retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The Boston Globe has a piece this morning about what it views as a kind of dining renaissance at the supermarket, as more and more chains invest in better restaurant experiences to give themselves a competitive advantage.

Here’s how the Globe frames the story:

“Ten years ago, Whole Foods Market, Wegmans, and the Texas chain Central Market began to experiment with bringing a high-quality dining experience into their stores. At the time, the idea of eating at a supermarket was unseemly, and it often meant a smattering of tables where you might wolf down the contents of a Styrofoam clamshell. Prepared food was intended - if you had any manners - to transport home.

“Now in-store dining is a new market segment, no longer something you do on the sly, but a destination for families, couples in a hurry before the movies, tired shoppers who want some- thing to eat before they hit the aisles, even the fussiest foodies. And in these waiterless situations, there are no gratuities, which contributes to attractive pricing.

“As new supermarkets spring up, plans invariably include kitchens run by chefs, dining facilities, and more - in-store classes (Whole Foods in Dedham has a glassed-in Wellness Club), live music, poetry slams, wine tastings (nightly at Shaw’s at the Prudential Center), and full-fledged pubs (as at some Wegmans locations). Add fancy bakery cafes (like the excellent Tous Les Jours at H Mart in Burlington), throw in a bank and a post office for good measure, and there may be no reason to ever go anywhere else ... Across the board, supermarket companies argue (in a way that seems almost scripted) that they can create better dishes than fast-food or fast-casual restaurants, in part because they have many aisles of fresh ingredients. And in-house chefs usually have surprising autonomy to cook what they want, catering to local tastes and leveraging talents (and ethnicities) on staff.”
KC's View:
For me, the key to a differentiated dining experience - no matter where it is - is food that does not cater to the lowest common denominator. And if there is one change that could be working in favor of supermarkets, it is the trend - finally - toward a higher common denominator food experience.