Tag Archives: Kroger

Old Kroger Outlives Signage, Thrives

kroger_old_facia--2a

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.

kroger--apples-1a

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!)

kroger_facia-boonsboro-1a

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.

 

Kroger’s New Mobile Market A Joint Effort with Food Bank

kroger_mobile_exterior

Kroger’s 44-foot long mobile market   (The Courier-Journal)

Not content to offer plenty to attract shoppers into its stores, Kroger has launched a mobile store – to take food and more to where their neighbors live. Called the Zero Hunger Mobile Market format, the single-aisle store-on-wheels was introduced by the Louisville Division to serve neighborhoods with limited or no access to fresh foods and vegetables, And Know U Know reported August 15.

“There Are Other Ways”

Quoting Erin Grant, Corporate Affairs Manaager and Media Spokesperson for the division, ANUK said Krroger believes “It does not have to be a brick-and-mortar store for us to provide access to healthy food for people. That might not always be the solution. There really are other ways.”

This way, serving up 20+ meat items and close to 60 produce selections curbside around the city, is an envelope-stretcher. In reaching out to actual or near ‘food deserts’ – areas supermarkets shy away from – is an anything-but-inexpensive way for the nation’s Number 2 (after Walmart) food retailer to grow its customer base.

And while that’s certainly an objective, Kroger officials are, in expanding their coverage in this way, acting on a long-time company objective: To serve, in the best and most effective ways possible, the communities it serves. Thus this partnership with the “Dare To Care”13.4 foodbank.

kroger_mobile_interior

Inside Kroger’s 44-foot long mobile market   (The Courier-Journal)

Due to visit 29 locations this month (August), the colorfully-outfitted, 44-foot long (13.4 m) trailer offers close to 200 different items. It’s been a huge hit with shoppers, The Louisville Courier-Journal reported on Aug 15.

Two Fridge Cases Onboard

The paper noted that the mobile market’s product range includes two refrigerated cases holding meat, milk, eggs and cheese, among other items; A row of shelves contains baking ingredients, pasta, cereal and other pantry staples. A wall displays fruits and vegetables, from mustard greens to clementines. The market does not sell chips, soda or alcohol,” the article added.

And why should it? Those (chips, soda, alcohol, etc.) are what local ‘markets’ in food deserts specialize in.

Good job, Kroger!

Supermarkets in Much Flux Some Places… But Not in Others

supermarket_interior-2

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.

lidl_exterior

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

walmart_super-cropped

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.

kroger_logo

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.

Growing Number of Retailers Seeking Sales Growth with CBD Products

cbd_diagram

This is a revised version of an article originally published here on June 13.

America’s largest traditional supermarket chain has crawled onto the CBD oil bandwagon, announcing this week that it will begin selling CBD products. These are items based on cannabidiol, a non-intoxicating portion of the hemp plant – best known as the source of marijuana. Kroger, whose store count is exceeded only by Walmart, plans to offer such cannabidiol products as lotions, creams, and oils in 945 of its 2,764 stores before the end of June, according to a company news release.

Supermarket News said the CBD products will be carried at stores in Kroger’s Atlanta, Cincinnati, Columbus, Michigan, Central, Louisville, Delta, Nashville, Mid-Atlantic, Roundy’s (Mariano’s and Pick ‘n Save), Dillons, King Soopers, Fry’s, Fred Meyer, QFC and Smith’s divisions.

Last month, The New York Post said it had learned that top executives at major chains such as Walmart and Target have been quietly meeting with makers of such CBD products as drinks, gummy bears, topical creams and oils. There are a surprising variety of products available that are infused with cannabidiol, or CBD, all of which have proven popular with the target market.

supermarket_interior-2

While Walmart has not announced any plans to sell any CBD products in store, it has for some time quietly been selling – for delivery, not store pickup – “hemp oil,” another non-intoxicating derivative of the hemp plant.

Motley Fool Lists Nine Retailers Adding CBD Products To Shelves

Motley Fool article dated June 3, 2019, cited nine retailers now (or about to be) selling CBD products.

They include health and wellness retailers – CVS Health, Walgreens Boot Alliance, and Rite Aid – who collectively dominate the pharmacy sector outside of supermarkets.

The Fool said CVS Health plans to carry select CBD products — topicals — in roughly 800 of its stores, spanning eight states in March. Just days later, Walgreens Boots Alliance’s declared nearly 1,500 of its US stores would also offer CBD products. Most recently, Rite Aid joined the party, announcing plans to carry CBD products in two states (Washington and Oregon).

Considering that front-end sales for CVS Health, Walgreens, and Rite Aid tend to have very low margins, the introduction of CBD products may slightly boost margins, or at the very least improve foot traffic into their stores.

