While attending last year’s Fancy Food Show, Anita De Santo, a buyer for HEB’s Central Market, decided to source a seven-flavor line of craft ice cream and sorbets, each dreamed up by a different Atlanta-based chef and made from scratch by small start-up High Road as part of its Chef’s Collection.
The line is certainly premium, with ingredients from shortbread to fudge made from scratch in 12-liter batches. But with distribution at Whole Foods and lack of local relevance, De Santo sought more. Just weeks after approaching High Road about partnering with a Dallas chef on a flavor that would be exclusive to Central Market, Rathbun Road, the brainchild of Iron Chef America contestant and owner of the Abacus restaurant in Dallas, Kent Rathbun, hit shelves.
Combining chocolate cherry cookies served at Abacus, with brandied cherries and almonds, the dessert is one of a growing number of Center Store exclusives delighting adventurous eaters. Shoppers at Hy-Vee are encountering similar surprises like Baraboo Beer, a line of craft brews made locally by Stevens Point Brewery especially for Hy-Vee.
At a time when retailers are shoring up their premium private labels to build loyalty and the perception of value, exclusive products sourced from food service outlets are adding to the panache. Think of it as the supermarket version of “The Shops at Target,” whereby it teams with unique specialty retailers from around the country to bring boutique experiences to its locations. San Francisco’s The Candy Store — specializing in international sweets, penny classics and other old-fashioned treats — occupies one corner of the “The Shops” with nostalgic gifts, fried egg gummies and boxed caramels.
The treasure hunt made famous by Costco, which continuously changes about 25% of its 4,000 SKUs, is just the experience that the Millennial demographic — comprising shoppers ages 17 to 34 — is seeking. Experts agree that the status quo equated with most traditional retailers is turning these thrill-seekers off to supermarkets. A study by investment bank Jefferies and AlixPartners bears this out, finding that Millennials are 18% less likely to shop traditional grocery stores. To help inspire them, Jefferies suggests rationalizing Center Store to allow more space for fresh, while simultaneously delighting shoppers in this anchor department. Exclusive products are just the thing to keep them coming back for a one-of-a-kind experience.