PG - April 2020

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COVID-19 Pandemic Research: Shoppers still sought value, favorite brands GRILL CRAZY Capitalize on new trends toward plant-based items for BBQ season DRINK UP Beverage alcohol innovates for summer and beyond LOYALTY TEST Reinventing membrship programs for the digital age





April 2020

Volume 99, Number 4


Fastest Growing New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc WATCH THE LABEL





Watch it Download the Scan the Living Wine label with come to life Labels App your phone

2017 ¹Versus major competitors; source: IRI Total MULO + Conv Latest 52-Week Period Ending 2/23/20

S ©2020 TWE Imports, Napa, CA


Contents 04. 20

Volume 99 Issue 4

46 Image courtesy of AJ's Fine Foods



87th Annual Report Retail executives maintain optimism for success in 2020 while dealing with a wild card that few anticipated.

Departments 6 EDITOR’S NOTE


Help Wanted

Connected to the Neighborhood

How food retailers can navigate a labor maelstrom.

A long-awaited remodel of this historic AJ’s market strengthens its ties to the community.



Health & Beauty Care

Fight Internalized Bias Against Women

The New Normal Will be Anything But




June 2020

Traditional Versus Plant-Based Dairy


Plant-Based Beverages Power On 4






8550 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. Ste. 200, Chicago, IL 60631 Phone: 773-992-4450 Fax: 773-992-4455


Bringing the Heat

GROCERY GROUP PUBLISHER John Schrei 248-613-8672

As the outdoor barbecue season starts to sizzle, a look at what’s going on the grill and why.




The Unusual Suspects

EDITORIAL EXECUTIVE EDITOR Gina Acosta 813-417-4149 MANAGING EDITOR Bridget Goldschmidt 201-855-7603 SENIOR DIGITAL & TECHNOLOGY EDITOR Abby Kleckler 773-992-4405 CONTRIBUTING EDITORS Peter Breen, D. Gail Fleenor, Jenny McTaggart and Lynn Petrak

Introduce customers to unfamiliar tropical fruits through grilling.



SENIOR MARKETING MANAGER Theresa Kossack (MIDWEST, GA, FL) 214-226-6468

Beyond Cool

REGIONAL SALES MANAGER Tammy Rokowski (SOUTHWEST, MI) 248-514-9500

Encourage consumers to beat the heat with a range of refreshing alcoholic beverages.

JUNIOR ACCOUNT MANAGER-GROCERY GROUP Natalie Meehan p 773-992-4410 m 619 823-4926 ACCOUNT EXECUTIVE/CLASSIFIED ADVERTISING Terry Kanganis 201-855-7615 • Fax: 201-855-7373








Pledging Loyalty


Retailers are using technology to enhance or completely reimagine existing loyalty programs.



Unbroken Chain

New technology is boosting visibility, accuracy and accountability along the farm-to-table circuit.




The New Normal Will be Anything But eople have to eat. We hear this phrase as justification for a flight to the safety of food companies every time an economic calamity causes market turmoil. That’s been the case again in recent months as the COVID-19 outbreak gave new meaning to the phrase “essential retail.” We have seen just how essential as the ecosystem of retailers, suppliers and service providers that keep America fed demonstrated tremendous resiliency when faced with a public health crisis of unprecedented proportions. The supply chain may have bent considerably under the stress of shoppers’ irrational stock-up behaviors, combined with a massive shift of demand from restaurants and institutions, but it didn’t break. That’s great news, and it reveals a U.S. food retailing industry, made up of millions of people and thousands of companies, that serves as a source of national security.

Facing the Unknown

Consumers take this for granted. Access to an abundance of safe, affordable, healthy food, neatly merchandised in clean stores, is an expectation we all have, much like running water, electricity and reliable internet. So when something happens to upset the rhythm of our lives, we want a quick return to the way things were. We long for a return to normal, which under current circumstances simply means that people stop dying from an infectious disease.

The supply chain may have bent considerably under the stress of shoppers’ irrational stock-up behaviors, combined with a massive shift of demand from restaurants and institutions, but it didn’t break. That would be a great starting point. From there, getting back to normal would mean abandoning the totally unnatural act of attempting to stay 6 feet away from other people and resuming things that an inherently social species does. Retailers have a desire to return to normal, too, especially those devastated by the fact that the products they sell are deemed nonessential. This has created the most unusual of situations, 6

where nonessential retailers are forced to close stores and employ every imaginable cash conservation measure to ensure their survival. Meanwhile, essential retailers of food and consumables are overrun with shoppers, increasing wages and looking to bring on more workers. That’s definitely not a “normal” situation, but defining normal is extremely challenging because COVID-19 is still upon us, among us. That means shopper expectations are still being reset in potentially dramatic ways that are likely to accelerate the demise of some retailers and accelerate the growth of others. For example, will shoppers demand that enhanced cleaning procedures and sneeze guards remain in place after health officials give the all-clear sign? What about the breadth of product assortments and store operating hours? Has COVID-19 brought a new era of SKU rationalization and reduced hours? And what role will prepared foods and self-serve departments play in food retailing’s future, a future where the behavior of an entire generation of consumers is in the midst of being reshaped by a global pandemic? At this point, there are more questions than answers. We know that peoples’ attitudes and expectations have been greatly impacted, we just don’t quite know all of the ways how. As for the question of when things get back to normal: How about never? The thing about retail is, it’s never normal. Retail is in a constant state of change and advancement and readjustment to customers’ expectations. Sometimes those expectations are set by a forward-looking competitor that sees what others don’t and gets there first to serve customers in new ways. Other times, as in the current situation, an external force resets shopper expectations. As for what’s on the other side of the COVID-19 nightmare, we all have our suspicions, and some will prove more accurate than others. There are a couple of things we can be certain about, though: There will be no return to normal for retailers, and people have to eat.

Mike Troy Editorial Director, Grocery Group

March 19, 20 20

Thank You! A to America’ n open letter s food retai lers

Throughout its 98-year histor y, Progressive serve have witn Grocer and th essed some da e industry we rk days and ch caused untold proudly allenging times suffering and . There were loss of life, a ci terrorist attack w vi ar l s that ri ghts movemen s that shattere t that changed d our sense of that tested ou society, security and a r economy in massive finan ways not seen was founded. cial crisis since shortly after Progress ive Grocer Through all of these challeng es and the disr the food retaili uptive impact ng industry st they had on A ood tall. It co fulfilled its un merican life, ped with each ique role in th ne w challenge, ad e fabric of societ times when lif apted and y, serving as an e was anything anchor of norm but. alcy at Now is anothe r one of those tim retailers of fo od and consum es. Since the outbreak of C OVID-19, the er goods have ping up when nation’s performed in others steppe remarkable w d back. There and their empl ays, stepar e countless stor oyees meeting ies of grocers, new operatio innovative so suppliers nal challenges lutions to serv head on and e shoppers ev to ensure the developing en as they ha safety of thei d to implemen r own employ continued to t measures ees. In short, demonstrate its an exceptiona re siliency when warranted a l industry presidential de faced with a pu claration of blic health cr your industry a isis that na — has risen to tional emerge ncy. Our indu the challenge through a situ stry — once again to ation that is di help American fferent than an s carry on ything that ha s come before And so it is . with the utm os t sincerity that encouragemen we offer our t and suppor t — in whate admiration, and months ah ver form that respect, ead. Progressi may take — ve Grocer is in the weeks here for you. The entire Prog ressive Groce r team, thanks of Americans you for makin every day, in g a difference good times, bu beyond our co in the lives t most import ntrol create ne ant, when circ w and unpred umstances ictable challe nges. We’ll get thro ugh this togeth er and be even stronger in th e years ahead. —Your Progre

ssive Grocer





Men’s Health Month National Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Month National Candy Month

National Caribbean American Month National Country Cooking Month National Dairy Month National Iced Tea Month














National Olive Day. Make sure shoppers know these savory fruits are more than just cocktail garnishes.


National Chocolate Ice Cream Day. Encourage shoppers to dig in for dessert.

National Best Friends Day. Those who show up to shop with their BFFs get a discount.

National Rotisserie Chicken Day. Run a special in the deli.

National Strawberry Rhubarb Pie Day. Have your in-store bakers re-create this classic.

National Egg Day. How many ways can shoppers prepare them?

National Egg Roll Day

National Cheese Day. From American to Zamorano, promote them all.

National Corn on the Cob Day. Cross merchandise this treat with other cookout staples.

National Veggie Burger Day. Steer shoppers to the frozen and refrigerated sections with meal ideas.

National Jerky Day. Make sure to spotlight the plantbased options as well.

National Applesauce Cake Day. Provide a no-fuss recipe in your shopper e-newsletter.

National Rosé Day. Raise a glass at an in-store tasting.

National Herbs and Spices Day


















National Strawberry Shortcake Day. Which of your shoppers has the best recipe?

Since Father’s Day and National Peaches ’n’ Cream Day coincide, suggest the tasty combo as a special treat for Dad.

National Alaska Day. Showcase a range of products from the The Last Frontier.


National Smile Power Day. Give your sunniest associate a special prize.

National Onion Rings Day. How many can your shoppers eat in one sitting? Run a contest to find out.

National Waffle Iron Day

National Fudge Day. Homemade or store-bought? Run an online poll.

National Hydration Day. Have lots of bottled water on hand in grab-and-go bins.

National Social Media Day. Get shoppers and associates to tag your business in their posts.

National Eat Your Vegetables Day. Entice veggie-shy consumers of all ages with attractive displays and tasty dips and sauces.

National Pralines Day. Create a video showing consumers how to make their own.

National Splurge Day. Ask your shoppers what their guiltiest food indulgences are.

National Catfish Day. Feature it in the seafood section.

National Take Back the Lunch Break Day. Suggest ways to make the midday meal at work count.

