Destination fresh

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Destination fresh

By Carolyn Schierhorn, Ensemble IQ - 08/29/2017

Wegmans Food Markets is one retailer that knows how to wow in fresh. In its produce department, the Rochester, N.Y.-based chain encourages customers to spontaneously sample its huge, colorful assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables. The exuberant act of cleaning, cutting and offering shoppers samples of whatever piques their curiosity is known as “spruiking,” a term Wegmans borrowed from an Australian word for “promoting.”

“Wegmans is wonderful at creating this romantic touching, tasting experience for customers,” notes David Ciancio, London-based dunnhumby’s senior customer strategist for North America, who suggested the retailer as an example of what other chains could aspire to in the fresh-food realm.

Unlike Wegmans, certain retailers in the United Kingdom have an overwrap on most of their produce. “Part of our work is getting them to unwrap all of that, so customers can touch it,” Ciancio shares. “This a very human need, to hold and feel perishable product.”

To build excitement not just in produce but also in other departments on the store perimeter, grocers need to create “multisensory experiences” for customers, Ciancio emphasizes. Retailers, for example, might position the bakery department near the store entrance so shoppers can enjoy the aroma of fresh-baked bread as they walk into the supermarket. Even discount retailers with smaller footprints can do this, says Ciancio, pointing to the fresh baguettes that the Cologne, Germany-based retail chain Penny Market continuously bakes in its stores and sells for a low price.

“It’s the idea of romance again,” he explains. “You don’t expect to smell bread being baked in that type of store. But when you go in and inhale the scent, you think, ‘Wow, I’ve got to buy a loaf of this.’ ” The sense of smell can be extraordinarily evocative, bringing back childhood and other pleasurable memories from long ago.

Grocery retailers such as Roundy’s Supermarkets’ Mariano’s banner (now owned by Cincinnati-based The Kroger Co.) leverage all five senses — sight, sound, smell, taste and touch — on the perimeter with lively made-to-order stations featuring everything from subs to sushi, hot and cold buffets, coffee and wine bars, ice cream kiosks and even sometimes full-service restaurants. Stores with delicious and aromatic signature dishes such as Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix’s Deli Fried Chicken can generate interest and enthusiasm with samples offered soon after shoppers enter the store.

Indeed, the store perimeter can extend outside of the brick-and-mortar building. Retailers could hand out product samples and coupons to customers before they walk in, while food trucks in the parking lot could sell culinarily adventurous ethnic dishes that appeal to millennials.

Perimeter priorities

Nowadays, consumers of all ages are clamoring for fresh food. Sponsored by the Food Marketing Institute, Chicago-based IRI and Stamford, Conn.-based Daymon, the “Power of Private Brands” research report notes that all generational groups have a more favorable impression of private brand fresh products compared to store brand processed, packaged food.

“The best quality perceptions belong to the private brand perimeter categories, with a 74 percent quality perception for dairy, 70 percent for fresh produce and 60 percent for bakery,” the report states.

But even the best retailers can’t afford to rest on their fresh laurels. In today’s intensely competitive retailing environment, supermarket chains have to stand out from the competition by uniquely branding their perimeter spaces, says Nicole Peranick, director of global consumer strategy and culinary for Daymon.

To differentiate themselves, retailers must “create a destination for shoppers,” recommends the new Daymon white paper “From Shopper to Advocate: The Power of Participation."

“Globally, six out of 10 shoppers cite fresh categories (such as produce, meat and seafood) as being important factors in store choice,” points out the report, which draws on Daymon’s research of 8,500 consumers across eight countries.

The perimeter of the store is where retailers first captivate customers and win their trust, observes Michael Duffy, group creative director for Equator, a Chicago-based design and branding agency. “If you can capture the customer’s trust in fresh, everything else will fall into place after that,” he says.

In the produce section, the beauty of the products themselves may dazzle and delight customers. But the way they are arranged and presented, the signage that tells shoppers about local farms that grew the fruits and vegetables, and indications that the retailer cares about sustainability or customer convenience all have a tremendous impact on consumer perceptions, according to Duffy.

Having high-quality product is paramount, of course. “If you get home and the product doesn’t taste good or it’s not fresh or if there is a strawberry in the middle of the container that is moldy, that’s what customers will remember,” Duffy says.

Still, retailers today must be exceptionally creative to impress increasingly particular consumers. For example, Düsseldorf, Germany-based Metro is positioning itself as the embodiment of fresh and local by having an in-aisle greenhouse in certain locations. “You can pick your own herbs or produce directly from the store,” Peranick says. “This is taking fresh up a notch and brings the shoppers even closer to the store, which we know is so important to them.”

