Centering in on the center store, with the help of store brands

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Centering in on the center store, with the help of store brands

By Gina Acosta - 12/04/2019

The Fresh Market plans to ring in 2020 by doing what everyone else is not doing. That is, by focusing on the growth opportunity in the center store, which includes for private brands.

At a time when many other food retailers are paring down assortments and cutting SKUs, The Fresh Market said it's focused on elevating the center store into a place where shoppers can find a curated branded and private branded experience that can’t be replicated in other stores or online.  

“The Fresh Market has always been an innovator. While everyone else was focused on the center store, we were focused on fresh,” said Director of Center Store Merchandising Dwight Richmond in an exclusive interview with Progressive Grocer, Store Brands’ sister publication. “We have already mastered fresh and high quality on the perimeter. But there’s still a lot of discoveries to be made in the center store.”

Richmond said a lot of retailers “are focused now on [fresh], trying to compete with everyone else and trying to look the same, thinking that that's the answer.”

“We believe the answer is that the center store is really about creating differentiation, disruption and discovery for our guests,” he said.

The Greensboro, N.C.-based retailer, which operates 161 stores in 22 states, talked to Progressive Grocer about its 2020 center store strategy, private label program and the products trending for next year and even beyond to 2021. Specifically, the grocer says it plans to "reinvigorate and reimagine what the center store vision for 2020 and beyond will look like.”

That new strategy includes more imported brands, national brands and private brands, including a new private label peanut butter.

“We’re looking to find ways to create an elevated experience for our guests in our private label,” Richmond said. The grocer just launched the new private brand peanut butter that meets today's consumer expectations for local and clean label foods.

"We worked with a family-run business out of Seattle that still packs in glass, like a good, old-fashioned peanut butter,” Richmond said. “And that's just an example of the curation experience that we're trying to generate with our private label. And we're doing that throughout our private label experiences, just finding those unique products that are high quality and a good value for our guests.”

The company says it won’t be expanding private label at the expense of having a good, curated national brand assortment because shoppers shop at The Fresh Market for a curated assortment of the best global and private brands.

“We take a very tactical, very well-thought out approach to how we curate," Richmond said. “We're working on some projects for 2020 to find unique ways to introduce private label in other elements of the store where you might not think about private label.”

The grocer said it plans to introduce more non-food items to its private label assortment next year.

“We’ve reintroduced one of the most requested items we've had over the last year: hand soaps and lotions,” Richmond said.

Additional priorities for 2020 include staying ahead of the curve of what shoppers are looking for in all categories. Some of those trends include restaurant flavors, health and wellness movements, sustainable products and clean label.

“We just did a major overhaul of the beverage category, brought in over 300 new items,” Richmond said. “Our kombucha, our fermented beverages and plant-based protein juices are doing really well for us.”

The grocer said it just completed a major overhaul of its frozen and dairy departments. Sales of organic products, however, have been leveling off.

“Organics are not growing how they were five or 10 years ago,” Richmond said. “They’ve leveled off a little bit. What we're seeing now is a trend toward minimal processing. Back-to-basics products. And a lot of times those are by default organic. But consumers are looking for alternatives within the space that don't necessarily have to be organic, but that are minimally processed.”

The Fresh Market says some of its hottest selling categories in both branded and private label include sparkling water, pasta, pasta sauce, frozen pizza and ice cream.

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