Dollar General strives to be an oasis in food desert - The Packer

Dollar General strives to be an oasis in food desert

12/06/2011 11:53:00 AM
Tom Karst

Here is an insightful perspective from The Packer's Chuck Robinson on Feb. 11 this year:

    Dollar General has 9,000 discount merchandise stores in 35 states. In addition, the Goodlettsville, Tenn.-based chain has 57 Dollar General Market stores, which are larger than the traditional Dollar General and offer a range of perishable items, including produce.
    These stores dot the area surrounding the chain's corporate headquarters.
    I offer many thanks to Joseph Fecke, senior buyer for Dollar General Markets, who in January took me to task for my dubiousness of Dollar General's ability to create a store concept that offered perishables, including produce items.
    He was a gentleman, and he acknowledged a perception problem that Dollar General must face.
    "You are correct about overcoming the ‘dollar store' image, which is not positive in the minds of most folks, including yours. This is not just a DG thing -- but the whole dollar store sector," Fecke said.
    It is particularly a challenge with the meat department, where people assume food is a close-out item and are suspicious of even name brands. These aren't close-out items at all, he said.
    "We do better with produce, which can be touched and felt," he said.
    With fresh produce, consumers can feel confident about the quality by how fresh it looks.
    Of course, Fecke said, Dollar General Markets relies upon some excellent suppliers for its produce, including Caito Foods, Indianapolis, and Salinas, Calif.-based River Ranch Fresh Foods, exclusive supplier of salad items for Dollar General Markets.
    The key for Dollar General Markets is to not get too fancy in its produce selection, he said.
    "Since the 60 (stock-keeping units) we carry are what 80% of what folks want to buy, we minimize much of the labor costs and shrink," Fecke said. "We don't carry artichokes or eggplants, for example."
    It will be up to others to expand the core number of produce items consumers eat.
    On some level all consumers want to put food on the table, and we prefer it to be cheap.
    If the stores are as clean as Fecke suggests, I would be glad to shop Dollar General Markets, if they ever come to my region, despite my noted perception against dollar store perishables.
    To get the basics down is a great achievement and takes a lot of work. My hat's off to those that can do it.
    Still, this basics-only approach won't bring produce to the forefront, where it should be. We have cheap fruits and vegetables, and still produce loses out to less-healthful food.
    We need to add some adventure and zing to our marketing.

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