National Chocolate Pudding Day. Instant or slowcooked — who doesn’t love it?

National Vanilla Milkshake Day. Offer a BFY spin on this perennial fastfood beverage.

National Ice Cream Cake Day. It may not be their birthday or a holiday, but let shoppers know that any day can be a special occasion.

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Research & Analysis

Plant-Based Beverages Power On Nut milks, nondairy milks, milk alternatives, plant-based dairy, oh my! Forty-three percent of consumers are interested in nut milks, paving the way for strong performance in the years ahead for plant-based milk offerings. These plant-based offerings are showing up in applications ranging from coffee beverages to breakfast staples. Datassential went beyond the menu search and dug into the Menu Adoption Cycle chart dedicated to plant-based dairy to uncover which milks across the plantbased and nondairy scene grocers should be keeping an eye on in the year ahead. (Source: Datassential MenuTrends 2020 and FLAVOR)

Oat Milk MAC stage: Adoption — Ethnic aisle at supermarkets, casual independents, fast casual. Adoption-stage trends grow their base via lower price points and simpler prep methods. Still differentiated, these trends often feature premium and/or generally authentic ingredients. This creamy milk alternative is made by steeping oats in water and is becoming popular as an alternative in the café space for milk-based coffee drinks. Oat milk has experienced incredibly high growth rates thanks to oat-based brands debuting to much fanfare. On nearly 0.5% of U.S. restaurant menus Up 1,000%-plus on menus over the past four years 48% of consumers know it/ 16% have tried it Menu Example Peet’s Coffee Oat Milk Horchata Latte Espresso, steamed oat milk with cinnamon, and Madagascar vanilla syrup


Coconut Milk MAC stage: Proliferation — Proliferation-stage trends are adjusted for mainstream appeal. Often combined with popular applications (on a burger, pasta, etc.)

Almond Milk MAC stage: Proliferation – Proliferation-stage trends are adjusted for mainstream appeal. Often combined with popular applications (on a burger, pasta, etc.)

Coconut milk is made by steeping the flesh of a coconut in water. Through processing, it can vary from the thicker cream found in a can to the thinner consistency expected in coconut milk designed for beverages.

Due to its familiarity to consumers and growing popularity in the market, almond milk is moving outside of the beverage space. There’s plenty of potential for this nut milk as an ingredient in breakfast offerings like oats, griddle cakes and baked goods.

Soy Milk MAC stage: Ubiquity — Ubiquity-stage trends have reached maturity, and can be found across all sectors of the food industry. Though often diluted by this point, their inception-stage roots are still recognizable. As one of the original nondairy milks in the market, soy milk has a strong foothold as a dairy alternative on shelves and has experienced a healthy amount of experimentation on menus, ranging from sweet to savory applications.

On nearly 8% of U.S. restaurant menus

On 3% of U.S. restaurant menus

Up 21% on menus over the past four years

Up 169% over the past four years

Up 19% over the past four years

88% of consumers know it/ 51% have tried it

90% of consumers know it/ 57% have tried it

88% of consumers know it/ 44% have tried it

Menu Example Starbucks Iced Pineapple Matcha Drink Matcha green tea flavored with pineapple and ginger, shaken with coconut milk and ice

Menu Example Pret A Manger Cinnamon Apple Overnight Oats Julienne apples, oats, almond milk, apple juice, almond butter, brown sugar and cinnamon

Menu Example Nojo Soy Milk Cream Cheese Crostini Soy milk cream cheese, crostini, maple syrup, pumpkin seed, almond, maldon salt

On nearly 3% of U.S. menus

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Shelf Stoppers

Shelf Stoppers


(52 weeks ending April 2, 2016) Health & Beauty Care

Basket Facts

Total Department Performance Health & Beauty Care

Latest 52 Wks W/E 2/1/20

Latest 52 Wks YA W/E 2/2/19


Latest 52 Wks 2 YA W/E 2/3/18



Top 5 Health & Beauty Care Categories by Dollar Sales Antiperspirant and Deodorant

Body Wash



Eye Cosmetics



How much is the Consumers chose average American frozen broccoli over alternatives for household a variety of reasons: spending per trip on health and beauty12% care versus it’s thebecause year-ago quick and easy period?



because it tastes great


9% $14.90

Spotlight on Frozen Broccoli


because it’s

WHEN ARE CONSUMERS EATING FROZEN BROCCOLI? Broccoli as an ingredient is most commonly consumed at dinner, followed by lunch.


Frozen broccoli is most often used in a side dish, followed by as a main entrée. 3%

0 Latest 52 Wks W/E 2/1/20


Latest 52 Wks YA W/E 2/2/19

Latest 52 Wks 2 YA W/E 2/3/18

Source: Nielsen, Total U.S. (All outlets combined) – includes grocery stores, drug stores, MEAL ITEM OCCASION mass merchandisers, select dollar stores, warehouse62% clubs and military commissaries CLASS 29%select TYPE 35% 61% (DeCA) for the 52 weeks ending Feb. 1, 2020

Total health and beauty experienced growth going into 2.1%.OTHER DINNER LUNCHnotable OTHER SIDE2020, DISH increasing MAIN ENTRÉE Key drivers in beauty care specifically that are boosting sales include antiperspirant/ deodorant (up 2.1%) and body wash (up 2.4%). Senior couples, established couples and families with teenage children present a significantly larger opportunity than singles young and old in health and beauty care products. We know that more than a quarter of purchases in this category are already made online; retailers and brands need to reimagine and blend physical store features and ecommerce to enable shoppers to tailor their experiences to themselves.”

—Eric Brown, manager-global content workstreams, Nielsen

on all health beauty healthy andand nutritious care products, up 0.7%


because it’s low in calories, fat and sugar

$11.53 on facial skin care, up 2.6%

$6.64 on hair care, up 1.4%

Generational Snapshot Which cohort is spending, on average, the most per trip on facial skin care products?


Gen Xers


The Greatest Generation





Source: Nielsen Homescan, Total U.S., 52 weeks ending Dec. 28, 2019


$4.24 on cosmetics and nail grooming, down 0.7% Source: Nielsen Homescan, Total U.S., 52 weeks ending Dec. 28, 2019


Global New Products Database


Cheese Market Overview

As a whole, the cheese category is seeing sales growth. However, growth has largely been in the natural and dairy-free segments, which have been offset by declines in processed varieties.

Younger consumers in particular indicate an interest in bolder flavors.

Key Issues

More than a third of consumers express concerns about both sodium and fat in cheese, with concern even more widespread among Hispanic Millennials.

Interest in milk from free-range cows is significantly more pronounced among younger consumers, as well as an overall concern about the environmental impact of dairy production. Younger consumers are turning away from natural cheese and toward dairy-free options.

The percentage accounted for by private label cheese of the category’s total sales, while, in the natural cheese segment, private label sales net 46% of the total share.

What Does It Mean? The fact that private brands are doing well suggests that store and name brands are considered of equal value and quality by consumers and are, in fact, interchangeable. Product offerings that capitalize on attributes popular among dairy-free cheeses could resonate well, possibly even among dairy-based competitors. Brands should make it known that they’re eco-friendly, and those that aren’t should be prepared to face questions — and possibly a decline in usage — from consumers.






ALL’S WELLNESS By Diane Quagliani


Traditional Versus Plant-Based Dairy SHOPPERS SHOULD BE AWARE OF VARIATIONS IN AMOUNTS OF PROTEIN, CALCIUM AND OTHER NUTRIENTS. t’s no secret that sales of plant-based foods are surging, fueled by consumer interest in healthful eating and concerns about the environment and animal welfare. The dairy alternative category is no exception, according to SPINS retail data commissioned by the Plant Based Foods Association. Plant-based milk sales grew 5% in 2019 compared with nearly flat cow’s milk sales (up 0.1%), and plant-based milk now comprises 14% of the entire milk category. Plant-based yogurt (31%) and cheese (18%) enjoyed double-digit growth, while their traditional counterparts either declined slightly or remained flat.

The Milk Case — Udder Confusion?

Despite the popularity of dairy alternatives, research suggests that some shoppers don’t really know what they’re getting when they trade traditional dairy for plant-based versions. When asked whether several types of plant-based milks (almond, soy, coconut, cashew and rice) contain cow’s milk, about three-quarters of consumers correctly said that the beverages did not contain cow’s milk, according to a 2018 online survey sponsored by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation. But that leaves about one-quarter who either said that plant-based milks did contain cow’s milk or that they didn’t know. As one example, 75% of consumers said that almond milk didn’t contain cow’s milk, 9% said it did and 16% didn’t know. The confusion extends to traditional dairy milks as well. Nine out of 10 (90%) consumers correctly said that whole milk contains cow’s milk, but just three-quarters (74%) said that skim milk does. Only about half (48%) correctly said that lactose-free milk contains cow’s milk.

Retail dietitians can help shoppers make traditional and plant-based dairy choices by highlighting nutrient differences and encouraging shoppers to compare Nutrition Facts labels. Retail Dietitians Sort Out Nutrition

Given that some consumers aren’t clear about the content of both plant-based milk and cow’s milk, they’re also likely unaware that these products can vary widely in terms of nutrition. For instance, cow’s milk contains 8 grams of protein per cup, while many common plant-based milks contain 1 gram of protein or less per cup (some contain more; soy milk is one example, with 8 grams per cup). Cow’s milk provides several other key nutrients, including calcium, vitamins A and D, potassium, phosphorus, and certain B vitamins.


ALMOND MILK Of consumers didn’t know.

16% 75%



Of consumers believed it did not contain cow’s milk.

Of consumers believed it did.


