Retailers vying for Millennial business are shining a brighter spotlight on fresh foods, regardless of store format type.
That was the message from a retailer panel at the United Fresh 2016 Conference in Chicago.
"Our focus is on Millennials and women," said Andrew Lunt, director of merchandising and sales, Qik-n-EZ Convenience Stores, who discussed his company's "fresh-forward" format, which now includes some 12 locations serving central Illinois.
The retailer has embraced fresh fruit and seasonal vegetables, healthy snacks, salads and other items that differ from traditional convenience store offerings.
"It's not what people used to think about c-stores," he noted.
Unlike supermarkets, "our perimeter is the front end, so we'll put fruits, salads and other fresh items upfront," he said.
The Gen Y segment of the customer base has embraced these fresh directions, but also is vocal if offerings fall short. Millennials who don't like something might relay their thoughts on social media, he noted, quickly adding that "it makes you better."
Future plans include improving on breakfast options and exploring strategies for heat-and-eat prepared meals, he said.
Millennials are also a prime audience for Ahold USA's Fresh Formats unit, said Paul Kneeland, VP of fresh merchandising.
He described three different store formats — bfresh (Boston), Eastside Marketplace (Providence, R.I.) and Everything Fresh (Philadelphia) — which range in size and merchandising strategies, but have in common a considerable emphasis on fresh, including produce.
Some of the focus is on urban areas, requiring a merchandising strategy that caters to consumers without cars who have small apartments and shop more frequently than average.
The company is "learning from Millennials," and has remodeled a store more than once in a short period of time.
"I spent a lot of time in Boston as we opened a store," he said, citing things he learned about Generation Y.
"They're very smart. They have money but they choose how they want to spend it. They may buy cheap tomatoes but then specialty cheese.
"It's amazing how connected they are. They do understand food. And they do know how to cook!"
Kneeland said the need to understand these customers extends to trading partner relationships as well.
"I want a produce supplier that knows my consumer," he said. "Suppliers needs to know what Millennials want."
Another speaker, Steve Jarzombek, VP, produce procurement and merchandising, Roundy's Supermarkets, said his company's much-heralded Mariano's format puts a premium on produce and prepared foods. This includes cut fruit to-go, fresh juices, guacamole bars, salad bars, health food sampling with recipe distribution, and prepared meals typically ranging in price from $6 to $10.
He said the retailer aims to serve a variety of generations, including Millennials, in addition to a younger set with produce for kids. He noted that Millennials are increasingly embracing produce and making it a "bigger part of the plate."
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