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In Bedford, New Hampshire, the Portland Press Herald reports, Ahold Delhaize-owned Hannaford has opened what it is calling a “learning lab” store designed "to help the chain compete in an increasingly crowded market.."

According to the story, the store is the company's "most high-tech store, while also being a throwback to the olden days of high-touch customer service. Aided by computers, tablets and touch screens, the store’s employees will cut your produce any way you like, help you select the best cut of meat or the perfect bottle of wine, and prepare your entire meal to eat in the store’s café or take home and throw directly into a pot. They’ll even do your shopping for you ... Hannaford is placing greater emphasis on the items that cannot be purchased easily online, including fresh produce, meats, ready-made meals, wine and beer. At the 68,000-square-foot Bedford store, which opened in June, those sections are being blown out to the extreme and experimented upon with a variety of test products and services. Those that succeed will make their way into other locations. Hannaford has more than 180 stores in northern New England."

Mike Vail, Hannaford's president, makes the point that while "Hannaford isn’t abandoning supermarket staples such as brand-name canned and boxed foods ... those aisles are not where the company expects to see future revenue growth. Such items belong in what Vail calls the 'leaky bucket'."

“Nonperishable products," Vail says, "are much more susceptible to online purchases."
KC's View:
I think that Mike Vail's "leaky bucket" point is extremely important ... if you're going to bail out a sinking boat (not that I'd describe Hannaford that way), you do it with buckets that don't have holes in them. And that means focusing on the categories and services that cannot be replicated by online retailers.

The story makes the point that Hannaford isn't just doing its best to offer food-oriented services in store, but also to provide as much information about products as possible - where things are from, what the nutritional values are, how to cook them. This doesn't just create theater, but also imbues the shopping experience with tangible value. And, there's an Internet cafe, which is a good way of keeping people in-store longer.

This is all smart stuff ... as is the new Hannaford store in North Berwick, New Hampshire, which is less than one-third the size of the Bedford unit, which Hannaford is using to see how small it can go and still provide real and differential advantages to shoppers. This is the kind of stuff that retailers have to do if they are going to be successful.