins encountering these features the moment he or she reaches for a shopping cart: some are equipped with magnifying glasses; others have seats and locking wheels for short rest breaks. Even the smaller baskets have long handles and wheels to make shopping easier for seniors. “Germany is the oldest country in Europe,” says Tobias Tuchlenski, manager of the Berlin region for the German supermarket conglomerate Kaiser’s Tengelmann AG, referring to an issue oft-discussed in a nation that has had negative population growth since the late 1960s.
A stroll into Kaiser’s produce section and beyond uncovers more age-sensitive details: the market’s peripheral aisle is open and broad, allowing slower customers to take their time, and long metal steps running along the lower edge of the dairy and frozen-food cases make it easy to reach items on the top shelves. Each of the grocery’s short aisles ends with a small eye-level station holding another magnifying glass and a button with which customers can summon help. And everything is easy to find—signage is large and clear, from the plentiful section designations down to the shelf signs reading “For the Small Household,” which highlight products especially suitable for single people or couples without children.
“We had the idea within the company to develop a supermarket that deals with Germany’s demographic problem,” Tuchlenski says. “This location seemed ready for it.” An estimated 60 percent of the Friedrichshain branch’s customers are over 50, according to store man-ager Patrick Kuttula—not surprising considering that a senior residence lies across the street.
The company razed an existing Kaiser’s originally built during the Cold War to construct the new shop, which opened in December 2006. About twice as large as the old structure, its simple yet savvy innovations are the result of in-house brainstorming and market studies that identified the shopping needs of the elderly. Berlin’s first senior supermarket, it is following in the footsteps of the Austrian company Adeg, which opened an Aktiv Markt +50 in Salzburg in 2003. But some features, like the curvy seated carts, are unique to Kaiser’s—they were fabricated especially for what the company has dubbed the “Generations-market.” (A large number of young single people also live in the area.)
Indeed, shoppers of all ages can appreciate the store’s anti-slip synthetic flooring, brighter and more directed lighting, cheery pastel-yellow walls, and a checkout area that allows plenty of room for maneuvering. One particularly senior-friendly element is the foyer near the exit, which is equipped with black couches, a TV/computer screen, a watercooler, and a coin-operated massage chair. Customers can even have a taxi called for free from the adjacent bakery stand. “For a lot of older people, going to the supermarket has a social aspect. We wanted to create a ‘senior corner’ so people can meet over coffee and cake,” Tuchlenski explains.
Kaiser’s is pleased with the changes—sales are 25 percent above forecasted figures—and longtime customers are happy as well. “Now short people like me can reach the top shelf, and the guys who used to stand around outside drinking beer have coffee in the foyer, which even has a handicapped-accessible bathroom,” says 75-year-old Marlies, who has shopped at the location for years. “It’s the best supermarket in all of Berlin.”