Nine out of 10 consumers correctly said that whole milk contains cow’s milk. Source: International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation

Plant-based milks are usually fortified with at least some of these nutrients, but which nutrients and at what levels vary by type or brand of plant-based milk. A check of the calcium content in three brands of almond milk showed that one brand contained 600 milligrams per cup; another, 390 milligrams per cup; and another, no calcium fortification at all (cow’s milk contains 300 milligrams of calcium per cup). Nutrient values also vary among other traditional and plant-based foods such as cheese and yogurt. Retail dietitians can help shoppers make traditional and plant-based dairy choices by highlighting nutrient differences and encouraging shoppers to compare Nutrition Facts labels. But nutrient profile isn’t the only consideration. Dietitians are also skilled at recommending options for shoppers with health concerns such as milk allergies, lactose intolerance, diabetes and heart disease. In addition, dietitians can offer nutritious recipes and usage tips for those new to plant-based dairy or looking to add more traditional dairy to meals and snacks.

Diane Quagliani, MBA, RDN, LDN, specializes in nutrition communications for consumer and health professional audiences. She has assisted national retailers and CPGs with nutrition strategy, web content development, trade show exhibiting, and the creation and implementation of shelf tag programs.

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Equal Pay for Equal Work THE OLD REFRAIN STILL HAS RELE VANCE TODAY. qual pay for equal work” has been the constant refrain of working women from the early 19 th century. This powerful motto speaks to the simple fact that no one should be paid less for their work on the basis of gender. Yet almost 60 years after the Equal Pay Act of 1963, women in the United States still make just 82 cents for each dollar made by their male counterparts. March 31 was Equal Pay Day, a time to recognize and decry this discrepancy. On Equal Pay Day, women ask, “Why?” and “What needs to change?”

Undervalued Work

According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), there’s no simple answer. One major contributing factor, however, is that occupations dominated by women tend to pay less. “Around the world, occupations like teachers pay less than occupations like engineers,” notes the WEF. “So gender differences in occupational choice affect gender differences in earnings.” Throughout history, women have commonly been pushed into “low-value” work. In a recent article in Time, an expert noted that “historically, we have undervalued care work because it has been seen as very feminine. And we tend to undervalue feminine jobs that involve care.” Another contributing factor is housework. Although we pride ourselves on the strides that women have made in the last century, women are still doing more unpaid housework than men. According to CNBC, if men and women were compensated for housework at the average American pay rate of $26.82 an hour, “men would earn an extra $469.35 a week, and women would earn an extra $761.69 a week — which comes out to nearly $40,000 a year.” Debates that play out on the public stage remind us that preconceptions are


still very much in the way of pay equity for women. In the fight for pay equity between the Women’s and Men’s U.S. Soccer Teams, U.S. Soccer has argued, “The job of a [men’s national team player] carries more responsibility within U.S. Soccer than the job of a [women’s national team] player.” This attitude persists despite the fact that the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team is without doubt the better team: According to CNN, the women’s team “[has won] four World Cups and four Olympic gold medals — while the furthest the men’s team has advanced in the World Cup was the 2002 quarterfinals. And the men’s team failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.” Right now, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research notes that at the current rate of change, it will take until 2059 to achieve parity in pay between men and women. Even worse, it observes that “a girl born in the United States in 2017 has a life expectancy of 87 years. In 2082, when she turns age 65, a wage gap will still remain in 13 states.” We can’t accept this crawl toward equality. All working women, no matter where they are in their careers, no matter what industry they work in, need to be paid a fair wage to create tangible change.

Taking Action

Change could come in many forms, including raising the minimum wage. The National Women’s Law Center notes that women represent “six in 10 minimum-wage workers. … Today, the federal minimum wage is just $7.25 per hour, and full-time earnings of $14,500 a year leave a family of three thousands of dollars below the federal poverty line.” But action doesn’t start and end with policy. It starts with you, here and now. Leaders can advocate for important access to child care for working mothers. A New York Times article on the subject,

All working women, no matter where they are in their careers, no matter what industry they work in, need to be paid a fair wage to create tangible change.

“The Gender Pay Gap is Largely Because of Motherhood,” notes, “Some women work less once they have children, but many don’t, and employers pay them less, too, seemingly because they assume they will be less committed.” Paid child care is one potential solution to discriminatory pay for mothers, who earn even less than the total average for women — a shocking 69 cents on the dollar. If you’re a woman in the workforce, you can start by negotiating for better pay, and advocating for pay transparency in your workplace. If you’re a company leader, even better — you may be able to institute transparency in your workplace yourself. Data has shown that banishing the secrecy that has often hidden rates of pay from workers can reduce or eliminate the gender pay gap within organizations. If you can make it happen, open-salary policy could be a game-changer for your organization — and for pay equity in general.

Kick Glass

NEW’s proprietary study on women in the workplace, “Kicking Glass,” noted a few other things that company leaders can do to equalize pay. Remove any reference to pay history when setting salaries for employees — female employees were likely underpaid at their last position, so don’t let that affect what they get paid at your organization. Ensure that maternity or disability leave doesn’t affect the advancement of your employees. Family-friendly and flexible policies allow women to build

their careers without stigma. And don’t forget to lean on the data. Turnover analysis and engagement surveys can uncover barriers to equal pay and retention. Be determined. Don’t take no for an answer. Although women may be less likely to get a raise when they ask for it, that doesn’t mean they should stop asking. And although there may be a long path to equality, leaders can speed the pace by taking decisive action. Women have always been expected to work, even when that work has been undervalued and underpaid. We were expected to work as mothers, cleaners and unpaid laborers, and those expectations — that women’s work is taken for granted, not to mention unpaid — still linger as ghosts in the consciousness of modern Americans. It’s time to take concrete steps to banish the past and create a future where our daughters earn equal pay for equal work. Sarah Alter is president and CEO of the Network of Executive Women, a learning and leadership community representing 12,400 members in 22 regional groups in the United States and Canada. Learn more at


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COVID-19 Report


etailers and brands should think twice before abandoning all promotional activity in the midst of the ongoing (at presstime) COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath, because many shoppers are still looking for deals as they stock up for an uncertain future, according to a survey conducted among 1,001 primary household grocery shoppers in the United States by Chicago-based Path to Purchase Institute, a sister company of Progressive Grocer. Despite news reports and social media conversations focusing on throngs of shoppers emptying store shelves, the survey, fielded March 13-15, identified more thoughtful, deliberate shoppers still relying on preferred brands and retailers, and still hoping to find good prices before changing their typical behavior when necessary to buy needed products.


As expected, those behavioral changes included a significant number of shoppers moving toward online ordering and out-of-store pickup options. Taken as a whole, the survey uncovered three key takeaways about the state of shopping behavior at this time:


Shoppers are Still ‘Shopping’

Although the near-national run on both emergency-health and grocery staples seemed to suggest that consumers were blindly grabbing necessary items without any consideration, the survey suggested that there was more trip planning taking place than all of those bare aisles would imply. In fact, the impact of the pandemic led even more consumers to undertake the following activities with greater frequency: Make a shopping list (31%). Since this behavior was more evident among suburban/ rural residents and older shoppers, it could have been driven by a desire to avoid being forced to make another trip to the store for items that they might otherwise forget.


COVID-19 Report Look for coupons (24%). Millennials and Gen Xers led the charge. Only 12% of respondents said that they were looking for deals less often than they did before. Review store circulars (23%), which could have aided in the aforementioned list making and deal seeking, as well as providing a way to ‌ Compare prices across stores (22%), with the need for bulk buys and concerns over potential gouging likely having driven the change. Read product reviews online (18%), which again seemed to contradict the perception that shoppers were simply “panic buying.â€? This shift in behavior could have reflected the need to purchase unfamiliar products (like face masks); find the most effective solutions (for staying germ-free); or try out new brands due to out-of-stock situations. Just as significantly, a much smaller percentage of shoppers (13% or less) said that they had ceased any of these activities. And while product availability likely had become far more critical to ultimate purchase decisions than almost ever before, 83% of shoppers said that they were looking for low prices and deals, including 27% who said that they were doing that more often now. Conversely, only 10% said that they were less concerned about price. This greater price sensitivity could have been related to the increased level of stock-up trips taking place (see chart on page 25), or to heightened concerns about price gouging.

One other behavioral trend that could have had a significant impact on shopper engagement is meal planning: 28% of respondents said that they were now planning meals, and buying products accordingly, more than they did before the crisis began. That meant that 79% of shoppers (including those who already did so) were heading to the store with specific ingredients in mind. (These results came before major cities such as New York and Chicago began to prohibit in-restaurant dining.)


