Local and organic meant little to these consumers - The Packer

Local and organic meant little to these consumers

08/15/2014 09:41:00 AM
Pamela Riemenschneider

Pamela Riemenschneider, Retail EditorCHICAGO — If only the audio guys at conventions were able to add sound effects to presentations. I’d have added one of those screeeech record scratch-type noises when our Midwest Produce Expo consumer panel participants told me they don’t really shop for local produce.

And they don’t really shop for organics, either.

Say what?

I was certainly stumped, and there went two whole lines of questioning.

Who were these people, anyway?

Like any panel screening, we pulled from multiple demographics trying to get a good representation of age, income, household size and gender. We also had a mix of suburban and city dwellers.

So what’s going on that these folks aren’t following all the national trends about consumers being in love with local and organic produce consumption continuing to grow at a steady clip?

I think the biggest clue came when we were talking about what attracts these shoppers to their purchases:

Price.

Even six years after the start of the last big recession, consumers still are sensitive to price fluctuations, and recently with food it seems to them that all they’re seeing are higher prices at the grocery store.

These consumers were channel hoppers, cherry picking the best produce for the best values in the stores they frequent.

They’re also a bit shaken up over the past year as a longtime player in their market, Safeway-owned Dominick’s, was picked apart by other local retailers with the remaining stores closed.

Several of our panelists were Dominick’s shoppers, and in the green room before our session, they told me they were having a hard time finding a replacement.

As an outsider, I see Chicago as a vibrant retail environment with so many players to choose from, but it was obvious that there was a lot of hometown loyalty and these people were feeling lost.

On the retail tour we got a chance to see what’s happening with former Dominick’s locations. Mariano’s, a relatively new banner from Milwaukee, Wis.-based Roundy’s, picked up several of the stores. We visited one of the former Dominick’s locations that reopened as a Mariano’s back in March.

Tim Grabar, Mariano’s group vice president of retail merchandising and store operations, met us at the store. He told us the company did a quick facelift and upgrade for the store to get it up and running, and plans to remodel it in the near future.

Bob Sheppard, a former Dominick’s employee who also is in store operations for Mariano’s, said the store was one of Dominick’s strongest performers.

We also stopped at a recently-opened Shop & Save Market in Downers Grove. This location opened last year before the Dominick’s departure, but the Chicago-based chain also picked up some new locations thanks to the sale, said produce buyer Patrick Morales, who met us for the tour.

Shop & Save presents a very different environment than Mariano’s, with each of its stores strongly focused on the ethnic populations in surrounding communities.

The retailer focuses on price and a wide range of offerings for the different demographics for each community.

The Downers Grove store offered a lot of Polish foods, with much of its signage dual language Polish and English.

One thing these stores had in common would appeal to our panelists, however. They both featured very reasonable prices. Mariano’s, for example, offered bananas for 39 cents a pound and kale for $1 a pound. Shop & Save had a special on seedless watermelons, an amazing $1.49 each, and grapes for 99 cents a pound.

We wrapped up with a stop at Strube Celery & Vegetable on the Chicago International Produce Market and a tour through the facility guided by Lisa Strube, director of finance and administration, and a lunchtime stop at Eataly.

With its high end foodie-focused selection, I don’t think Eataly would be a regular shop for our price-conscious panelists, either.

pamelar@thepacker.com

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Jim DiMenna    
kingsville, Ontario  |  August, 18, 2014 at 02:29 PM

Nice article and thanks for the understanding. As we are all aware Local and Organics has a place in the market and in the shopping baskets of consumers. price and appearance are also a large part of a shoppers purchases. conventionally grown produce items will meet the needs of customers as well. We need to continue to offer the best quality and the best price from where ever we produce. The customers will support flavor, quality and appearance as often as they can I'm sure.

Chris Twitter: Freshguru    
Vancouver, BC  |  August, 18, 2014 at 03:19 PM

Chicago does have a very vibrant food scene.In Canada I thought buying conventional bananas at 99 cents and organic at $1.09 was good value (give or take 20 cents either way)! Would I buy more bananas at the .39 price point? No. Maybe one of the challenges is the fluctuations one sees in fresh produce pricing and the constant downward push on pricing presented by retailers. I do see the retailers in Canada climbing on board with local and with organics but also supporting imports. We need the shopper to feel that buying fresh produce equals good health, great taste, extra energy and good value for dollars spent on conventional, local and/or organic. Nice piece Pamela.

Randall Raokman    
Downers Grove, IL  |  September, 12, 2014 at 01:12 PM

The Mariano's that was rushed into operations was the one in Western Springs I assume. It looks it. It looks like a slap-dash coat of paint was put on and then the doors got opened. As a former shopper of that Dominicks I was seriously disappointed by what re-appeared. The Roundy's product offered by Mariano's is of an obviously lower quality than Dominicks had been carrying, and Roundys doesn't seem to be into low-calorie or helping diabetics with sugar-free and low-fat items; it all seems blue collar full-fat and high-calorie oversized items. Not impressed. Bring back Dominicks, or at least do a better remodeling job to help us buy into the high-priced low-end product selections. As for product, I too buy based on price. But there is simply just so much produce I can buy, and it doesn't store well. So, if the pricing seems ok when I'm actually in the store, I'll buy some, but I don't make special trips or stock up. I may freeze a few pints of blueberries, but that's the extent of it. Produce is a special product category.

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