Revive the center store right now: Here’s how

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Revive the center store right now: Here’s how

By Carolyn Schierhorn, Ensemble IQ - 08/14/2017

As consumers move away from processed foods and purchase more and more products online, the center store has been struggling. What can grocery retailers do to inject life into these once-robust aisles and leverage their store brands?

Several retailing and food marketing experts share their insights:

  • Play up key areas of innovation. Retailers need to devote more shelf space to — and develop more store brand SKUs in — four trending areas of food product innovation, and they should champion these products with signage and special promotions and through social media, says David Ciancio, London-based dunnhumby’s senior customer strategist for North America. The hot innovation realms include health and wellness, certified organic, free from, and locally made.
  • Look for cross-merchandising opportunities on the perimeter. The center store and the perimeter are not separated by a moat. They work together synergistically and are interdependent, says Michael Duffy, group creative director for Chicago-based Equator. Made-to-order stations, coffee bars, ice cream kiosks and product sampling stations on the perimeter can all direct shoppers to specific center store aisles. For example, the café could have a sign that states, “Would you like to be able to brew this coffee at home? Visit Aisle 9.”
  • Bring more imagination into merchandising. When a new store brand line comes out, use creativity to generate excitement and facilitate wayfinding, Duffy suggests. For example, when he worked on branding for a new private brand cat food line, he placed pawprint decals on the floor to lead shoppers to the new products, samples of which were displayed in cat bowls on the floor. “Kids were following the pawprints,” he remembers. “The whole experience was a lot of fun.”
  • Use technology to facilitate cross-merchandising. Grocery retailers are behind department stores when it comes to pairing beacon technology with smart phone apps, points out Yosi Heber, founder and president of Oak Park, Mich.-based Oxford Hill Partners. Neiman Marcus, for example, has the technology in place to recognize particular customers who have the retailer’s smart phone app as soon as they enter the store. Based on the customer’s purchase history, the retailer can push specific messages to him or her and alert associates in the departments the customer will likely visit. “If the customer previously bought a red dress in the dress department, this information can be sent immediately to that department, so the sales associates will be better prepared to make recommendations,” Heber explains. In grocery, this technology could be used to instantly identify individuals who are, say, looking at sour cream-based dips in the dairy case, mine their purchase history, and then push the recommendation, “Try our new premium sea-salt kettle chips in Aisle 12.”
  • Take advantage of the meal kit craze.  Meal kits constitute a $2.2 billion business, one that is expected to grow 25 to 30 percent over the next five years, according to Pentallect, a Chicago-based food industry consulting firm. Grocery retailers need to figure out how to tap into this market. Meal kits typically include all of the pre-measured ingredients, shelf-stable products, and fresh items needed to create a meal for a specific number of people. Retailers could promote sample meal kits on the store perimeter and direct customers to a center store aisle to pick up pre-measured spices and seasonings, flour, pasta and other non-perishable items, depending on the recipe.
  • Completely rethink the center store. Some grocery retailers have placed produce in the center of the store, creating the effect of a theater in the round, with fresh fruits and vegetables taking center stage. Accordingly, retailers are starting to rethink where they place shelf-stable food and non-food items, observes Richard Bode, a principal consultant with Cadent Consulting Group who is based in Chicago. “For example, Main & Vine, a Kroger banner in the Northwest, places their ‘center store’ products in a section in the corner of the store,” he says.

This article also appears in the August print edition of Store Brands. Schierhorn, the managing editor of Store Brands, can be reached at [email protected]