GREENVILLE, S.C. -- Bi-Lo here, as well as other retailers and wholesale clubs, is testing a state-of-the-art scent system to enhance its fresh departments' appeal, officials told SN.
The idea is to create a pleasant atmosphere and spur impulse sales with a powerful motivator not always present in the supermarket environment: the sense of smell. To accomplish this, scents like butternut bread, roses, mixed floral and citrus fruit aromas are wafting through bakeries, floral and produce departments, retailers told SN.
"Our goal is to create a more attractive environment, differentiate ourselves and ultimately, we hope, create an impulse buy," said Jim Smits, senior vice president, perishables, for Bi-Lo, based here, and Bruno's, Birmingham, Ala. The chains, with a total of 500 stores, were recently put up for sale by parent Ahold USA.
Smits already attributes some significant sales boosts to the scent system. "We've seen double-digit increases in floral at a couple of stores. After a small test, involving 10 stores, we expanded the test to 50 Bi-Los and 25 Bruno's. The original test stores had varying degrees of success, but enough to validate extending testing to more stores. You have to have a good set of control stores to compare against. Same demographics, type of customer, size of store, volume. That's why we expanded testing and the time frame, too."
After six months of testing, a detailed evaluation is scheduled for this month.
During the earlier tests, one Bi-Lo store sent apple pie sales soaring.
"We used [an apple pie scent] during a week-long promotion. It definitely required producing additional product over and above what would have normally been necessary during a promotion," Smits said.
When testing was expanded, however, it was limited to the floral and produce departments. In those areas, production issues don't create an additional variable to consider, Smits explained.
Meanwhile, Natick, Mass.-based BJ's Wholesale Club is testing the system in several different departments in a new unit in Kissimmee, Fla.
In its bakery, BJ's is using honeynut bread scent, and a scent of freshly brewed coffee in its coffee shop. Mixed flowers is the aroma in the floral department and "summer blossoms" in linens.
"It's still in a trial mode, but we think it adds to the value of our members' shopping experience," said a BJ's spokeswoman.
At Bi-Lo, Smits described his observations in one produce department. "They'll walk by a display of oranges, smell the [citrus] scent, and all of a sudden, you'll see them turn around and come back and buy some oranges. It varies by customer, but it's our hope it creates impulse buys."
Bi-Lo is changing out the scents with the seasons. These last few weeks, it's been strawberry in the produce departments, but just this week, it'll be changed to a melon scent as they come into season.
Smits said he's still intrigued by the potential of using scents in other departments. He feels that focusing on the sense of smell to affect buying decisions is underutilized in the industry.
"I think there will be a lot more activity in the next few years as people really start to understand how it affects customers' buying behavior."
Smits gave the system he's been testing -- made by ScentAir Technologies, Santa Barbara, Calif. -- very high marks.
"This is new technology, an evaporative technology. The scent goes into the air and disperses. There's no residue or lingering smell. This [system] is clearly the best I've seen so far," Smits said.
The programmable system releases controlled doses of scent without the use of sprays, aerosols or heated oils, said Mary Reardon, ScentAir's director of marketing.
About 200 individual supermarket units have either incorporated the systems or are testing them at this point, she said. Among them are units of Kroger Co., Cincinnati, and H.E. Butt Grocery Co., San Antonio.