Online Shopping Is Growing

Among the more commonly expected outcomes of the pandemic was a surge in grocery ecommerce, with many industry analysts predicting a true tipping point in relation to brick-and-mortar shopping as

Increase in Online Ordering of Food Across Delivery Formats Thinking about online shopping for the following types of products (food), please indicate your shopping behavior as it relates to the coronavirus pandemic:












56% I do this more often I do this the same amount I do this less often I don't do this

Buy food online for pickup in store

Buy food online for home delivery

Source: Path to Purchase Institute, EnsembleIQ reasearch


Buy food online for curbside pickup

Trip Types Before Versus During the COVID-19 Pandemic In light of the recent coronavirus pandemic, please indicate how the frequency of doing each of the following types of shopping trips have changed, if at all: Stock-up (15+ items)

Fill-in (5-15 Items)

Quick trip (1-5 Items)

Immediate consumption (1-5 Items)

More often 29%

More often 23%

More often 22%

More often 19%

The same amount 53%

The same amount 56%

The same amount 52%

The same amount 54%

Less often 8%

Less often 13%

Less often 16%

Less often 15%

Source: Path to Purchase Institute, EnsembleIQ reasearch

consumers discovered the relative ease and physical safety of online shopping options. The survey results supported this theory, beginning with the earlier-discussed increase in online-conducive pre-shopping behaviors such as meal planning, price comparing and reading product reviews. It was reflected even more, however, by the large increase in online grocery buying among respondents, 21% of whom said they were now shopping online because of the pandemic — joining the 26% who already were (see chart on page 24). If the pandemic continues and “shelter in place” rules remain, it will be interesting to see how many of the 57% of shoppers who still aren’t buying groceries online will do so. Drilling down to specific ecommerce activities, relatively equal numbers of shoppers said they were buying food online to pick up in the store (19%), to use curbside pickup (18%) or for home delivery (18%). All of those options helped them avoid crowded aisles, long lines and possible contamination to some degree. Adoption levels for online buying were roughly the same for personal care and household supplies, as well as for over-thecounter and prescription medications. One possible check on more widespread adoption might be the fact that only 16% of shoppers said that they had a high level of trust in the ability of retailers or delivery personnel to be sanitary and safely handle orders during preparation and delivery. Retailers themselves might well have helped fuel greater adoption of home delivery, since a number of chains dropped the service charges often associated with low-purchase online orders. The level of “shelter in place” guidelines set by municipalities, as well as the length of the COVID-19 outbreak, could ultimately have a major impact as well.


markets or mass merchants) to a different one in relatively equal measures — between 15% and 21% — across all channels. For the moment at least, drug stores picked up as many grocery trips as online retailers, presumably because of their established status as destinations for health-and-wellness needs. However, 56% of respondents said that they were visiting the stores they always shopped, while another 39% were heading to other stores only to buy something specific that they needed. Not surprisingly, greater product availability was the reason most often given for the switch (cited by 58%). Other motivations were a more convenient location (34%), which might imply a desire to shorten trip lengths; a lack of the purchase limits that many chains implemented to fend off hoarding (23%); better prices (20%): and the availability of products they didn’t normally buy (18%), which likely reflected unique needs related directly to the outbreak. Asked which retailer they trusted to provide the products and services they needed during the crisis, 18% of shoppers named Walmart. Target and Amazon were each identified by 6%; Kroger and Costco were each cited by 3%. In total, 67 retailers were named. These results suggest that, despite the upheaval in behavior caused by the pandemic, retailers still have an opportunity to retain loyalty if they are able to stay ahead of changing consumer demand and meet the needs of shoppers confronting an uncertain future — obviously, a task far easier said than done in these exceptionally difficult times.

Shoppers Are Ready to Stay Loyal

An additional finding that seemed to belie the “gold rush” mentality of recent shopping behavior was the number of shoppers who said that they wanted to continue visiting their preferred stores to buy their favorite brands. The climate undoubtedly led many consumers to alter their typical destinations for grocery purchases: Shoppers said that they shifted trips from their typical channel (most commonly super-

Peter Breen is editor-in-chief of Progressive Grocer sister company Path to Purchase Institute, where he has managed content since its inception in 2003. Before helping to launch the institute, he spent four years as editor and managing editor of Promo magazine and its ancillary products.








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Ecommerce has remained a tremendous opportunity, Hirz notes, outpacing in-store growth and becoming a larger part of industry sales. “Private label penetration continues to grow industry-wide as well, giving retailers increased margin and additional leverage with our vendor partners,” he observes. Amid the events of recent weeks, Hirz says he’s “very optimistic on the short-term — and longer-term — health of our industry. The impact of coronavirus is continuing to unfold in real time. During this uncertain period, we’re grateful to be in a position to provide customers the items they need.” Of course, grocery retailers are critically important in times of crisis, and historically come through at their best. “Even in [places] where most all retailers are closed, almost every grocery store continues to remain open, providing an essential service to those households,” Hirz notes. “[V]olumes have been unprecedented, and we believe that center store sales will remain strong in the short term, while the impact of coronavirus continues to be felt. Most of the product as customers stock up will be consumed, and we don’t anticipate a negative impact on future sales.”

The overall long-term impact remains to be seen, Hirz acknowledges, “but I believe sales will normalize as the virus runs its course and a vaccine comes to market,” he says. “The habits of cleaning, disinfecting and hand sanitizing might become a new normal and could drive up sales of those categories on a permanent basis. Right now, Smart & Final has a unique opportunity to show our current and new customers the quality and value we’re trusted for, and our associates are rising to the occasion.” For its part, United Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI) is experiencing “significant” growth in sales due to the coronavirus outbreak. In a second-quarter earnings call reported by in March, Steven Spinner, CEO

What are the BIG issues keeping you up at night?

Year Ago

No. 1

No. 2

No. 3

No. 4

No. 5

No. 6

No. 7









Competitive Threats

Benefits (minimum wage, Affordable Care Act, etc.)

Keeping up with Advancements in Technology

Price Increases

Increasing Overhead Costs

Online Sales/ Omnichannel

(recruitment, retention, diversity, training)

(energy, infrastructure maintenance, etc.)

No. 1


No. 2

No. 3

No. 7

No. 5

No. 6








No. 8

No. 9

No. 10

No. 11

No. 12

No. 13

No. 13








Market Saturation

Data Protection/ Security

Trust/ Reputation

Food Safety


Feeding the Hungry

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO)

No. 8

No. 10

No. 12

No. 11

No. 9






Source: Progressive Grocer Market Research, 2020


Current Ranking

No. 13



of the Providence, R.I.-based wholesaler, told analysts that the company is still watching to see what happens, but that “when you look at year-over-year growth ... our business is up double-digit versus prior year. That’s a big number.” Spinner speculated as to whether consumers worried over COVID-19 are buying more groceries versus eating out. “Are we going to see more and more people leaving the restaurants and eating at home? That’s possible. Are consumers loading their pantries? That’s possible. But obviously it’s very early,” Spinner said. “And so we certainly are uncomfortable making any predictions as to what this does to UNFI for the rest of the year, given the fact that right now, our primary focus is safety; security of the teams; security of the customers; making sure that our distribution centers are operating in a very, very clean and careful and disciplined way; and, obviously, making sure we get the product out into the retailer.” Spinner identified around 400 items that are seeing the most lift, including frozen vegetables, frozen fruits, general staples, canned goods, rice, nuts and other food categories. And since Spinner made these statements, local authorities across the country have ordered restaurants closed to dine-in customers during the outbreak, relegating their business at least temporarily to carry-out only and heralding increased pressure on grocery stores to handle a boost in eat-at-home behavior. Certainly, total U.S. dollar sales for the one- and four-week periods ending March 7, as reported by Nielsen, are up by double — and in some cases, triple — digits, for products like hand sanitizers, disinfectants and multipurpose cleaners. Amid reports of hoarding, sales of bath tissue jumped 60% in one week as concerns over being quarantined sent folks scurrying for toiletries as well as canned goods and bottled water.

Unprecedented Road Ahead

Executives responding to our survey told us that they’re optimistic for a successful 2020. On a scale of one to 10, 82% of respondents rated their prospects for the coming year at a six or higher. Nearly 80% rated their business success during 2019 at a six or higher, compared to 82% when we asked them a year ago about the prior year. Compared with a year ago, nearly half (46%) are optimistic about success this year. About a quarter are less optimistic, with 29% feeling the same as last year. Of key business areas, 29% of respondents told us that they expect their net profits to increase during 2020, with 49% expecting flat gains. Reflecting those who told us that labor and benefits were among the top issues keeping them up at night, 93% of respondents told us that they expect wages to increase this year, likely a result of regional minimum-wage legislation as well as the need to attract top-notch talent in a market that, at least until the coronavirus outbreak, was experiencing historic low unemployment. Additionally, 63% told us they expect to spend more on technology, a sure bet with the increased attention on omnichannel commerce. To be sure, an already disrupted industry has been subjected to a new and historically unprecedented pathway of change since March 1. 30

“We went into 2020 very optimistic, as consumers were feeling good about their financial position in general. Inflation had come back into the industry after the longest period of grocery deflation in more than 60 years, providing a tailwind for grocery retailers that we haven’t had since 2015.” —Dave Hirz, president and CEO, Smart & Final


Of executives responding to our survey told us they're optimistic for a successful 2020.



By Mike Troy and Gina Acosta hroughout Progressive Grocer’s 98-year history, various events have had a seismic effect on consumer behavior and food retailers’ operations. Another one of those times is at hand. Vastly different from the wars, civil disruptions, financial meltdowns and terrorism-induced crises that preceded it, COVID-19 will have many lasting effects on the food and consumables industry. Consistent with PG’s aspiration to be “ahead of what’s next,” here are eight of the most profound ways the industry’s future has been altered.

The advent of T-commerce: Faced with the prospect of contracting a deadly virus, shoppers donned various types of surgical masks and gloves to navigate the aisles of their neighborhood grocery stores. The unsettling images — something out of an apocalyptic movie, really — are far removed from the more pleasant experiences that shoppers routinely had in a pre-COVID-19, pre-social-distancing, pre-pandemic world.


