Consumers’ quest for value, convenience and wellness are all converging to reshape center store categories. SN recently spoke with Lesley Wooding, a buyer at Barons Market, a regional chain based in Poway, Calif., about how the company’s merchandising has been impacted in center store categories.
Supermarket News: How has the trend toward dollar sales gains, but lower unit sales, played out in the center store categories at Barons Market?
Lesley Wooding: Recently, it’s been important to us to go through the center store categories and reduce the selection to focus on the strongest selling items that offer the most value to the customer. Value and quality is more important than ever for our customers. We want to make sure that the customer trusts that we are bringing the best quality item for the best value. It’s certainly been a challenge but we’re doing our best.
SN: How does Barons seek to make grocery shopping more affordable for its customers during periods of inflation?
LW: Pricing everyday items such as milk, eggs, bread, etc., as low as possible is key for us. Costs have gone up through the roof and we try to avoid increasing prices as much as possible. We are also focusing more on value brands so that we can keep offering that value to customers.
SN: How does Barons encourage more at-home cooking using shelf-stable grocery products?
LW: We’ve created very simple recipes with a mix of shelf-stable grocery items and fresh deli or fresh produce items, and have those recipes on our website and on our Instagram page for our followers. We’re also much choosier when bringing in new grocery products overall, taking the products’ cost into even more consideration. We also like to create engaging in-store displays that incorporate well-priced staples with other ingredients that complement each other, to encourage customers to imagine a delicious and price-conscious recipe for their family.
SN: What are the functional claims that have been gaining traction among consumers in shelf-stable grocery, and how is Barons responding?
LW: Customers, now more than ever, are looking for their food products to do “double duty.” They want something delicious yet functional, in support of their overall wellness. This is especially true in our functional beverage category. Our customers respond really well to these types of beverages even though they are typically priced a little higher than traditional drinks. And while some of these functional beverages are shelf-stable, we like to merchandise them in coolers throughout the store. Customers want to consume their trendy and functional drink immediately and may even take a picture of it to show their followers on social media.
SN: How else has the trend toward wellness and self-care impacted these categories?
LW: Powdered greens, mushroom powders and other functional powders are gaining in popularity. Wellness is a trend that is not going away any time soon. Customers are looking to care for themselves inside and out, and consuming products that support healthy lifestyles is key. People are also more aware of ingredients in their beauty products and are typically looking for more natural products. We have a small selection of the top-selling natural beauty brands that we do well with, and they are not priced that much higher than conventional beauty products.
SN: How has the consumer trend toward snacking impacted your merchandising and assortment?
LW: I would say that the snack category, along with functional beverages, are the trendiest categories in our stores. We are constantly refreshing our snack section because it’s an easy and exciting way to stay on trend. Our customers really respond to seeing what’s new and exciting in our snacks selection, and thankfully, there is always something new. The snacking category is now something we see across departments. Whether it’s snacking cheese and single-serve charcuterie or new kinds of traditional snacks like chips and cookies, it’s definitely one of our more exciting categories in the store.