Are Smaller and Faster Better in Retailing?

As the grocery industry diversifies, whose lunch will get eaten? The first 365 formatted stores from Whole Foods Market opened in mid-2016. Kroger opened the first Main & Vine in February 2016. Fresh Formats, an Ahold company, debuted bfresh stores in fall 2015; and Fresh Thyme Farmer’s Market, which opened its first store in 2014, is on course to operate 60 units by 2019. Each of these concepts operates in smaller footprint settings. There’s an emphasis on fresh foods (especially a large selection of produce), along with organic items and artisanal specialties, and price points are rooted in value.

Google Express launched in 2016 by offering same-day delivery of fruit, vegetables, meat, and more in select San Fran­cisco and Los Angeles neighborhoods; Whole Foods invested in Instacart; and Kroger is expanding online ordering and in-store pick-up. Amazon’s Prime Pantry and AmazonFresh initiatives are taking a bite out of the food retailing apple, and a grow­ing number of subscription services—including Blue Apron, Plated, and HelloFresh—are angling for a slice of the pie by offering meal-in-a-box solutions.

With numerous competitors eating off every section of their plate, could traditional supermarkets be in real danger? The consensus among supermarket industry experts is “no”— but it comes with a caveat. “If you define traditional supermar­kets in terms of Kroger, then they look quite well,” says John Rand, senior vice-president of retail insights for Kantar Retail. “If you define it in terms of some other chains, then they look less well. Some of the top supermarkets in the country are super regionals, chains such as Publix, H-E-B, and Wegmans. These guys are growing faster than average, so they’re doing just fine.” Steven Pinder, retail strategist at Kurt Salmon, says consum­ers “are shifting and changing . . . spending habits across the plat­forms available to us, but we’re not doing so in grocery nearly as quickly or as much as in other formats. Consumers’ adoption of technology and omnichannel shopping behavior is not taking off in this segment the way those things have in others.”

Not everyone, however, is optimistic about the fate of the 45,000-square-foot supermarket, with its predictable fresh perim­eter and center store setup featuring aisles of packaged and canned items, frozen foods, and household essentials. “The conventional supermarket is a dinosaur,” says Phil Lempert, a food industry analyst. “It doesn’t serve the needs of today’s shopper who is looking for more exciting offerings.” Lempert identifies two types of food stores that are clicking with shoppers: small stores con­centrating on fresh items, and “grocerants”—stores that blend grocery and restaurant. Operators providing sit-down restaurants on premises “are also on the rise. Stores like Hy-Vee or Wegmans are saying, ‘We’re all things food — sit down and eat a meal now, then take home some fresh items to make dinner tomorrow.”’ Against the backdrop of a fast-changing marketplace, some legacy banners are ceding share to smaller, more nimble entrants. Others, such as Walmart and Kroger, the two biggest in terms of supermarket sales, are refusing to let others eat their lunch. AlthoughWalmart has pulled the plug on its 12,000-square-foot Walmart Express food and merchandise pilot stores, it is com­mitted to the food-dominant, 40,000-square-foot Neighborhood Market format. Along with the Main & Vine project, Kroger operates Turkey Hill Markets and Mariano’s.

Experts say it’s incumbent on retailers to choose a niche. Rand divides supermarkets into three segments: premium, mainstream, and value. Premium supermarkets are projected to pull in about 19 percent of grocery sales from 2015 to 2020; mainstream will account for nearly 33 percent, and the value segment will be the largest at nearly 48 percent.

Source: Barry Berman, Joel R Evans, Patrali Chatterjee (2017), Retail Management: A Strategic Approach, Pearson; 13th edition.

1 thoughts on “Are Smaller and Faster Better in Retailing?

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