At some point in the future, shoppers will put away the masks and the gloves, but the general desire to avoid surfaces will remain. An entire generation of shoppers has been taught a harsh lesson about the perils of touching things, much the same way that the Great Depression left a deep imprint of frugality on the psyches of those who lived through it, and which was passed on to their descendants. Every aspect of food retailers’ operations will be impacted by this aversion to surfaces, ushering in the age of touchless commerce. Some retailers have already moved in that direction with contactless payment features in their mobile apps, helping shoppers avoid in-store PIN pads and touchless deliveries. But there are countless other touchpoints in a physical store, where retailers will need to proactively address shoppers’ angst through a continuation of enhanced sanitation measures. Ecommerce acceleration: Pre-COVID19, retailers would talk about disruption, the accelerating pace of change and multiyear transformation agendas. Those phrases have all gained new significance, because nothing is more disruptive than a global pandemic. If the pace of change seemed fast prior to January, it was nothing compared with the past few months. Food and consumables retailers showed what speed really looks like by taking action at a blinding pace. When lives are on the line, those three-year strategic transformation plans go out the window. And so it is with ecommerce, an area where many food retailers had been moving at a leisurely pace. It’s only been in the past three or four years that industry majors such as Walmart, Kroger, Albertsons and Ahold Delhaize USA have begun to seriously ramp up basic omnichannel offerings such as grocery pickup and delivery. Even so, they struggled to handle the sudden surge of shoppers who wanted to engage with them digitally. Others were caught flat-footed. It’s tragic that it took a tragedy to wake many food retailers from their slumber, but it has, and they’re now all aboard the digital train, racing into the future. COVID-19 has served as the ultimate catalyst to accelerate innovation around the shopping experience of the future. Food retailers demonstrated what they’re capable of as a result of COVID-19, and going forward, success will come to those who continue to exercise their newfound sense of urgency. Balance sheets matter: Financial advisers recommend that individuals maintain an emergency fund sufficient to cover three to six months’ living expenses. Too bad more retailers didn’t heed that advice prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. Retailers deemed nonessential discovered the hard way how poorly prepared they were for the nation’s health care crisis. An

Food retailers demonstrated what they’re capable of as a result of COVID-19, and going forward, success will come to those who continue to exercise their newfound sense of urgency.

extended period of store closures has left many retailers, in addition to their landlords, strapped for cash. So they’ve employed extreme measures such as tapping lines of credit, furloughing hourly and headquarters employees, cutting the pay of the latter group while also cutting dividend payments, capital expenditures and every conceivable discretionary expenditure. For those companies that were already struggling to grow sales and produce profits in a vigorous economy, the COVID-19 crisis will accelerate their demise. But even those that are more successful saw the situation that unfolded rapidly during February and March expose the vulnerabilities of their business models and finances. The scenario facing nonessential retailers, and the wide range of desperate cash conservation measures now in place, should serve as a cautionary tale for retailers of food and consumables. Check your balance sheet. How strong is it, and what would happen if the shoe were on the other foot and a different type of crisis required operations to be curtailed? Senior leaders at food retailing companies will be asking “what if?” a lot more in the coming years, or at least they should be. Supply chain simplification: The COVID-19 outbreak gave new meaning to the phrase “March Madness,” normally associated with the popular college basketball tournament. Shoppers flocked to stores and stockpiled in ways that veteran retailers had never seen. Kroger, for example, disclosed a 30% increase in its identical-store sales for March. Amid such frenzied activity, shoppers weren’t selective about brands — they were buying categories, happy that merchandise was even available. The situation that unfolded last month revealed the inherent conflict that has long existed between merchandising strategies rooted in breadth of assortment and the operational challenges of supply chain efficiency. The latter will play an even more important role in retailers’ merchandising strategies going forward as a result of lessons learned during this health care crisis. There’s now a sharpened understanding of the correlation between the costs of offering expansive assortments and the value provided to shoppers who were forced to make new choices. Customers won’t care if they must choose

between 50 types of olive oil instead of 100, Spring Meadow or Fresh Scent laundry detergent, a 12or 18-count pack of toilet paper, or other equally insignificant choices found among center store planograms clogged with items that detract from supply chain efficiency. The death of self-service as we know it: When the coronavirus pandemic started ramping up in the United States in March, the first thing that Southeastern grocer K-VA-T Food Stores/Food City did was shut down its sampling and self-service food stations. Shortly thereafter, other grocery chains such as Giant Food and Wegmans Food Markets announced similar measures. Even when the pandemic finally eases, hard choices will have to be made about sampling activities and other self-service features. The COVID-19 virus shattered consumer confidence in the safety of unpackaged food. For weeks, consumers have been bombarded with news coverage about how to avoid germs, including reports showing how long the COVID-19 virus lingers on door knobs and food utensils (it’s actually days). Understandably, consumers are worried about germs, which creates huge ramifications for retailers. There may also be new regulatory hurdles coming that restrict beverage dispensers, bulk food containers or salad bars. For now, it’s imperative that grocers install more sanitary, touchless self-service stations (Lidl uses them in its U.S. stores) or remove them altogether, depending on customer response. Future of foodservice: The shuttered foodservice industry lost an estimated $25 billion in sales and more than 3 million jobs in the first 22 days of March as the coronavirus outbreak swept the United States. The post-pandemic consumer will continue to avoid restaurants, PROGRESSIVE GROCER April 2020


GROCERY DELIVERY but will still need to visit supermarkets to buy groceries, thus increasing the potential to purchase prepared foods as a surrogate for restaurant meals. But Americans are looking down the barrel of a recession, which means that even if foodservice comes roaring back in the fall, the average consumer isn’t going to be splurging on prepared foods in the deli as much as they used to. And then there’s the sanitation issue. “Foodservice businesses that do reopen will have a longer and more challenging path to regain consumer confidence for on-the-premise consumption,” David Smith, president and CEO of Associated Wholesale Grocers, said during a PG webinar in March. “Touching things that others touch and being in close proximity to others is going to be a big concern going forward and will cause people to question how they can best cope and keep themselves safe.” While cleanliness has always been critical in foodservice, the need to clean, sanitize and manage safety will never be as important as it will be in a post-COVID-19 society. The upshot for grocers intent on capturing a larger share of foodservice dollars will be to implement extreme cleaning, sanitation and safety protocols to entice pandemic-panicked shoppers back to foodservice. And these safety measures will need to be more effectively communicated for shoppers to regain trust.



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The pandemic pantry will linger: With federal, state and local measures in place to promote social distancing and many restaurants closed, consumers are spending more time at home than ever before. Network data shows that consumers are taking this time to cook and tackle recipes for meals that they would typically purchase as manufactured products at the grocery store. According to shoppable recipe platform Chicory, recipes for homemade tortillas and bread from scratch spiked in March, surpassing the typically popular 15-minute or three-ingredient-style recipes. The COVID-19 pandemic is poised to create an entire generation of shut-ins who will want to cook at home more than go to restaurants, for two reasons: avoiding contamination and saving money during a recession. Grocery stores and manufacturers will be long-term beneficiaries of these trends. For example, spice maker McCormick said that its March sales soared as people loaded their pantries. CEO Lawrence Kurzius told analysts on an earnings call that he expects consumption to continue at an extraordinary level. “This pantry-stocking behavior is a one-time surge that isn’t sustainable, but there is a real incremental consumption that is happening,” Kurzius said. “We believe that there is going to be a sustained shift for a period of time to more at-home cooking.” Associate investments: With millions of service-oriented Americans who previously worked at restaurants, hotels and nonessential retailers now unemployed, food retailers have emerged to fill the void. But can you take someone who previously worked on a cruise ship and put them to work in an Amazon warehouse or at the curbside pickup desk at Ralphs? Maybe, but retailers are going to have to revamp their hiring and training protocols to get those people up to speed quickly, and increasingly with new skill sets. Grocers will need to accelerate investments in automation as labor becomes more expensive and consumers demand pickup and delivery options that drain profits. Operating costs will remain under pressure for a long time. We can expect retailers’ financial statements to be adjusted for all of these increased costs, not just in the short term, but also in the long term, as profits face considerable pressure.


S By Gina Acosta

ince 2015, at least 10 grocery chains have filed for bankruptcy. If you’re a grocery executive, bankrupt banner names such as Marsh Supermarkets, Lucky’s Markets, Fairway Market and Earth Fare might be the kind of thing racing through your mind in the middle of the night. But when Progressive Grocer asked food retailers that exact question early this year as part of its annual survey of grocers, respondents said that they’re not losing that much sleep over the state of the industry. [Editor’s note: Retailers were surveyed before the COVID-19 outbreak intensified in March.] In fact, nearly half of grocery retailers in the United States are more bullish than last year about their prospects and the future of the food retail industry, with 46% of retailers surveyed saying they feel more optimistic than a year ago. That’s up slightly from last year, when 45% reported increased optimism. About 26% of retailers said this year that they’re less optimistic than last year, and 29% reported no change. Even beyond just optimism, PG specifically asked grocers this year to list the biggest issues keeping them up at night. What was their No. 1 worry? It had nothing to do with defunct banners or bankruptcies. The biggest issue for grocers, by far, was once again labor, including recruitment, retention, diversity and training. It’s the third year in a row that talent issues have topped this list, after rising from second place in 2017 to first in 2018. About 73% of all respondents named talent as their No. 1 concern, evenly shared among larger and smaller operators. The next most pressing issues cited by grocers were competition (63%), the cost of employee benefits (51%) and the price of keeping up with technology (41%). Meanwhile, more than 93% said that they expect wage costs to increase, and about 80% expect benefit costs to increase. Fuel costs will stay the same, said 44% of grocers, and competition will increase, according to 61% of those surveyed. According to the data, about 49% of grocers said that they expect profits to stay the same in


Overall, what kind of year was 2019 for your company? And how do you view 2020 prospects for your company? Rank




10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1






















Source: Progressive Grocer Market Research, 2020

Compared to a year ago, are you more optimistic or less optimistic about the retailing climate for supermarkets?


