Empty nesters, working parents and millennials all have one thing in common: a growing interest in what they eat, where their food comes from and how it’s prepared. Food has become an experience, and consumers have many options for seeking those experiences. So, how do supermarkets stand out from the crowd of restaurants, farmers markets, online meal services, gourmet shops and other traditional grocery stores?
Increasingly, their strategy is a destination center — a specialized area within the store that satisfies shoppers’ appetite for engagement, convenience and high-quality food. Check out these results from a survey of grocers conducted by Food Marketing Institute and Technomic:
- Supermarket fresh prepared foods grew by an annual rate of 10.4% between 2006 and 2014. It’s now one of the highest-performing segments in the entire food industry.
- Only 8% of supermarkets that responded to FMI and Technomic’s survey reported total store sales growth of more than 5% in 2014. But more than two-thirds reported that same level of growth or higher in their prepared foods department.
- Professionally trained chefs are increasingly found in the grocery aisles; 88% of leading supermarket chains now employ a corporate executive chef.
Hillphoenix Marketing & Design Specialist Margie Proctor said these statistics show food stores are getting ahead of the competition by creating well-executed destination centers. Proctor says the secret to success lies in paying attention to five critical factors that apply to every destination center, from beverage bars to pizza stations:
1. Menu: Know your audience
Make sure your menu caters to your around-the-clock shopping community. Study up on your shopper demographics, track what they’re already buying and do some in-store surveys (sweetened with food samples and coupons for shoppers who participate). Focus on neighborhood residents, but don’t forget your breakfast and lunch crowd. People who work nearby are regular shoppers, too, and they’ll probably be seeking different — and quicker — prepared meal options.
How will you satisfy both sets of customers? “One option may be a destination center designed around flexible menus and equipment,” Proctor advised. “Think about a setup that can easily change throughout the day, becoming breakfast bar until 10 a.m., a sandwich station at lunch and a meat-and-three takeaway station starting at 4 p.m.”
2. Layout: Factor in workflow and shopper traffic
Destination centers can vary widely — noodle bars, juicing stations, taco stands and more — but no matter the theme, the layout and flow has tremendous impact on the customer experience, staff performance, and sales.
“Destination center design not only must fit your space, it also should be organized to attract and keep shoppers’ attention,” Proctor said. “You want to encourage shoppers to browse, linger and, ultimately, purchase more food.”
Staff working in destination centers serve two roles, preparing food and interacting with customers. “The arrangement of equipment and food on display needs to let them fill both roles comfortably and easily,” Proctor said.
3. Equipment: Look for flexibility
Your destination center is sure to need new equipment, but think about how you can save money and space by making existing equipment do double duty. Use the meat slicer in the deli to shave pepperoni for the pizza chef. The same griddle that cooks up breakfast burritos can be used to prepare chicken for lunchtime salads on dinnertime meals.
“Make sure you’re working with an equipment provider that gets involved in the planning stages of your destination center,” Proctor advised. “That’s the best way to ensure the equipment you buy or repurpose will support your destination center’s space and food ambitions.”
4. Merchandising: Create food theater
Food merchandisers understand the power of visuals — colorful product arrangements, attractive lighting and signage — and the value of offering samples to pique interest and stimulate taste buds. But most traditional food stores fail to appeal directly to shoppers’ other senses. The aroma of steak grilling. The sound of a chef’s knife on the cutting board. The warmth of a fresh loaf of bread just taken from the oven.
“All of these sensory experiences are potent emotional triggers for shoppers,” Proctor said. “They conjure pleasant feelings and memories of special meals. Destination centers can elicit the emotional aspects of great food experiences through great food theater.”
Food theater is all about letting customers see the action and interact with the experts. Create a destination center where they can watch a chef rolling sushi or a cheese monger slicing and distributing samples of what’s on display. “This kind of shopper engagement creates vivid impressions and makes shoppers feel more connected to the food, your staff and your store,” Proctor explained.
5. Staff: Cast the right talent
No one would expect a cashier to assume the role of produce manager or butcher. Proctor notes the same goes for staffing destination centers. “These roles require a genuine interest in food and robust people skills,” she said. “Staff should be able to share product knowledge and engage customers — and enjoy doing it.”
Chefs and other culinary professionals bring authenticity and expertise to menu development, food preparation and food presentation. To fully benefit from their strengths, bring them out where shoppers can see them at work and be inspired by their knowledge and creativity. “You want professionals who are passionate about sharing what they do,” Proctor said. “They should be willing to educate customers on how to cook the fish, chicken breast or steak in their carts with a side of roasted Brussels sprouts or risotto. If they can suggest a wine or beer to pair with the meal, that’s even better.”
By bringing it all together — menu, layout, equipment, merchandising and staff — supermarkets can create destination centers that give shoppers the food experiences they want and the mealtime solutions they need. “It’s the best way for grocers to ensure they keep — and grow — their share of the consumer’s food dollar,” Proctor said.