Tag Archives: Food Lion

Old Kroger Outlives Signage, Thrives

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Store facia updates may not be worth what they cost.

I stopped recently at a Kroger’s in the ‘fancy’ end of Lynchburg VA. The street-side sign is probably 1960’s era – hardly enticing to a new-to-Kroger’s shopper. But the store entrance itself is right up to date: wide automatic doors, large cart lobby… then you step inside, and you’re in a totally modern Kroger’s somewhere else.

Well, maybe not totally modern: The produce section offers the usual blow-you-away variety and presentation; the wine section right behind it is vast – thankfully so in an area where wine-buying options are slim, at best.

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Efforts have been made to update elsewhere, but let’s face it, they’re working with an older model, small footprint store. Still, this store stands head and shoulders above its nearest (physical) competitor, a Food Lion, half a mile along the same road. Next nearest is a Fresh Market, aka Whole Foods Jr. (The former is owner by the latter.)

This Kroger has an above-average range of products, in its market area, and does an outstanding job of presenting its range where aisles are, in some instances, nearly as narrow as those in big-city stores – but the trade-off, a reduced facia-count for many items, results in a wide range of offerings, including a reasoned range of well-beyond-food items.

Top-Of-Line Meat Offerings

Space limitations across the back wall mean deli foods are in a relatively confined back strip, followed by an eight-foot-wide seafood/best meat case. The choice, in the limited space, is highly impressive, and the presentative is top-of-the-line Kroger’s.

(That local shoppers don’t balk at higher-than-market-average prices for meat was obvious when the man preceding me at that seafood/best meats counter casually ordered a pair of steaks that set him back close to $50 – a sizable single-meal meat expenditure in this part of Virginia!)

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The entrance to the Lynchburg VA store on Boonsboro Road  (photo: D Harris)

Immediately after entering the store, I scanned the that meat/seafood area to ensure they had what I wanted. The patrolling ‘butcher’ (or was he a seafood specialist?) gave me a ‘can I help you look,’ and I said I’d be back in a few for a pair of lobster tails. It was a good ten minutes before I did return, and when he finished serving the steak buyer, he looked at me and said, “Two lobster tails, right?”

Got Gulf Shrimp, Too!

I agreed, pleased he’d remembered me, and I added half a pound of Texas Gulf shrimp to my order.

For someone who’s reported on supermarket matters for the better part of the last 40 years, I’m still not always a good shopper: I failed to notice I was charged $17.98 for the lobster tails when a case sign showed them to be selling at two for $12.00 – an excellent price. I caught the error when I got home, phoned the store, and was assured that, even if it was a while before I got back there, my receipt would earn me a refund. Duly noted, I saved both the receipt and the printed label from the butcher’s package.

As it happened, I happened to be back in that neighborhood about 10 days later. The customer service clerk, promptly processing my refund, asked if I wanted cash back or to have the refund applied to the gift card: Cash back, no questions, plus a bonus $5.00 Kroger gift card. Service with a ‘you’ll remember us’ touch!

My visit to this store for lobster tails was in mid-afternoon, on a Wednesday. If I were the manager, I’d say the store was “comfortably busy” for that time of day and week. (I encountered, at the end and back sections I visited, a total of some 20 customers. They clearly weren’t overrunning the place, but they were, with quickly filling carts, piling profits into Kroger’s coffers.)

Meanwhile, traffic at the Food Lion down the road, which I visited for comparison purposes, was – to put it mildly – slow… creepily slow.

Both stores are in mini-shopping centers, with an abundance and variety of stores. Plenty of shopper draws. A reasonable amount of parking. Similar street access (via two access/exit points). They effectively serve the same neighborhood, near a middling-size city’s second hospital in an area that attracts lots of medical specialists’ offices.

There are some rental housing units in this neighborhood, but the majority of residents own.

Because of the hospital, the area, this road, in particular, tends to see a lot of non-local potential shoppers. Some them may be put off by the decades-old Kroger sign. But like most supermarkets, this one relies on locals far more than passers-by. And a single visit will make a ‘regular’ of the occasion area visitor.

Kroger isn’t ordinarily a stick-with-your-signage company, keeping its principal exterior logo for decades. The company’s exterior signs have undergone several sometimes subtle changes over the past forty or so years. That makes this store an outlier, an exception to the rule. As noted, the current street-side sign advertising this store probably dates from earlier than the 1970s.

Still: The store itself sells itself on Kroger’s overall reputation and the quality of the store’s offerings.

Another ‘Cash Cow’ Store

It reminds me, in a way, of an A&P store in New Orleans. Long gone now, that store was on a corner in the French Quarter. It was prime real estate, bought by A&P when that company was in its prime – many decades earlier. It must have cost a mere fraction of what the company eventually got for it.

While offering up several alternative formats over the years, A&P maintained its traditional logo on eponymous branded stores as long as the chain survived – into the mid-1970s. The sign on this particular New Orleans store was old, and small, and almost unnecessary: For many years, this was the nearest thing to a supermarket within walking distance of most French Market-area residents and hotel stayers.

And it was a great lure for tourists: It stocked a lot of things visitors want, including small packets of this or that health & beauty aid-type product, snack foods, and liquor.