No Change


Less Optimistic Source: Progressive Grocer Market Research, 2020

2020. And about 51% of retailers said that they expect gross margin to stay the same this year as well. But that was all before a disease called COVID-19 escalated in the United States and caused a huge spike in sales at retailers with exposure to food and consumables categories. For example, Issaquah, Wash.-based Costco reported an astonishing 11.7% increase in same-store sales in March. On March 25, Minneapolis-based Target said that its total same-store sales were up 20%, driven by a 50% increase in sales of essentials, food and beverages. Chesapeake, Va.-based Dollar Tree on March 31 said that its quarter-todate same-store sales at Dollar Tree and Family Dollar stores increased 7.1% and 14.4%, respectively. Even without the boost that grocers received from COVID-19, consumers were feeling optimistic about the channel. According to Chicago-based IRI’s Q4 2019 Consumer Connect Survey, traditional supermarkets still rank among consumers as the top channel for groceries. The 2020 coronavirus outbreak could, however, have a lasting effect on the supermarket industry in terms of pushing consumers to shop for food online more frequently. Last year, just 4% of grocery sales in


More Optimistic

the United States came online, according to Nielsen. However, the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States is having a huge impact on online grocery behavior, according to data from San Jose, Calif.-based Adobe Analytics, which monitors the ecommerce transactions of 80 of the top 100 U.S. retailers. A third of consumers said in March that they had purchased groceries for online pickup or delivery in the past seven days, according to a survey by analysts at Gordon Haskett Research Advisors, with offices in New York and Greenwich, Conn. Around 41% said that they were buying groceries online for the first time. “We’ve all seen the memes and photos of what some store shelves look like as people prepare for the worst,” says Nate Smith, group manager of product marketing for Adobe Analytics. “Stores are running out of basic necessity items like toilet paper and hand sanitizer, and we think that is a significant driver of online shopping at the moment. Add to that the fact that many people are also trying to avoid large gatherings and public places, and it’s easy to see why online shopping for COVID-19-related items is up.” The question is, how many grocery shoppers will move online permanently after the crisis? Whatever the answer to that question, one thing’s for certain: The acceleration of ecommerce adoption would present grocers with another tremendous growth opportunity. That’s one reason for them to be even more optimistic heading into 2021.


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We produce enough gh electricityy for our farm farm, our cheese fa factory and over 300 area homes. veCh PROGRESSIVE GROCER April 2020


Sales Drivers Revealed

Of all departments listed below, which one is most influential in terms of driving your stores' overall brand/ image/point of differentiation? 28% Meat





By Bridget Goldschmidt

hen asked which departments of the store were most successful at generating sales, respondents to Progressive Grocer’s 2020 Annual Report survey once more looked to meat, with a whopping 68% singling it out as a top-selling section, the same as in 2019. Other huge sales magnets, according to the survey, were frozen foods, at 63%, way up from 22% last year; produce and fresh bakery, both at 61%, with produce having slid from 68% and bakery having risen from 33%; beer/wine/liquor (where applicable), deli/prepared foods, and seafood, all, at 59%, higher than last year; and center store, general merchandise and gourmet/specialty, all, at 54%, showing considerable increases over 2019. Floral; health, beauty and wellness; and private label were all pegged as big sales generators by 51% of respondents, again revealing solid increases, while organics were noted by 49%, quite a jump from last year’s 21%. Less successful at driving sales were ethnic foods, at 41% (a big improvement from 5% in 2019, however); checkout lanes/front end, at 32% (up from 12%); and pharmacy, at a paltry 12% (down from 17%). These mostly rising percentages indicate that more departments than ever are adept at generating sales, which means better business for stores, and the grocery industry, on the whole. When it came to driving traffic, meat again was No. 1, chosen by 59% of survey respondents, although down from 63% last year, closely followed by produce, at 56%, a slight decline from 2019’s 58%. By contrast, the next-highest departments, dairy and deli/prepared foods, trailed at 44% each, with deli/ prepared foods slightly up from 40% last year and dairy showing a marked increase from 27% in 2019. Meanwhile, center store scored with 41% of respondents (up from 30%); organic products garnered 37% (up from 18%); beer/wine/liquor (where applicable), fresh bakery and checkout lanes/front end were all selected by 34%, with the last two seeing considerable rises and the first a dip from 38%; and private label made the grade with 32%, versus last year’s 12%. The departments considered less successful at driving traffic were frozen foods (29%, up from 8%); ethnic foods, gourmet/specialty and pharmacy



Deli/Prepared Foods


Fresh Bakery






Private Label


Gourmet/ Specailty


Center Store

28% Meat was the most influential department in driving stores’ overall brand, image or point of differentiation, and retook the No. 1 spot for driving traffic and generating sales.

Source: Progressive Grocer Market Research, 2020

(all 27%, up from 3%, 5% and 12% in 2019, respectively) general merchandise (22%, up from 5%); seafood (17%, up from 12%); health, beauty and wellness (15%, up from 7%); and floral (a mere 2%, down from last year’s 3%). Since some of these departments, such as seafood, ranked high as sales generators, however, the issue is to make sure that customers are directed to those somewhat overlooked parts of the store, where, once

shoppers see what’s available, they’re likely to make substantial purchases. Signage and displays outside of those departments reminding consumers to drop by to see what else is offered there could help in this regard. As for the departments deemed the most influential in driving their stores’ overall brand/image/point of differentiation, meat was unsurprisingly the winner here as well, with 28% of Annual Report respondents selecting it, a decline from 33% last year. Next was produce, at 25% (up from 23%); deli/prepared foods, at 18% (up from 12%); and fresh bakery, at 15% (up from 3%) — these results affirming the ongoing importance of fresh perimeter departments to a store’s identity. Taking up the rear by a wide margin were seafood (at 5%, up from 2%, however) and organics, private label, gourmet/specialty and center store (all 3%, compared with 2%, 7%, 5% and 5%, respectively, last year ). As with the traffic drivers, these results suggest that seafood, which is, after all, also a fresh department, needs to develop a presence separate from meat to register with consumers as a paramount reason to shop a store regularly.

Which departments of the store are the most successful at?

Generating Driving Sales Traffic


68% 59%

Frozen Foods



61% 56%


61% 34%

Deli/Prepared Foods



59% 34%

(if applicable)




59% 17%


54% 44%

Center Store



54% 27%

General Merchandise



Private Label



Heath, Beauty & Wellness




51% 2%


49% 37%


41% 27%

Checkout/Front End



12% 27%


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Source: Progressive Grocer Market Research, 2020 *Nielsen Planners, YTD 2018 thru June 30th, Total US All Measured Channels ©2019 The Coca-Cola Company

What omnichannel services do you offer?

Omnichannel Investments

Mobile shopping apps



echnology continues to change at a rapid pace, and grocers have every intention of trying to keep up, according to Progressive Grocer’s Annual Report survey. A majority — 63% — of retailers expect technology spending to increase at their companies during 2020. Advancements in technology hit No. 4 on the list of issues keeping retailers up at night, with online sales/omnichannel coming in at No. 7 and data protection/security coming in at No. 9. Grocery has traditionally been slower to embrace ecommerce sales, but the demand for omnichannel will continue to grow — and maybe even explode — in the coming months and years, especially as COVID-19 accelerates customers’ usage of home delivery and click-and-collect services. The number of retailers implementing new fulfillment options is increasing, with everything from Kroger’s partnership with U.K.based Ocado for large automated sheds — six currently under construction — to a number of grocers such as Walmart and Albertsons testing a micro fulfillment model in back of existing stores. Many consumers have embraced online ordering, particularly during the coronavirus outbreak, and tech firms such as New York-based Chicory predict that COVID-19 will be a major catalyst for widespread online grocery adoption by consumers in the United States beyond the pandemic.


Third-party vendor home delivery (e.g., Instacart, MyWebGrocer, etc.)


Store-supported delivery


Drive-up collection sites

40% 31%



In-store mobile product scanning


Ordering kiosks

Delivery via autonomous vehicles






What do you consider to be the most advantageous benefit offered by mobile devices/smartphones? 44% 40%




34% 29%







10% 0

Order Online/Pickup In-Store



Source: Progressive Grocer Market Research, 2020


Digital Circular

POS Loyalty Card

Shopping List App

Delivery of Online Orders

Personalized Discounts


Interactive Website

Please grade your company’s strategy for connecting with consumers at multiple touchpoints: 15%


A We have a fully integrated strategy using in-store, online and digital channels B We’ve got a strategy that we’re executing C We’re just getting started D We don’t have plans for omnichannel

27% 39%

Only 20% of retailers said that they have a fulplan to offer the service soon. ly integrated strategy using in-store, online and The omnichannel service garnering the most interest from digital channels, but an additional 39% said they retailers to implement as soon as possible is ordering kihave a strategy that they’re executing for conosks, even though only 14% said that they currently have necting with consumers at multiple touchpoints. such kiosks in their stores. The kiosks can offer customers The amount of retailers with a fully integrated an additional engagement point and a more seamless shopstrategy, however, did increase 11% since ping experience everywhere, from the last year. As for those just getting started deli and prepared food departments to with omnichannel, 27% said that they’re checkouts and order pickups. in that boat in 2020. Reducing checkout friction has also One of the greatest challenges in omniled 17% of grocers to adopt in-store channel is the last mile. Forty-three percent mobile product scanning, with an addiof retailers currently offer third-party ventional 11% planning to do so soon. As of grocers are currently dor home delivery through partners such as for mobile shopping apps, a majority of executing or running Instacart or Target-owned Shipt, while 40% grocers already have these to help cusa fully integrated offer store-supported home delivery. Drivetomers connect with their brands and omnichannel strategy up collection sites and click-and-collect opmake additional purchases. using in-store, online and tions can now be found at the vast majority In February, Amazon opened its first digital channels. 27% of grocers and experienced a surge in usage Amazon Go Grocery store in downtown of respondants say that during March. Seattle with the tech behemoth’s Just they are just getting As for one of the most-talked-about soluWalk Out technology that had previousstarted. tions for delivery, 3% of retailers said that ly been reserved for smaller spaces and they currently have delivery via autonomous vehiless fresh produce, in favor of prepared meals. This is somecles, with some companies such as Walmart, Kroger, thing to keep an eye on as other grocers like Pittsburgh-based H-E-B, Amazon and Ahold Delhaize USA at various Giant Eagle, with tech company Grabango, also test frictionstages of testing. Much of the driverless technology less experiences. is currently on the road in Arizona and Texas, but Tech as a whole is top of mind for most grocers, and survey as federal agencies continue to tackle regulations, respondents were asked about the best investment their comfurther rollouts are expected in the near future. An panies could make to be successful in the next five years. The additional 6% of retailers said that they don’t curtop response was technology upgrades/new investments. rently offer delivery via autonomous vehicles but





