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Got a number of responses to yesterday’s “Sansolo Speaks” about the need to reinvent and reinvigorate the in-store shopping experience.

MNB user Dick Shulman wrote:

Michael, the answer is simple. Visit Costco (sampling & product surprises) or Whole Foods (prepared foods of every imaginable type) to see how to make shopping fun.

MNB user Brian Anderson wrote:

So what you’re asking is “How can Supermarkets create the ‘treasure-hunt’ ambiance that Costco has mastered?” Supermarkets don’t have the luxury of having such a high percentage of in & out items… which also doubles for Costco as a stimulus; better buy it now or it will be gone by the time you get back. Most of those items are non-food, but they draw people in to see what they can find. Supermarkets also have to have a lot more items on hand everyday that they can’t shift around the store every few days. Most supermarkets are not designed for fun.

So can supermarkets pull it off? I think so. My advice would be… get out from behind the counters in your perishable departments and interact with the shoppers. Have the Butcher, the Baker and the Candlestick Maker demonstrate their products; rather than just have the kindly semi-retired folks from an agency handing out samples and coupons. Get the expert on the floor… with things like live demos, maybe a kiosk where they can answer questions, describe additional usages for products, and distribute their favorite ways of preparing products (i.e., personalized recipes). How cool would it be for a butcher to cut off 4 NY strip steaks for you, the thickness you want them, apply a dry rub and hand you the package to go home and throw them on your grill? Or if the baker customized a loaf of bread for you… “Will that be jalapeño cheese or would you like onion and garlic? It’ll be out of the oven in 20 minutes, just swing by and pick it up!” The store gets the bonus of the shopper shopping while their bread is baking.

They don’t have to be there all day. A supermarket could rotate departments from day-to-day and have an ‘expert’ on the floor from 5-7 PM each day. Maybe pick earlier hours for Saturday and Sunday; just be consistent. Once shoppers are educated that there is always something interesting and fun going on at that time each day, they’re likely to linger and make more time for their shopping trip.

MNB user Bev Bennett wrote:

I enjoyed your column today 6/10 in MorningNewsBeat.

It reminded me of a news item about an IRI study on consumer behavior, which I found fascinating. Shoppers are doing more from-scratch cooking and buying fewer prepared meals. If I ran a supermarket, and I say this from the self-serving perspective of a recipe developer and food writer, I'd offer shoppers cooking classes (Saturday 6 pm cocktails and cooking?), recipes, custom culinary magazines and a store arrangement that groups foods into recipes.

I agree with you, the timing is perfect. Not only are shoppers looking for budget saving measures, they’re also not going out as often as they used to. A little useful entertainment at what has become to be considered a mundane but necessary chore could truly rejuvenate the supermarket experience. That can translate to long-term increases in sales for those that do it right!

Another MNB user wrote:

Michael is right! My trips to Trader Joe's are like going on a "Field Trip". I look forward to visiting to pick up my TJ staples, and then browse the store while always stopping by their sample area to try foods that I probably would never have tasted. Part of the reason for my enjoyment is that the store is manageable in terms of size and the employees are both eager to help answer questions and seem really happy to work there. Most employees know about their products and can actually engage in a genuine conversation about their experience with them (this is a real key for providing the service level that I expect and a real miss by most traditional grocers). I usually buy one new item each trip to try it out and I am rarely disappointed.

A quick stop by their excellent wine department and I'm outta there. The tropical shirts, chalkboards, and find the parrot game (my daughter taught me that each store has a hidden parrot and if they find it, they get a few stickers --effective viral marketing to kids--) make our trip to TJ's a positive experience. Why can't more grocery stores figure this out?

And another MNB user wrote:

I read Michael Sansolo's article and it made me reflect on our own shopping experiences as of late. My wife and I shop at Winco, a regional no-frills grocery chain. It has become such a mundane chore over the last few years since the store doesn't ever remodel, or really change the way they present products to us. Our "fun" over the last few years has been to see how quickly we can get in and out of the store with our weekly shopping needs. Our record so far is 35 minutes from car to car. I hope that their CEO reads Michael’s column.

Actually, I think it is okay if a company like Winco determines that the fast-not-fun shopping trip is the niche it wants to occupy. But a retailer has to make that determination, and then go after that niche relentlessly. What you can't do is not make a decision and get caught in the mushy middle.

At least, that’s what I think.

MNB user Mike Heinaman had thoughts about another story:

This is just a quick note on the response about consumer responsibility and the media with regards to food safety. The one death at least partially attributed to the salmonella outbreak was a cancer patient, but he ate the contaminated salsa at a restaurant, not a raw, unwashed tomato. I can say from experience that going through chemo is no fun, and patients certainly try to restrict their diet, but the assertion that they need to take “personal responsibility” in a situation like this is absurd. Also, the media reports of cases like this allow other cancer patients and people with weak immune systems to take the steps to avoid the same situation.

Agreed. When the FDA determines who or what is responsible for the salmonella outbreak, it is a safe bet that “the media” won’t be implicated. Though you never know.

Also on the subject of the tomato crisis, one MNB user wrote:

We are on the cusp of the summer tomato season being in full swing and I for one can’t wait to taste my first favor of locally organically grown heirloom tomatoes.

I trust our local tomato ladies implicitly. The care and pure enthusiasm they have for these less marketed varieties is infectious. Constantly giving samples of their tomatoes at the farmers market and it just screams quality. And then you taste one and wish you’d brought more money and hadn’t bought that zucchini or that eggplant from the store because they are all right here and fresh. And it feels good handing your money to someone who actually has dirt under they’re finger nails.

And in case you hadn’t guessed, Yes my wife and I are food snobs, unabashedly so, for life is too short to eat bad food.

To compensate for the rising price of food we are eating in more which is actually a good and tasty thing as both my wife and I love to cook. When we do venture out it’s for ethnic or fine dining.

I think I remember an article about that Hells Kitchen chef recommending, actually loudly lobbying for local seasonal eating. Doesn’t sound so crazy any more does he? least for me and my situation.

No fear here, not one seed of doubt. Can’t wait till we get our first taste of tomato with fresh mozzarella, basil leaves all drizzled with some extra virgin olive oil, kosher salt and fresh ground pepper.

You’re making me hungry.

Another MNB user wrote:

There's still time to put a few tomato plants in a pot on your deck.

Except that I don't have a deck. And I do have a brown thumb.

KC's View: