Everything is encroaching on the center store section of the supermarket. Sometimes it seems like the midway point in a horror film— you know the place where the monster is suddenly everywhere and no one knows where to turn to
next. The result is a lot of hair pulling, screaming and
a general sense of panic that keeps us glued to the
screen waiting for the hero to arrive.
Well, that hero for center store needs to arrive soon.
From one side, produce and the other fresh segments
are gaining floor space as retailers look for unique ways
to capture the consumers’ attention. From another, the
pharmacy is demanding more room as many of these
same merchants see the profit potential associated
with a manned prescription department.
And let’s not forget about the internet, where online
retailers like Amazon.com are offering consumers price
points on such items as paper products, cat litter and
even bottled water that few grocery stores can match.
Maybe retailers should raise their hands in the air,
throw up the white flag and simply surrender?
Perhaps retailers instead need to take a closer
look at their center store operation. See where they
can make enough of a difference so that the average
consumer not only notices what is being offered, but
they start spreading the word that their favorite food
store offers products that cannot be easily found on
the internet, or it is simply so good or convenient that
it makes no sense to buy these items someplace else.
Hey, I do my family’s shopping and I can tell you that
as I wait on line to check out (sometimes too long, by
the way) I see that the bulk of most shoppers’ carts
is still made up of center store products—including a
healthy array of beverages, snacks, candy, pet supplies
The onus is on suppliers and
retailers to rebuild this extremely
important category. Vendors
have to keep coming up with
products that satisfy the consumers’ ever-changing demands
for items that are unique, tasty
and still moderately priced.
Grocery retailers have a lot
more to lose. The end of the
center store will be the end of
the supermarket as we know
it—and that is not a good thing.
Supermarkets have made their mark on society for two
very simple reasons: they are a convenient place to
purchase all of a consumer’s food needs and they are
reasonably priced. Take away the center store and that
means we are no longer offering shoppers everything
they need to feed their families.
What should be done next? First, retailers need to
pay more attention to the hot categories. Take the
beer/wine segment for example. With independent
craft breweries and the national players, not to mention
some local concerns, all introducing unique brands to
the market at a mind-bending rate, retailers should be
devoting more space to this section as quickly as possible. Every woman I know is looking for that next great
bottle of wine to wind down the day with.
The same holds true for the snacks, cereal, non-alco-holic beverages, pet and ethnic foods segments. Go
out and find the products that will catch the consumers’ fancy, satisfy a need and are not readily available
Otherwise, go get that white flag and look for a
flagpole to run it up on. And, get ready to face that
Hot categories can breathe life into a center store gasping for air.
BY SETH MENDELSON