H-E-B-owned Central Market in Dallas is experimenting with a similar concept, in which herbs and other produce are grown in a climate-controlled Growtainer trailer outside of the store and then sold with much fanfare in the fresh-grown section of the produce department.

“We’re watching the data to see where this trend goes,” Ciancio says. “It’s an interesting principle that allows customers to share in their own experience.”

Aiming for both value and sustainability-conscious shoppers, a number of retailers, including West Des Moines, Iowa-based Hy-Vee, have enjoyed success with “ugly produce,” misshapen but unspoiled fruits and vegetables that would otherwise end up as food waste. “In the U.K., this is called wonky produce,” Ciancio adds, noting that the good-tasting but cosmetically challenged products have taken off in a big way there and have started to resonate with consumers across the United States.

Another way to drive home the environmental message is to use compostable produce bags, which can be branded with the retailer’s name and a message. Even better, stores can sell branded, reusable specialized bags for different types of bulk produce.

Although Peranick believes “private brand” should be used in the holistic sense of being the retailer’s brand (the sum of all connections made with customers), grocery retailers can gain considerable mileage by putting a name and logo on any fresh or fresh-prepared items carried out of their stores.

In their grocerant, deli and bakery departments, for example, retailers should look for opportunities to brand disposable bags, carry-out boxes and to-go plastic and clamshell containers, Duffy suggests. This way, customers will be reminded of where they bought those mangoes and fresh bagels or that delicious heat-and-eat chicken tikka masala when they get home. And the customers’ family members and friends will see the bags and containers as well.

“You’ve got all the power in the world,” Duffy says. “Think about how you can brand your fresh offerings.”

The team members in a store’s fresh departments also play a huge role in perimeter branding, Ciancio adds. Customers should be able to interact easily with knowledgeable, friendly butchers, chefs and retail dietitians to learn how to prepare and cook cuts of meat, seafood and fresh vegetables and better meet their dietary needs.

Co-creation, collaboration, community

As the Daymon white paper stresses, “in this time of brand agnosticism, shoppers need a compelling reason to choose one store or brand over the competition that is eagerly waiting in the wings.” One key strategy that retailers can use to attract and keep customers is to provide opportunities for co-creation on the store perimeter, Peranick says.

“What we mean by ‘co-create’ is giving consumers the ability to interact and to participate in the process, be it new product innovation or services at retail,” she explains, noting that consumers today seek greater involvement and connectivity.

One retailer that already leverages the co-creation concept to engage consumers is H-E-B. The San Antonio, Texas-based chain solicits new product creations from consumers and small businesses throughout Texas in its annual “Primo Picks Quest for Texas Best” competition. The top winners receive cash prizes and the opportunity for their products to become part of H-E-B’s Primo Picks private brand.

Other innovative retailers are also starting to foster collaboration in their stores. For instance, Lowes Foods, headquartered in Winston-Salem, N.C., has a “Community Table” — a meeting space with a long wooden table and benches right outside of the produce department, Peranick notes.

“What they do there is facilitate co-working and community by having events at the table, inviting shoppers to co-create meals or to sample some of the latest items from Lowes’ prepared food chefs,” she explains. “It’s a beautiful space, and it’s a wonderful example of how a retailer can create something new and different right in a core area of the store.”

Another intriguing idea that has seized Peranick’s attention, Hy-Vee in Minnesota hosts DISH (an acronym for “dinner is solved at Hy-Vee”) Meal Preparation Workshops for customers. In a kitchen-equipped room in the store, five to 12 shoppers will work together to prepare a meal.

“Everyone takes home leftovers for the rest of the week,” Peranick says. “So they are working together to create meal solutions, leveraging fresh produce, fresh meats and other products. This is a great example of how you can build community around this idea of fresh and really draw shoppers into the store in a different way.”

The perimeter of the store can also be used to connect members of the outside community with customers, Peranick suggests. Carrefour in Italy, for one, has a new urban concept store that is open 24/7, includes laundry facilities and features a handyman team that can be hired to make repairs in shoppers’ homes.

Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Market is another chain known for incorporating community elements into its stores, Peranick points out. At its Montrose location in Houston, in a neighborhood rich in culture, Whole Foods integrates the work of local artists. There is even an art vending machine, repurposed from a retired cigarette vending machine, which dispenses small works of art. (Visit to learn more about this concept.)

“The local art dispenser was my favorite” of the hyperlocal experiences created in the store, Peranick says. “It’s an example of how to bring engagement to the perimeter of the store in a different way, all under the
lens of private brands.”

What’s the overarching objective of destination retailing? According to Peranick, the goal is ultimately “to develop a cult-like following” for one’s private brand. 

Schierhorn, managing editor of Store Brands, can be reached at [email protected]