Markets, Super and Not in Sri Lanka

Ahamed Nizar
8 min readMay 6, 2020
Trishaw passing a roadside market in Sri Lanka

Going to the supermarket was a luxury to Sri Lankans. Now it’s a standard thing.

The year is 1980 and my father gets into his Austin Cambridge to drive to Colpetty to do some grocery shopping. Cigarette in mouth, shutters down, he drives past his usual shopping spot, the Wellawatte market. He drives further down Galle road, passing many other grocery stores that he would frequent. He’s not one to go essential shopping but today he is. It’s not the usual shopping run, today he’s driving to Colpetty to check out Cornell’s, Sri Lanka’s first supermarket. It offered many things that normal convenience stores or the municipal markets such as Wellawatte or Colpetty market did not. Here you can shop in your own sweet time, in an air-conditioned modern space set up in partnership with a Singaporean supermarket chain.

THE BIG FOUR

Over the years since Cornell’s, supermarkets have mushroomed all over the country. In terms of number, Cargills takes the lead with over 350 outlets all over the country. Their supermarkets carry the slogan “On your way home” promoting that their supermarkets are for people from all walks of life and offer a variety of products, predominantly promoting those owned by their holding company Cargills, which include Kist and Kotmale.

Keells, owned by massive conglomerate John Keells, comes second with just over 100 outlets. Their bright green branding that promotes freshness, not to be confused with eco-friendliness, though they do try. They chase after the middle class in newly developed suburbs. With initial assistance from Tesco, they lease out massive properties with ample parking space and whilst they offer more or less the same goods as other supermarkets (with a bias to their brands) they have created a more pleasant shopping experience. They want you to spend more time in their supermarket by offering fresh products via their bakery and take away kiosk.

Richard Pieris, the tyre magnate, owns the Arpico supermarket. It has goods from everyone, so you tend to find brands that you would not find in the other two, but their main differentiator is the fact that they focus on homeware such as mops & carpets, and kitchen knick-knacks such as Tupperware & table mats. Branded in blue…

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Ahamed Nizar

Business Consultant and Freelance Writer getting his mojo back. Email: connect@ahamednizar.com