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5 Ways Mariano’s is Keeping Shoppers Engaged and Excited

MAR 5Ahhh, Mariano’s…you’ve made grocery shopping so fun.

For readers in other markets – East and West coasts – you may not be aware but Mariano’s (Roundy’s Supermarkets) is shaking up the grocery retail space in Chicago.

Mariano’s has been expanding their presence over the past few years.  And when Dominick’s (Safeway) decided to close all stores in the Chicago market, the race to capture their retail space was on.

But Mariano’s has been quickest to the plate – in acquisitions and also in new developments. That’s right…BUILDING new structures.

Their latest new building is in a former Sears Auto Center in the Ravenswood area. This space is shiny and new and FUN to shop. Even on their first Sunday morning, with lots of shoppers in the store, everyone seemed to be enjoying their experience.

As marketers, we know this is all planned on the retailer’s part.  But Mariano’s succeeds in making the craziness of preparing for the week of lunches, dinners, snacks, etc. feel like an enjoyable experience.








Here are a few ways they’re doing this…

1. Shorter aisles – easier to see products at the other end
2. Open and low refrigerated sections instead of long aisles of refrigeration (where you have to open every door to see what’s inside)
3. Prepared meals beyond deli options.  BBQ area and Oyster Bar, for example.
4. Fun ways to buy in bulk – creatively displaying bulk grains and spices
5. Helping with loyalty cards – having staff on-hand at kiosks to help new shoppers receive their loyalty cards

MAR 2Aside from all this greatness, one thing was noticeably amiss– signage.  Specifically, for the check out area.

I’m starting to wonder…could Mariano’s be the IKEA of grocery in Chicago? (i.e. You can get in, but you can’t get out)

Hey food industry marketers — are you truly capitalizing on ‘Hibernating Households’?

Photos by Kelli Clifford

Photos by Kelli Clifford

Recently, winter weather across the U.S. has been extreme.  And when snow, ice and subzero temps hit, a lot of people are homebound…sometimes for days.

But rather than focus on the negative effects, let’s think about these “Hibernating Households” from a positive (marketing-minded) viewpoint.

Hibernating households want something to do — great news for Netflix and other instant home entertainment services.

Hibernating households need food. Particularly meals that can be made with what’s on hand and with a little luck, still offer their palates some variety – this presents a great opportunity for food marketers like you.

Based on recent findings from Erickson Research’s Food & Beverage Trends Study, it’s likely that many consumers could use your help when the weather puts a wrench in their food/meal prep behaviors.

Here’s why…

  • Less than 50% of consumers claim they…
    • keep cooking staples on hand
    • have ‘standby’ meals they prepare often
  • Over 60% believe they’re not able to whip up a meal in a moment’s notice
  • Typically, about 75% do not plan their meals for the week

So, when these consumers are feeling frazzled (trying to stock up smartly, before the storm hits) or bored and hungry (stuck at home in the aftermath)…what are you doing to help them out?

In other words, how can you tailor your consumer communications to be more timely and relevant?

Here are some ideas:

  1. Create a list of “stock-up” food items they should always have on hand
  2. Offer both healthy and indulgent meal ideas (including one-pot preparation) using stock-up items
  3. Feature recipes that are customized to fit typical household sizes (i.e. individual, two people, four to six people) or household compositions (i.e. adults, kids, teens or combinations)
  4. Suggest ingredient or recipe “substitutes” (i.e. what if eggs and milk are not available?)
  5. Showcase recipes that are fun to make — include a ‘challenge’ or game-like activity for households with 2+ members
  6. Offer meal plans with main dishes/ingredients that can be used for multiple meals (i.e. a roasted chicken recipe with leftovers that can also be used to make chicken salad and soup) Get creative.

And most importantly, keep it simple.

According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, people are spending a lot of time on social media, sharing their thoughts on this extreme weather. So why not get in on the stories and offer your food-related tips and recipes on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest?


I hate grocery shopping

I know it probably sounds contradictory since I’m a shopper insights specialist.  But like many shoppers I’ve interviewed through shop-alongs, focus groups, and quant studies over the years — those with and without kids, full-time jobs or not – I consider grocery shopping a chore.

shopping cart in snowTo make it more bearable, I’ve got a ‘system’ for this weekly (sometimes bi-weekly) task…

  1. Create meal plan  — CREATIVE
  2. Search for new recipes (and cuisines) to try – FUN
  3. Make a shopping list including non-food items needed – RELATIVELY PAINLESS
  4. Figure out where I need to go and hit the road – JUST PLAIN ‘UGH’

Problem is, this is never a one-stop shopping experience.

In a typical week, my itinerary might look something like this…

–       Costco for personal care/household supplies and stocking up on a good deal (Where else can you buy three racks of ribs for $35?)

–       Whole Foods or farmer’s market for organic fresh produce, meat/poultry, eggs and dairy

–       Trader Joe’s for my cookie butter fix and kale spinach Greek yogurt dip

–       Roundy’s for fresh baked bread, condiments, and baking supplies

So, in order to complete my mission, I need to shop FOUR different stores.  Bottom line is, it’s inconvenient and time consuming.

There is, however, one exception – a visit that seems ‘fun’ every time.

I visit Trader Joe’s knowing exactly what I need to buy. Yet I still find something new that grabs my attention, causes me to linger and often results in an unexpected purchase. 

All I have to do is spend a minute looking at something when an employee appears to offer their assistance.  This usually leads to my asking a question like, “Have you tried these black bean quinoa chips?”

Then they’ll open the package and offer me a sample.  YUM!  I’ve just found my new snack.

In a store filled with ‘private label’ products, they sure know how to make shopping an adventure for me, every time.  And I find myself talking about my Trader Joe’s visits a lot.  (I can’t tell you how many people I’ve turned into “cookie butter fans.”)

Given my positive experiences at Trader Joe’s, I wonder…how can my other “chore stores” transform me into a curious and engaged shopper?

According to Doug Rauch, former President of Trader Joe’s, companies should focus on culture and then build a strategy.

“Culture is the DNA of a company.  A successful company culture includes living the company’s core values and offering a consistent experience.”

This starts with happy employees.  Happy employees feel valued, embrace your company’s core beliefs and are enthusiastic about their job.  This translates to happy customers.

In practice…

  • Train employees to recognize and address shoppers’ needs and preferences
  • Give them the freedom to make product recommendations and offer samples
  • Encourage them to create a dialogue with customers that provides an ongoing source of feedback for improvements/innovation
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