Beauty retailer Ulta Beauty is a fourth brand-name retailer carrying CBD products. In mid-March, Ulta announced plans to carry five skin-care products from Cannuka that blend CBD with manuka, a type of honey that’s sourced from bees that pollinate Manuka trees. Ulta is currently able to sell these skin-care focused CBD products in all but three states (Nebraska, South Dakota, and Idaho) where CBD laws remain very strict.

gnc

The Fool said a fifth major wellness retailer where a consumer can pick up CBD products is GNC Holdings, which recently began selling a variety of CBD-infused topical creams of varying strengths. Known for supplying everything from performance supplements to health and beauty products, GNC’s entrance into the CBD product space was a logical move designed to appeal to the full spectrum of its customer base.

In addition to brand-name health and wellness retailers, four major apparel, accessory, and general retailers are now offering CBD products for sale. Among them are Designer Brands, Urban Outfitters, and Simon Property Group. The latter doesn’t directly sell CBD products, but as the largest mall operator in America, it is directly responsible for approving or denying what stores go into its malls. Recently, Simon Property Group and Green Growth Brands came to an agreement that allows Green Growth to open 108 shops in Simon’s malls this year to sell products containing CBD.

Let The Buyer Beware

Meanwhile, Healthline.com issued a warning that a product based on a hemp derivative, and its label may give the impression their benefits are broad-based, as CBD products are said to be, but consumers need to be careful what they buy.

That website noted recently that, “it’s easy for a brand to add hempseed oil to a product, adorn it with marijuana leaves, and highlight the word cannabis to make consumers think they’re receiving a CBD product that contains no actual CBD at all.”

Continuing, the Healthline author said: “So how can you tell what you’re purchasing? It’s pretty simple actually, check the ingredient list…

“Hemp seed oil will be listed as cannabis sativa seed oil. CBD will be listed as cannabidiol, full-spectrum hemp, hemp oil, PCR (phytocannabinoid rich) or PCR hemp extracts.”

The product Walmart sells is described as “Cold-Pressed, Unrefined Hemp Oil from non-GMO, Sustainably Farmed Canadian Hemp. 24 ounces.”

The CBD Products Market Is “The Wild West,” U. Penn Professor Says

Similarly, Dennis Thompson, a HealthDay reporter at WebMB.com, noted last month that, “CBD is being produced without any regulation, resulting in products that vary widely in quality,” citing Marcel Bonn-Miller, an adjunct assistant professor of psychology in psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

“It really is the Wild West,” Bonn-Miller said. “Joe Bob who starts up a CBD company could say whatever the hell he wants on a label and sell it to people.”

There are two factors drawing supermarkets to add high-margin CBD products to their product mix. First, because right now, they offer uncommonly high margins. Secondly, they are viewed by an increasing number of consumers as a prescription-free way of obtaining a pain reliever. Their present high margins are likely to lessen as competition heats up. And while some may find oil or capsules containing oil offer some relief from pain, that could become a painful subject for retailers if the government, via the FDA, decides to require cannabidiol to be tested and meet efficacy standards.

It remains to be seen how the market will shake out in coming years, as more states are certain to join the list of those already allowing sales of marijuana in addition to the non-intoxicating CBD product lines.

Food Recalls: Almost a Daily Occurrence

USDA-FSIS-large-Source-USDA-FSISFood recalls are – no exaggeration – so nearly an everyday occurrence these days that, for the most part, consumers scarcely notice them.

That doesn’t make sense? Sure it does: It points to how efficiently the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) gets the word, then gets the word out to product distributors and retailers.

A case in point: Yesterday, the FSIS issued the following press release:

WASHINGTON, May 17, 2019 – Caito Foods LLC., an Indianapolis, Ind. establishment, is recalling approximately 1,767 pounds of salad with chicken products due to misbranding and undeclared allergens, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced today. The products contain soy, a known allergen, which is not declared on the product label.

The ready-to-eat salads with chicken items were produced on May 12 through May 15, 2019. The following products are subject to recall: [View Labels (PDF only)]

  • 13.5-oz. plastic square bowl packages containing “Greek Salad with Chicken with Chicken Breast & Red Wine Olive Oil Vinaigrette Dressing” and Sell By dates ranging from 05/18/19 through 05/21/19 represented on the label.
  • 11.25-oz. plastic square bowl packages containing “Tuscan Style Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken With Grilled White Chicken Tossed In Pesto” and Sell By dates ranging from 05/18/19 through 05/21/19 represented on the label.

kroger_logo

The products subject to recall bear establishment number “P-39985” inside the USDA mark of inspection. These items were shipped to Kroger retail locations in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, and Ohio.

The problem was discovered by the recalling firm during label verification activities.

There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products. Anyone concerned about an injury or illness should contact a healthcare provider.

