retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Chicago Magazine has an interview with Robert Mariano, CEO of Roundy's, which has been engaged in some fast expansion of its Mariano's chain of fresh food stores.

Excerpts:

• "When I left [Dominick’s in 1998], I worked for a while to try to put a European food hall at the corner of Randolph and State, because Mayor Daley wanted it. In doing the homework for that, I traveled all over Europe, looking at food halls, food stores, and I got a lot of great ideas. Buying and eating food [in the same place] is very normal there. So if I didn’t have that experience, I’m not sure [Mariano’s] would be all that it is … [I was surprised by] the amount of food people will sit down and consume inside the store. [Our revenues from] total perishables [including in-store dining] are 50 percent. [In most supermarkets] it’s 30 to 35 percent. [The typical Mariano’s store makes $1 million a week in revenue.]"

• "I didn’t realize the level of dissatisfaction [shoppers] had with their [supermarket] choices. I knew they weren’t satisfied, but the intensity—it was almost like Jewel had broken a bond with them. I think it refreshed in my mind the notion that food retail is extremely neighborhood oriented. People look at these stores as theirs. And you better take care of my store. It’s very personal."

• "I think today people try to decide, What am I going to eat today? They’re not making lists [anymore]. We’re trying to plug in to today’s customers—where those millennials are, what are they looking for—and cater to their lifestyle and their food needs … We see a broad range of shoppers. The reason I call out millennials is that they are the early movers. There’s a very economical lunch you could eat here. Soup and a sandwich, salad, which costs about $8. And you make it yourself, you manage how much of each item. There are a lot of choices."
KC's View:
I know someone who recently moved to the Chicago area, and believes that in Mariano's she has discovered something akin to the promised land … and I know that I've been extraordinarily impressed by the stores every time I've visited. Doesn't mean that the road won;t be tough, and I'm still not sure that the low price strategy is sustainable. But I'm becoming a convert, in part because of what I'm hearing from folks who actually shop there.