retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The Wall Street Journal has a story about how "supermarkets, in their continuing efforts to win back shoppers who increasingly turn to takeout, restaurants and meal kits, are trying more services that sell chopped vegetables and other short-cuts. They appeal to people’s preference for choosing their own food in person."

Example: "Hy-Vee ... has begun a meal-preparation program that runs similarly to a book club. A group of five to 12 customers schedule a time to gather in a separate room in the store that may have large working tables, a stove and a dishwasher. Each group member selects one recipe. The group prepares and divides up the meals for everyone to take home."

Another example: "PriceChopper/Market 32 stores ... has launched a choose-your-own-adventure case in the meat department. Customers start with a sauce, such as lemon-garlic or Marsala mushroom, and select their meat, which is prepared and cut. Then, they are led to prepared and packaged vegetable mixes, such as Brussels sprouts, onion and apple, or squash and onions ... Then, the starch ... Below are recipe cards with preparation suggestions. Customers can select a seasoning mix. The recipes take 15 minutes to prepare, says Mona Golub, a vice president for the supermarket chain, serve four and cost $20 to $25."

While there is increased competition for share-of-stomach, the Journal writes, supermarkets believe that their "big advantage is that most people still like to shop in person, wooed by smells and textures, squeezing avocados and turning over apples before bagging ... Other grocery stores are eliminating less-frequented center aisles that carry things like dog food and diapers."
KC's View:
Maybe it is just me, but I cannot imagine ever wanting to go to a supermarket with a bunch of friends to chop veggies together. (Then again, I'm not a book club guy either. Maybe I'm just anti-social.)

That said, I like the Price Chopper version a lot more, and have begun to notice when stores provide options such as chopped veggies, whether pre-bagged or chopped on the spot (but by a store employee ... I'm there because I want them to make my life easier and better, not to have them hand me a knife).

The core of the cultural shift that has taken place is in the observation that traditional center store categories are being shrunk down and replaced by various iterations of meal kits and fresh foods. This is just the beginning of this process, as the purchase - and replenishment - of center store items becomes automated and food stores (at least the ones that want to differentiate themselves and survive) decide to focus on the food part of being a food store, and put an emphasis on the experiential.