FSIS is concerned that some product may be in consumers’ refrigerators. Consumers who have purchased these products are urged not to consume them. These products should be thrown away or returned to the place of purchase.

FSIS routinely conducts recall effectiveness checks to verify that recalling firms are notifying their customers of the recall and that actions are being taken to make certain that the product is no longer available to consumers. When available, the retail distribution list(s) will be posted on the FSIS website at www.fsis.usda.gov/recalls.

Consumers with questions about the recall can contact Caito Foods LLC.’s Consumer Feedback Line at (844) 467-7278. Members of the media with questions about the recall can contact Meredith Gremel, Organizational Communications, Spartan Nash, at (616) 878-2830.

Spartan Nash is described by Wikipedia as “SpartanNash is an American food distributor and grocery store retailer headquartered in Byron Center, Michigan. In terms of revenue, it is the largest food distributor serving military commissaries and exchanges in the United States.”

As the press release notes, the recall affects product distributed to stores of one retailer, Kroger – the nation’s largest supermarket company – to stores in in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, and Ohio.

Rest assured, Kroger got the word before that press release went out – and it promptly ensured that none of the potentially affected product made it to display cases.

That’s why consumers, and consumer-serving media outlets, seldom actually need to raise red flags about a potential allergen or whatever in this or that batch of Product X: The word’s already out where it needs to be, across the distribution chain, and the problem’s been dealt with.

The cause of the problem is another issue: How did it happen, what the company had to do to ensure the issue won’t crop up again – those points were, you can be sure, are being addressed as we speak.

Among the greatest risks and dangers posed by the Trump administration is it’s indiscriminate elimination of rules and regulations that, over the years, have been put in place for good, well-thought-out reasons. It’s   not just Americans, but citizens in all countries American food producers export to that need fear the random reduction of rules and regulations for food handling, packing, distribution and selling.

The food industry polices itself pretty efficiently, but the ‘policeman around the corner’ in the form of those rules and regulations enables retailers, and consumers, to breath easily, knowing they are protected.

Kroger Trims Store Development Plans, Ups E-Commerce / Technology Activity

kroger-logo

Noting that its competitors are increasingly following Kroger’s store-building and stocking approaches, the nation’s 2nd largest grocer (after Walmart) said in a Securities and Exchange filing that 2017 will see fewer stores developed and more done in the areas of technology and e-commerce.

A Food Dive analysis said this past weekend that financial analysts more than likely view this move as a savvy one, demonstrating Kroger’s ability to flew with the needs of its markets. (The company operates a number of store names scattered across the country.) Food Dive noted that Kroger has been aggressively expanding its Click List e-commerce service as it works to establish itself as the go-to company for online sales across the country.

In the SEC filing, company executives noted that their first same-store sales slip in 52 quarters was due to food price deflation couple with an active development program. The company said it will be growing its footprint at a slower pace – by 1.8% compared to last year’s 3.44% – as it cuts back to 55 new projects, compared to 2016’s 85. And capital expenditures, the company said, will fall 13% to between $3.2-3.5 billion, compared to $3.7 billion in 2016.

Kroger Offers 2k Employees An Early, Paid, Check-out

kroger-logo

Kroger has offered voluntary retirement to approximately 2,000 non-store employees who meet certain criteria of age and years of service. Savings realized by the company will be used for customer-centric activities, according to a company announcement issued earlier this month.

The company’s chairman and CEO, Rodney McMullen, said that, “Kroger would not be the successful company it is today without the incredible efforts of all of our associates. We believe a generous Voluntary Retirement Offering is in line with our company values and recognizes the long careers many of our associates have had with Kroger. [Our company] is committed to our operating model of lowering costs to invest in the areas that matter most to our customers.”

The retirement offer is not available to store-level workers, senior officers or supermarket division presidents across the company, which operates 2,796 supermarkets under several brand names across 35 states and the District of Columbia. Collectively, those stores serve an estimated 8.5 million customers daily.

It’s also one of the most aggressive supermarket companies where its in-store prepared food operations are concerned. In central Virginia, where I live, a couple can purchase a fully prepared, ready-to-eat full meal for $10 or less – nearly (or less than) as costly as buying the ingredients and preparing  the meal yourself.

While the company might not like to acknowledge this, it trains its employees so well that customers can, on occasion, actually be discouraged from buying certain items. A few months ago, I was steered away from the company’s ‘fresh’ clams by a seafood counter worker who said”Frankly, they aren’t as fresh as you’d like them to be. A lot of them come in with their shells already opening, and and that’s a clear indication they’re not really fresh.”

 

It’s details such as that, which I feel confident that employee passed ‘upstream’ to his department’s manager, is what distinguishes a good food store from a not-so-good one. Kroger is, rightly, seen as being one of the best supermarket operators in the U.S.