Workforce Innovation

How food retailers can navigate a la bor maelstrom. By Gina Acos


s the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States gained steam in March, Amazon, Walmart and Target suddenly announced that they would be hiring hundreds of thousands of new workers. Soon thereafter, Dollar General made a direct hiring appeal to people (restaurant and hotel employees, among others) who are losing their jobs as a result of the pandemic. The Kroger Co. then followed suit, announcing that it would be hiring at least 10,000 new workers, as well as handing out bonuses and boosting sick leave for its employees. Skyrocketing demand for groceries during a public health crisis has created an immediate need for more workers, forcing many of America’s grocers to scramble when it comes to reinforcing their ranks. There likely has never been a more challenging time for food retailers when it comes to the hiring, retention and training of workers in this country. And food retailers might have to alter their hiring practices to ensure that their stores — both brick-and-mortar and online — are staffed to meet the overwhelming demand. 42



Workforce Innovation Two of North America’s most successful regional grocery chains — Heinen’s, in Cleveland, Ohio, and Longo’s, in Toronto — have been making the kinds of investments in labor, training and development that are poised to pay big dividends during this unprecedented time for grocery labor. Even before the pandemic, both retailers were focusing on the key factors driving workforce innovation in food retailing, namely: Online grocery opportunities and challenges Leveraging social media in hiring Using technology for training and development

Ahead of the Curve

“Ecommerce is definitely blowing up for us right now, and it’s blowing up in the industry,” says Tom Rudar, human resources/training and development specialist at Heinen’s. “A couple of years ago, we started working with Instacart, and it’s been pretty successful for us. Now we are also doing curbside pickup, we’re redesigning our website, and we’re actually going to have a mobile app. They’re both coming out this year.” Heinen’s, which has 23 stores in Ohio and Illinois, actually launched grocery delivery 20 years ago, “when nobody was doing it,” as Rudar puts it “We had a service called Speedy Shopper,” he recounts. “Customers could go to a website, order items, and then we would Family-owned grocery chain Heinen's, which has been ramping up investments in labor technology, seems to be well positioned for a hiring crush of new workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic.


pick the orders and ring them up. And then a third party would come and pick them up and deliver them to the customers. We stopped doing it for a little while, and then we got into Instacart.” Today, Heinen’s has associates who work both for the retailer and for Instacart. So far, that arrangement has worked out well for both companies. “The biggest opportunity for us is to make sure our associates engage the Instacart shopper to make sure they’re finding everything, because if the Instacart shopper can’t find something, they’ll contact the customer to get an alternative,” says Rudar. “So our associates just need to kind of help out.” The family-owned grocery chain, which has been ramping up investments in labor technology, seems to be well positioned for a hiring crush of new workers. “We had over 25% of new associates leave in the first 90 days last year,” Rudar says in an interview conducted before the COVID-19 outbreak. “That was really high for us. So we’ve gotten really creative with doing job fairs and going out and helping the stores with their hiring, because they just don’t have enough people to be on-site and hire for some of the needs that they have.” To meet staffing needs, Heinen’s is rolling out new job descriptions for each vacancy, a social media strategy and a new applicant-tracking system. “It’s taking about 60 minutes for someone to apply for a position at our company,” says Rudar. “So with TalentReef, our new ATS [applicant-tracking system], it will take as little as five minutes. We’re excited to kick off that new system soon.” Meanwhile, training continues to evolve at Heinen’s, which is taking new approaches to equipping associates with the knowledge they need to effectively serve shoppers and grow within the organization. “We’ve made a lot of adjustments with labor,” notes Rudar. “We’ve used a tool called Logile for a couple of years, and we have made some adjustments to being more appropriately scheduled at the right times. Some departments have been easier than others.” The majority of Heinen’s tech investment has happened in just the past two years. “From using Axonify to using Logile to computer-assisted ordering, we’re helping our people make decisions to help customers and make sure we have product when we need it and staff when we need it,” asserts Rudar. Before Heinen’s teamed up with Waterloo, Ontario-based Axonify, Rudar says that he and his colleagues were spending more than 700 hours a year training employees in a classroom setting. Now the grocer has embraced Axonify’s micro learning solution to give employees quick access to knowledge and information. “Two years ago, we knew we had to make a change,” he says. “We were doing a lot of classroom training.

Axonify has been a game-changer for us. Our people were a little skeptical at first, but they have loved it. They’re talking about the learning that they’re getting. They’re giving us ideas for learning going forward. We rolled it out to a couple of departments at a time last year, and it was so successful that our operations team came back to us and said, ‘We need this everywhere, as fast as you can.’ So our plan is to roll it out everywhere this year.” As a grocer where prepared foods accounts for nearly 20% of its business, Heinen’s has been focused on leveraging Axonify’s training tool to aid in the transformation going on in that department, according to Rudar. “We’ve done a couple of things that require a little bit more labor in prepared foods,” he explains. “We have a person who acts almost like a concierge. We call them a Red Coat, and they are there on the prepared foods case during the prime hours of the day to sell food out of that case. They answer questions, help customers, etc. And we even took that to another level in some of our stores. We call it ‘Meals and snacks, mix and match.’ We’re taking that person that’s behind the counter, and we’re moving them out to the sales floor. We’re allocating 12 hours a week for that person to be on the sales floor and interact with the customers around the solutions in that packaged case area.”

Need for Speed

For Canadian grocer Longo’s, the role of the frontline store associate has evolved as retailers’ approaches to serving shoppers has shifted to include an emphasis on prepared foods, digital initiatives and omnichannel fulfillment. Carol Henry, director of human resources at Longo’s, has been closely involved in the grocer’s training and retention strategies for these workers, and its efforts to get technology into the hands of the front-line employees who need it. “The biggest challenge now in grocery labor is that everything is about speed,” admits Henry. “So, for example, it used to be that whenever we opened new stores, people lined up around the block to apply for a job. Fast-forward to this year, when we opened three stores, and there was a real challenge in hiring people. Yes, there’s a lot more competition; yes, there’s a lot more people getting into the grocery retail space, but a challenge is the concept of speed. We did some job fairs, and we started to notice that other retailers were hiring people on the spot, instead of doing second or third interviews later.” Longo’s, which operates more than 35 stores in the Toronto and Hamilton, Ontario, areas, is leveraging technology to make hiring employees faster, and to make it easier for employees to receive training. “We started changing our approach to say, hey, you know, probably we need to just really screen

“We have reim ag department man ined our ager training program. We u sed to bring peo ple in for about thre e to four month s, about 14 in-cla ss sessions. We’ ve actually scaled that back to ab o ut four to eight in -class sessions and about 10 online sessions.” —Ca rol Henry, Longo’s

a little bit faster,” notes Henry. “[We would] stick to our values but at the same time probably [make] that offer a little bit faster, and then just [learn] as we go. So that’s been one of the biggest challenges.” According to Henry, the grocery chain has also partnered with Axonify to leverage the company’s unique approach to micro learning as a solution for the modern retail workforce. “We have reimagined our department manager training program,” she says. “We used to bring people in for about three to four months, about 14 in-class sessions. We’ve actually scaled that back to about four to eight in-class sessions and about 10 online sessions. We’re using Axonify to help with that.” The Axonify platform is mobile-enabled, so Longo’s can have training programs tailored to how people live now: on their mobile phones. “Our partnership with Axonify is just shy of a year old, and our team members are using it every day,” notes Henry. “Our participation is almost 85% on a daily basis. We have our distribution center hit 100%, which is huge for us.” Longo’s has been employing the platform to train employees on its new private label program. “We used Axonify to help team members understand the attributes of the products, how they should engage with guests, etc.,” explains Henry. “So just the ability to get training in the hands of people really quickly was great.” Longo’s has also been trying new strategies when it comes to job sites such as LinkedIn. Additionally, the grocery chain has ramped up employee benefits, including offering scholarships for team members, comprehensive health benefits, a mental health program, tuition reimbursements and lots of discounts. Observes Henry: “You know, I think that’s what’s happening in the world of today, whether it’s in the learning space, whether it’s in the hiring space, it’s about that ability to know what’s going on and to be able to pivot and be really agile.” PROGRESSIVE GROCER April 2020


APRIL 2020

Store of the Month

By Jim Dudlicek Photos by Nicole King

A long-awaited remodel of this historic AJ’s Fine Foods strengthens its ties to the community. here’s been a grocery store at Central Avenue and Camelback Road in central Phoenix since 1955. It’s a destination for businesspeople, students and everyday shoppers alike. So when Chandler, Ariz.-based Bashas’ Family of Stores finally earmarked this AJ’s Fine Foods location for a remodel, it had to be special. The result, which included a 5,000-square-foot addition, retains the store’s classic heritage while taking a great leap forward in freshness. “Our goal was to enhance our already expansive offerings, update the overall look and feel to match the store exterior and center upgrades, and add unique features that reaffirm a sense of community and connection for our customers,” says Jayson Mead, the banner’s director of operations. The remodel gave AJ’s a chance to play catch-up on a few things. “This location has some of our longest and most loyal customers,” Mead notes. “They didn’t have certain things, and they felt left out.” For example, a sushi bar — there’s finally space for one. Of course, made-to-order sushi is nothing new for grocery stores, so AJ’s had to take it up a notch by adding an assortment of beers on tap, along with wine and sake, for patrons to enjoy while watching the expert sushi chefs hand-roll their orders. “Our sales are up hundreds of percent — it’s just crazy,” remarks Danny Hosler, the meat, produce, floral and seafood specialist for AJ’s. The sushi bar is enhanced by an 8-foot grab-and-go case for 46

According to AJ's Fine Foods, the goal of the remodel at its central Phoenix store was to expand its offering, update the overall look and feel to match the store exterior and shopping center upgrades, and add unique features.

