July 28, 2013

Grocery trends mean war for stores

Increased competition in Maine from the usual suspects – and some unexpected ones – has forever altered the supermarket landscape.

By Edward D. Murphy emurphy@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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"They're really part of the fabric of Maine," she said.

The businesses, whether a large chain or single independent store, recognize the need to evolve to adapt to changing markets and consumer tastes, Doak said.

"They need to sharpen their pencils," she said. "They're always having to reinvent themselves and make it (shopping) an experience."

RANGE OF APPROACHES

Lempert said supermarkets are trying a range of approaches, from adding dietitians to a store's staff to answer questions about healthy food choices, to adding in-store cafes that allow people to have a bite to eat before they shop.

Both Shaw's and Hannaford are launching their own efforts to draw back customers. Shaw's is asking its customers to take "a fresh look" at its stores and offering sales that run for months, rather than just a week at a time.

Hannaford has similar deals and has rolled out other initiatives, such as a "Hannaford to Go" service that allows customers to order online and then pick up groceries -- already bagged -- in front of the store without ever leaving their car. So far, that service is available at just two stores -- and only the North Windham store in Maine -- but company spokesman Mike Norton said the chain is ready to offer it at other locations if the demand is there.

Hannaford, he said, also touts its "Close to Home" program, which focuses on locally sourced produce and fish and allows store managers to arrange deals with local farmers for some produce.

"This (competition) has been going on for us for 25 years and your response to it is to make your strategy very compelling to the consumer," he said.

Norton noted that many Hannaford stores have pharmacies and said the recently announced price cuts are aimed at maintaining competitiveness, "but we're not looking to be a discounter."

Norton said the chain expects customers to try other stores for their groceries, but he thinks they'll return.

"We often find that they may sample elsewhere and then come back," he said. "We really think we can price with most of those players and we think we can serve them better than most of those players."

Lempert said that among the other challenges, supermarkets have a difficult demographic balance to strike.

Baby boomers, he said, are getting older and are more concerned about their health, so they might be attracted to a store that focuses on organic and natural products. That naturally encourages them to become fairly set in their food choices.

But their children, he said, are more adventurous and favor more exotic offerings.

"They never want to eat the same food twice," he said.

Lempert said he thinks that supermarkets can survive, but only if they adapt, perhaps by creating stores that cater more directly to key customer groups.

More services are also likely, he said, in an attempt to differentiate what they offer with what customers can get from department stores or drugstores.

"They're bringing back the butcher and many supermarkets are putting in sit-down restaurants," he said. "If they know their customer base and they make the stores smaller and more personal, it can bring people back.

"The supermarket is really the center of the community," he said. "It's where you see your neighbor. I don't think the supermarket will ever completely disappear."

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

emurphy@pressherald.com

This story was updated at 2:20 p.m. July 28 to correct the location of Walmart.

 

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