Revamped Shoppers Finds a Niche

It's not a warehouse anymore. In fact, the chain that used to be Shoppers Food Warehouse has long since adopted a new name Shoppers Food & Pharmacy that better aligns the Supervalu-owned regional discount chain with a lively new identity. While the new Shoppers remains a price-driven store generally appealing to lower-income groups throughout the Washington-Baltimore area, gone is the

LANHAM, Md. — It's not a warehouse anymore.

In fact, the chain that used to be Shoppers Food Warehouse has long since adopted a new name — Shoppers Food & Pharmacy — that better aligns the Supervalu-owned regional discount chain with a lively new identity. While the new Shoppers remains a price-driven store generally appealing to lower-income groups throughout the Washington-Baltimore area, gone is the warehouse name — and feel — of its predecessors.

In its place is a store that is proving that attractive presentation of fresh foods, proprietary prepared food offerings and exotic international selections are not the domain only of stores reaching for a wealthy demographic. Shoppers offers all of those things, while retaining its high-volume, low-price origins, and that's helping the chain expand in a market that's seen an invasion of new competitors in recent years.

“We have positioned ourselves very well in this market,” Dick Bergmann, president of Shoppers, told SN during a recent tour of a Baltimore Shoppers store. “We are making a unique statement.”

The Shoppers chain, 62 stores strong today, has a convoluted history: It was pieced together over the years through various combinations of price-impact stores in the Washington-Baltimore region, operating under trade names such as Metro Food, Basics Food Center and Shoppers Food Warehouse. Those chains were consolidated by wholesaler Richfood, which was taken over by Supervalu in 1999.

Supervalu united the banners under a single name in 2003 when it converted remaining Metro stores in Baltimore to the Shoppers banner.

There was some reputation to overcome. Some stores were dirty. Others expressed value in terms of sparseness and indifferent merchandising. Stenciled letters on the logo, since retired, reinforced an industrial feel. But the Shoppers stores today bear few of those hallmarks.

One key was emphasizing fresh produce, or, as Bergmann described it, “exploding the perimeter.” The Baltimore store featured a large area merchandising produce along three walls surrounding floor displays of fruits on stands and tables. To the right was a long deli counter co-branded with Dietz & Watson, and a hot foods bar leading to displays of fresh seafood. A small area in the front of the store is set aside for in-store dining.

The meat department is among the most productive in the market, Bergmann added.

Items are never far from an aggressive price message. Signs promote everyday low prices that are 20% below traditional competitors, which in Baltimore include Safeway, Giant-Landover and SuperFresh. The Baltimore store features a “Wall of Value” with high-stacked Center Store items like cereal and coffee facing the expanded produce section. Shoppers also promotes the convenience of “no-card” shopping.

“What you'll find in Shoppers is plenty of excitement, but not a lot of clutter,” Bergmann said.

The store bakery features a proprietary doughnut offering — the aptly-named Colossal Donut — that's made from scratch in stores. “This donut eats other donuts for breakfast,” according to a sign. The store also features a wide international aisle aimed at satisfying diverse local tastes.

Bergmann said the combination of low prices, convenience and a lively store atmosphere has helped Shoppers carve out a unique niche in the market, particularly as the traditional leader, Giant, struggles to reestablish its own identity following the tribulations of its parent company, Ahold.

Giant's plan — which includes establishing lower everyday prices, reducing some selections and sprucing up stores — could be torn out of the playbook of its feisty smaller competitor.