That A&P was, for many years, what’s known in the trade as a ‘cash cow’: The store was paid for, many years (and many times) over; Profit margins were high; overheads were relatively low – until the real need for upgrades outweighed the advantages of keeping it open.

But all the while, the old-fashioned, physically old logo out front did its job: It drew shoppers in in droves! The old wood floors and wood cases didn’t hurt, but it was the convenience and the product range that drew them in.

Just as is the case with the Lynchburg store with the old street-side signage. The Kroger name, like the A&P name in New Orleans, drew the shoppers in.

 

Supermarkets in Much Flux Some Places… But Not in Others

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Change has become so important to supermarket executives that it’s virtually a ‘product’ these days. Sadly, for some of us consumers, that’s lots more a fact elsewhere than in our neighborhoods.

I live in a small town (pop. <4,900) in Central Virginia. Two larger communities within an hour’s drive have populations of 42.8k and 76.5k.

My town has three food-shopping options: A Walmart, a Food Lion, and a locally-owned market. The larger communities have that same mix as well as an Aldi in each of them, a Lidl in one, several Kroger stores in the larger city, and a Fresh Foods-like (and also Amazon owned) Fresh Market in the latter.

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Supermarket Changes

Food Lion supermarket changes include aggressively updating many stores within the past few years – with few truly beneficial changes, from the average shopper’s perspective. (This seems to be an effort being done, understandably, in waves: Seven or so years ago, the effort was centered in Southside Virginia – in towns near or bordering the state’s border with North Carolina. Most recently, within the past two-three years, the focus has been on towns closer to the center of the state.)

Walmart supermarket changes locally most significantly have inluded, over the past decade, the ongoing addition of Pickup spots and expanded self-checkout areas. Lately, they’ve been adding security gates at entrances. The pickup spots are being welcomed by consumers as a great customer service – but not in my town: The store has an exterior labeled as the pickup area, but it is unused.

An assistant manager told me yesterday that the company is working in preparation of starting home delivery of food. But the evidence suggests they need to work first on getting existing home delivery programs, for other-than-food items, and delivery-to-store systems working as they’re supposed to: We’ve tried at least three times in recent weeks to get a specific (but hardly special) cat litter delivered — first to our door. Then, when we were told that couldn’t be done (after it had been, several times!), we tried arranging for a store pickup.

Delivery Issues? “It’s a Dot-Com Issue” At Walmart

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Yesterday, I was told the fact the reason the product isn’t available for pickup is “a dot-com problem; You need to call the headquarters number and talk to a dot-com rep.”

Walmart has also been subtly shifting its product mix – surprisingly, not always in the direction of healthier choices. But product-mix shifting is hardly a new ‘trend’ in food stores.

Too bad their local competitors don’t follow Kroger’s lead in this area: Not only have Kroger supermarkets changed to offering more healthy choices, it’s offering more variety, overall.

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And Kroger quality, particularly in fresh (prepared) foods, produce, meat, and seafood, is oceans ahead of all other stores in Central and Southern Virginia.

Another store where a fair amount of change has been – and is likely to continue – occurring is the Lynchburg Fresh Market. Like its compatriots in the Fresh Foods/Market family, this store has seen a fair amount of product shift since being taken over by Amazon. But not so much change as you might imagine: The product count has actually dropped, as in Fresh Markets elsewhere, and the prices have, while fractionally lower, remained at a level ensuring – unintentionally, one would hope! – that this is far and away the area’s most costly place to fill a shopping cart.

Food delivery services are beginning to catch on. Kroger is the first supermarket chain to join that fray, largely comprising, hereabouts, specialty restaurants, many oriented toward the sizable student community (Lynchburg is home to Liberty University, with a local student population approaching 45,000, and Lynchburg University, whose student count is less than half that.)

And, as noted, Walmart plans to offer food delivery “soon,” but shoppers hereabouts aren’t holding their breath: real, customer-friendly supermarket change at Walmart is more promise that fact.

Other traditional supermarkets more than likely won’t jump on this bandwagon, but Walmart has pledged to do so – with a clear focus, though, on other-than-food lines – over the next few years.

My town’s local supermarket – a fraction of the size, at less than 10,000 sq ft (929 sq m) – of the other two major food sellers – also has altered its product mix a fair amount in the last year, since being taken over, as an expansion, by the owner of a store in a nearby town. This company calls its stores ‘butchers’, but, truth be told, their meat offerings still fall short of their competitors’.

It’s produce offerings have been slightly upgraded, and the center-store mix no longer contains what was undoubtedly the widest, deepest offering of canned beans in (and well beyond) its trading area. (Why? “Our customers like beans,” a member of the staff before and since the takeover told us. Good enough!)

And the store’s meat offerings, customers say, have improved in… quality? quantity? Maybe a bit, in the former area, but certainly not in the latter: As is common in this area (except at Kroger), they refuse to stock lamb, stating “there’s no demand for it.” ‘Sounds like a chicken-vs-egg argument: availability-vs-demand, in this case.

An odd ‘feature’ of our local independent store is its refusal to stock beer. Stores sticking to that religion-based practice are fewer and further between these days. But this one’s customer base is skewed toward the older members of the community – the people more likely, traditionally, to be strict follow Southern Baptist traditions, alcohol-avoidance among them.

So even as change occurs to a shaking-things-up degree elsewhere, in some places, things largely remain the same.