retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Who says there’s no time to make a good second impression? Apparently, some of the most mundane items in the produce department are trying to do just that.

A recent article by Prevention editor Liz Vaccariello takes on some of the conventional wisdom about produce items that have been tagged with less than stellar reputations in recent years. As it turns out, baked potatoes, carrots, celery and even (gasp!) iceberg lettuce all have some terrific nutritional features. If you don’t believe me, read it yourself:

Sometimes, things deserve a second look, but they won’t get that good long look without help. So let’s get helping.

Raul del Rio, a Spanish marketing expert delivered a concise message on this point at a conference in Madrid last week. In del Rio’s words, the supermarket industry has carefully trained the shopper to value certain behaviors and in many cases, this training has led to nothing but problems.

His prime target for criticism is the emphasis most stores place on convenience and how we make the speed that customers leave the store seem like the greatest benefit they can reap. The problem is that by emphasizing how fast they can leave, we have neglected to build up all they could enjoy by staying.

Most of the great shopper experiences, food or non-food, happen when shoppers linger, when they browse and when they enjoy the atmosphere. Watch shoppers at an Apple computer store or Nordstrom or even at Starbucks. Half the experience comes from being there.

Of course, not every trip is about lingering. In fact, many supermarket trips in particular are about speed and about dispatching the shopper back into the parking lot as quickly and painlessly as possible. The simple truth is the shopper has a complex life filled with complex and competing needs. The same person who wants to linger over one kind of product can’t wait to get moving when it comes to others. We have to understand and fill that need as best as possible.

But it also raises lots of questions for us. Have shoppers come to regard food shopping (as opposed to many other forms of shopping) as a boring chore because it is, or because that is the self-fulfilling prophecy we’ve delivered? Have we sacrificed experience and enjoyment in the name of efficiency? Or have we simply filled the main need shoppers voiced without any sense of making them view food shopping in a different way.

And the bigger question is this: in a time of economic uncertainty combined with concern about health and wellness, is the food store missing an opportunity to bring the shopper back inside to make the trip something special once again? Is it time to show off new products and recipes while providing a sense of how quick and easy cooking can be, plus additional information on how to fix the most nutritious of meals?

In short, can we make food fun again?

The chance for a second impression doesn’t come around often. However, as shoppers look for budget saving measures to cope with rising prices and everything, maybe the moment has arrived and maybe retailers other than Wegmans and Whole Foods are ready to jump.

Maybe we can even use that moment to explain why iceberg lettuce and the like can be part of a good diet. There’s no harm in trying.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at .
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