The Trouble with Grocery Stores #3

Every time I think I’m crazy for dreaming my dream – the one I have about supermarkets being food experts – I read about another one of those initiatives grocery execs love so much and I realize I’m not crazy. This time it’s the US giant, Kroger, who has introduced infrared heat sensors to somehow determine how long people are willing to hang in a grocery line up.

In Parts 1 & 2 I told you grocery stores are not actually about food and why. We use them because it’s the common under-one-roof offering. When grocers well and truly get behind the food, we’ll be pushing our carts in dream land.

I don’t have wild dreams. A food-centred grocery store isn’t a crazy idea. Sports fans get jock talk in their sports bars. They don’t hire librarians to work there; you have to care about sports somehow, some way. So?

My vision actually exists. It’s not exactly my Mecca but British grocery giant, Waitrose has figured out how to combine supermarket convenience with specialty retailer expertise. By making food their brand, they became a story. Imagine that, a grocery store that gets press because its about food.

They made it happen by creating their own, not-so-little Food Network – a multi-dimensional, multi-platform, very stylish food network. So comprehensive that Martha Stewart’s media empire looks cute.

Waitrose gets it. The gastro fad isn’t a fad at all (over 1 million regular, non chef types tune into the US Food Network nightly). I’m guessing Waitrose customers walk through the doors (280 of them) to shop among their kind. I would if they put one in my town.

As the fourth largest supermarket chain in Britain, Waitrose netted £5.76bn ($9.2bn CDN) in gross sales for 2013. For all I know, they also play line up laser tag, but so what. They know their customers are buying ingredients, which they cook into meals, often usually for people they care for (like family and friends). I could write a thesis on the marketing value of acknowledging this labour and love.

Grocers don’t have to spend Waitrose money to get the food thing going. If a store made it their policy to hire staff who were interested in food and cooking, including the person running the digital media, we might not notice the line ups. Instead, we’d be checking their great info on our phones.

parts 1 & 2