There was a time in food retailing when category management was limited to procuring suppliers and allocating space and stockkeeping units for narrowly defined categories like canned soups, pasta and cereal.
But Elizabeth, N.J.-based Wakefern Food Corp. expanded on that basic foundation by employing category managers who are experts in understanding consumer lifestyles and household needs.
Working hand in hand with traditional category managers, the retailer-owned cooperative's lifestyle category managers have helped develop innovative and targeted procurement, merchandising and marketing programs that help members cater to customers of various ethnic backgrounds.
Lifestyle managers look for broad trends, customer preferences and products to meet the needs of shoppers who are Jewish, African American, Hispanic or Asian American.
In 1983, a Saker ShopRite-owned location in Lakewood, N.J., took the lifestyle concept one step further when it expanded its kosher product assortment and centralized its presentation under the Kosher Experience brand, according to Wakefern spokeswoman Karen Meleta.
“The concept emerged as a way to serve the needs of the Jewish community,” she said. “The presentation consolidates our kosher products, enhancing the shopping experience for our customers.”
In recent years, the Lakewood location's Kosher Experience has been expanded to better meet the needs of the local demographic, which has a high concentration of Jewish households. Additional aisle space has been allocated to kosher frozens, dairy and groceries, and a snack bar that offers prepared foods, such as kosher soup and rotisserie chicken, was created.
Impressed with the success of the store's strategy, other ShopRite owners have followed suit.
“Today our members have 10 stores with a Kosher Experience department, and another eight with expanded [kosher] departments that create their own kosher banner identity,” said Meleta. Stores with expanded kosher selections feature segregated sets that vary in size, based on the store owner's discretion.
For instance, ShopRite of Roosevelt Boulevard in Philadelphia uses the Kosher Boulevard name to brand its store-within-a-store selection of groceries, and carries that identity through to its meat, fish and bakery departments.
Since a significant portion of its store brands have a Kosher certification, all of ShopRite's 208 locations carry kosher fare. Members of the cooperative also merchandise items in a 14-item collection that's branded ShopRite Kosher.
Recent additions to the line include new varieties of kosher soup, potato pancake mix, matzoh ball mix, stuffing and bread crumbs. Corporate-brand kosher selections vary by store and depend on the demographics and customer needs, said Meleta.
ShopRite is wise to cater to members of the kosher community with meal components and mixes.
During last month's keynote presentation at Kosherfest, Menachem Lubinsky, president of Lubicom Marketing and Consulting, Brooklyn, N.Y., advised retailers to move beyond kosher sets limited to gefilte fish and chopped liver, and to stock kosher ingredients and convenience foods such as frozens.
“The kosher consumer is no longer Sadie, the old grandmother with the shopping cart — it's a younger consumer with a Lexus parked outside,” he said. “He's fast-moving, looking for pizzazz and would love to have every product that is popular be kosher; he's not afraid to experiment, loves new products, and his wife has multiple cookbooks.”
ShopRite stores are catering effectively to these consumers.
In fact, both ShopRite of Garden State Pavilion, Cherry Hill, N.J., and ShopRite of Roosevelt Boulevard in Philadelphia have been cited two years in a row for offering “Best of Kosher” services by Silver Spring, Md.-based Kosher Community Surveys, a polling organization dedicated to recognizing quality kosher establishments.
The KCS survey reports provide information that consumers can use to determine which establishments to patronize.
In 2006 and 2007, some 300 consumers participating in the Philadelphia Kosher Community survey selected ShopRite of Garden State Pavilion as the “Best in Kosher Shopping.” Respondents rated the location No. 1 in food, service, quality, selection and store environment.
Neil Rosenbaum, president of KCS, told SN that a number of those consumers indicated in their responses that they went out of their way to travel from Philadelphia to shop in the New Jersey location's 3,300-square-foot Kosher Experience section.
“That's impressive, because so many consumers just choose to shop locally,” he said. “It's easier for them.”
ShopRite of Roosevelt Boulevard was the runner-up store in 2006 and 2007.
In their voting, consumers indicated they were particularly impressed with the store's wide selection of kosher products.
Both stores were featured in the local media, and one of the owners of the Cherry Hill store, Shawn Ravitz, vice president of administration of the ShopRite of Garden State Pavilion, said he was “delighted that we are able to serve our kosher community with the variety and value that they expect.”
Ravitz also noted that the store's associates “work very hard at providing the highest level of service.”
HOLIDAYS AND CELEBRATIONS
Wakefern also continuously lends its support to its members' kosher efforts. The cooperative provides point-of-purchase aids, as well as online marketing and custom inserts for ShopRite advertising circulars.
“There are opportunities throughout the year for our retail members to customize various portions of our circulars to meet their customer needs,” noted Meleta.
She explained that in addition to recognizing all of the Jewish holidays in its ads, Wakefern creates several circular inserts featuring foods geared toward specific ethnic groups. Store owners can pick and choose which are most appropriate for the communities they serve.
Wakefern also produces a Jewish calendar, for stores to distribute at the start of the Jewish New Year, and caters to members of the community in other ways.
The cooperative has become a fixture at events like the Israeli Independence Parade, Philadelphia's Jewish Renaissance Festival and other celebrations geared toward members of the Jewish community. In addition to sponsoring events, Wakefern will sometimes distribute samples and give away free mementos from booths stationed there.
“Such events create great exposure for our stores,” said Meleta.
As an added resource for its shoppers, Wakefern publishes a Kosher Product Directory comprising its private-label selection. The guide is available online and distributed in-store.
“We receive a lot of calls for it,” said Meleta.
To ensure the integrity of its kosher seafood, Wakefern also implemented kosher fish processing in its own fish processing facility in Elizabeth. Wakefern prepackages kosher processed fresh fish “so it can be sold at retail without having kosher fish processing on-site,” said Meleta.
The cooperative's efforts come at a time when other retailers are serving the needs of kosher consumers.
In July, a 20,000-square-foot kosher supermarket called Pomegranate opened in Brooklyn. The store, which has been compared to Whole Foods Market, merchandises a large selection of natural and organic foods, and has three kosher kitchens.
Likewise, H.E. Butt Grocery Co. expanded its kosher reach when it introduced the San Antonio area to H-E-B's Alon Market. “Alon” means “oak” in Hebrew.
The 128,000-square-foot store is H-E-B's third location to merchandise an extensive kosher selection.
H-E-B built the location in a high-income area across the street from a Jewish community center, which worked with the retailer to develop the store's kosher offerings, according to a report in the San Antonio Express-News.
ShopRite stores are located throughout New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Delaware markets. Last October, ShopRite entered the Baltimore market with the addition of a new member, Klein's Family Markets, which in spring 2009 will convert its seven stores to the ShopRite banner.