AJ’s Fine Foods


Image courtesy of AJ's Fine Foods


AJ's Fine Foods folks who don’t have time to linger. “It sells out daily,” Hosler says. “One of our biggest issues is trying to keep up with it.” Being special is a must, especially for a store located at what was recently named the “hottest intersection” in metro Phoenix by Urban Land Institute Arizona, a nonprofit land-use organization. Plus it’s the anchor of historic Uptown Plaza, which has been undergoing a center-wide revitalization, taking it back to its mid-century modern roots. The store is in an urban setting with historic neighborhoods and family homes around the corner, high schools across the street, high-rise office and residential buildings within walking distance, and easy access to light-rail transportation. “Each of these [new store] features brings an element of support to the immediate area,” Mead says, “which enhances our connection to the neighborhood and solidifies the store as a community hub.”

A Culinary Journey

The Central and Camelback store emerged from its refresh a unique location among the 11 locations operating under the AJ’s banner. “The décor and color palette of this location are unlike anything in the rest of the division, and make a visual impact as soon as you walk into the store,” Mead says. But beyond the appearance, it’s the amenities that set this location apart, starting with the aforementioned sushi bar. “It’s our first store with a wine bar, which features eight wines on tap that change every four to six weeks,” Mead says. “This location is also the first to offer nitro coffee and to have kombucha on tap.” As at other AJ’s stores, there’s an outdoor patio (here with seating for up to 80), but the remodel added a walk-up coffee window. “Guests can grab a quick cup of coffee, tea or a sweet treat from the Boulangerie,” Mead explains. “We also added bar seating directly inside the main area that looks out onto the patio, which not only adds additional seating, but provides charging stations for guests.” As for the bakery, Tim Blackburn, AJ’s Bistro/Boulangerie specialMany of the products in the bakery at AJ's are scratch-made. Tim Blackburn, AJ’s Bistro/Boulangerie specialist, says that the department is famous for its pastries and premium sweets such as Ooey Gooey Chocolate Chip Cookies.


As at other AJ’s stores, there’s an outdoor patio at this location (with seating for as many as 80 customers), but the remodel added a walk-up coffee window.

ist, notes: “Much of what we do is scratch. We’re known for our pastries.” And also for a ridiculous decadence called Ooey Gooey Chocolate Chip Cookies, crafted from Belgian chocolate, toasted walnuts and sea salt. There are also cookies from Curly Top Bakery, a Las Vegas venture that started as a charity for the homeless. “It’s a great story, and they’ve done well for us,” Blackburn says. “We try to do as much local as we can,” he adds, pointing out cupcakes from My Dad’s Favorite and rustic European-style bread from Mediterra. He further notes that AJ’s sells more doughnuts here than at its other stores because of its downtown location. Also popular, especially on hot Arizona days, is China Mist iced tea. “We sell more iced tea out of this bakery than anything else.” The store’s downtown location allows for a robust prepared food business during all three regular mealtimes, serving hot breakfast, lunch and dinner selections daily. “Our team strives to take shoppers on a culinary journey,” Mead asserts. “We’re unique in doing breakfast burritos to order,” Blackburn says of the wraps that include a choice of eggs, meats and hash browns. “They’re wildly popular. The downtown folks love them.”




At Purina, we believe that pets and people are better together. I know that my own dog, Stew, has definitely made my life better, and I cannot imagine being faced with a decision to choose between his safety or my own. Unfortunately, that decision is being made every day by domestic abuse victims who want to leave but can’t because there’s no safe place to go with their pets. Today, only 10% of domestic violence shelters in the United States allow pets. We want to change that. For more than a year now, Purina has partnered with the national nonprofit RedRover® on our Purple Leash Project – which aims to raise awareness and increasing the number of petfriendly domestic violence shelters in the United States. Purina has committed more than $500,000 to create Purple Leash Project grants to fund pet-friendly renovations at domestic abuse shelters across the country. In addition to offering grant support for shelter upgrades, Purina is donating pet food, supplies and other resources for pet owners escaping abuse. We’re also advocating in D.C. for more federal resources for domestic abuse survivors with pets. Because there is such a limited number of domestic violence shelters in the United States that allows pets, many abuse victims are left with a heart-

wrenching decision: stay in abusive situations with their pets or leave their pets behind to face the abuser alone. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 71% of pet owners entering domestic violence shelters report that their abuser had threatened, injured or killed family pets. This is why nearly half of survivors will delay leaving abuse if they cannot take their pets with them. Throughout 2020, Purina and its associates will be working to bring more awareness to this issue and increase the number of pet-friendly shelters across the country, and I would like to challenge you to join us. Here are three ways you can help us raise awareness of the need for more pet-friendly domestic violence shelters across the country: •Use your social media platform to support survivors with pets using #PurpleLeashProject and highlighting one of the many sobering stats I’ve mentioned to start a conversation. •Visit to receive updates and learn more ways to get involved with the cause. •Retailers can make an impact during the month of May by carrying a special Purple Leash Project Beggin’ Strips® merchandising shipper designed to drive attention and awareness for the cause and sales of 6 oz bags of Beggin’ Strips® Original with Bacon

for our retail partners. Contact your Purina sales rep to learn more.


AJ’s Fine Foods


AJ's Fine Foods

5017 N. Central Ave. Phoenix, AZ 85012

Further leveraging opportunities for grocers in the breakfast daypart, AJ’s offers a yogurt bar as part of its salad bar. “We started it for breakfast,” Blackburn explains. “So many people requested it, now it goes all day long.” A wood-fired pizza oven is the centerpiece of the store’s Italian kitchen, which also turns out dishes like lasagna and eggplant parmesan. Of the hot bar, Blackburn says, “We always have a fish, a chicken and a beef protein.” What about plant-based options? Despite current growth in the category, Blackburn says that there hasn’t been significant local demand for such options. But AJ’s does have a very successful soup program, which started with three kettles per store and has grown to eight, with 26 rotating varieties. Hot soup in the desert? “You wouldn’t think here you’d sell much hot soup in the summertime, but we actually sell more,” Blackburn observes. A “Gourmet-To-Go” case near the front of the store features sandwiches, soups and salads for folks in a hurry. The deli case features meats by Hormel’s Columbus brand (“We’re the only ones in the valley with their meats,” Blackburn boasts) and salads made fresh in-house, an offering that Blackburn says “is becoming a dying breed.”

Cheese and Wine

The store expansion allowed AJ’s to grow its specialty cheese selection, which Blackburn calls “second to none.” Domestic and international varieties are complemented by an olive and antipasto bar that also features crackers, jams and crostini. AJ’s used to hand-cut random-weight cheeses in store, but new regulations require cheese to be cut and wrapped off-site in a controlled space, Mead explains. Many grocery stores have wine bars, but AJ’s version is truly a serious operation, as well as a labor of love. “The consumer is very educated and does engage and ask questions,” says Alice Itsell, wine cellar specialist, noting that many special

Original grand-opening date

May 1985 Remodel

November 2018 Total square footage

23,242 Selling area in square feet

21,763 SKUs

30,000 Employees: 98 Checkouts: 5 Hours: 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily Store designer: Duo Design

Image courtesy of AJ's Fine Foods

The remodel included an expansion of the store's specialty cheese selection, as well as a wine bar that features special events and wine cellar specialists.


“Each of these features brings an element of support to the immediate area, which enhances our connection to the neighborhood and solidifies the store as a community hub.” —Jayson Mead, AJ’s director of operations

requests come from seasonal residents and tourists. Wine Steward Nick Atonna adds, “We have a clientele that walks around with gourmet magazines, looking for wine pairings.” As part of its response to this heightened interest, AJ’s hosts events focusing on wines from different regions, rotates in-store tasting selections frequently and serves mimosas on weekend mornings. “We freshly squeeze the orange juice for an hour and a half every morning and test it for sweetness,” Itsell says. The store also partners with Arizona Distilling Co., in nearby Tempe, on an exclusive-recipe bourbon that’s aged in cabernet casks. Wine team members are chosen for their expertise. “Most of our employees have been in the industry 20-plus years, restaurant or retail,” Itsell explains. “The biggest thing is a passion for the category.” The individual AJ’s locations compare notes on demands in their respective areas to stay on top of trends. “Our neighborhood skews more toward a younger, more cosmopolitan crowd,” Atonna notes, “plus some who have been with us for generations.” The wine team is always on the lookout for new items to help educate consumers, like products from lesser-known wine regions such as Greece, South Africa, Portugal and Mexico. “I think we’ve driven the consumer to want to come in and look for things,” Itsell says. That process extends to craft and local beers as well. “We

promote local and craft selections on a monthly basis,” Itsell says. “Each year, we review the categories, see what the trends are, and how we can meet the needs of the customer and the education of the consumers.”

Fresh Showcase

Grass-fed beef, house-smoked meats, gourmet burgers, and seafood flown in daily are all highlights of AJ’s protein department. But there’s something practically invisible that makes it all look better. The brand-new meat cases — all 72 feet of them — feature high-definition glass, notes Hosler, AJ’s meat, produce, floral and seafood specialist. “It accentuates all the colors, the reds in beef, pinks in pork, whites in poultry,” he explains. New cases provide room for the store’s grass-fed beef program, which includes steaks and grinds. “We display our grass-fed meat on actual grass,” Hosler points out. He adds that installing a smoker “allowed us to quadruple sales of smoked items,” which include pork and ribs as well as salmon. Value-added items include a delicious parmesan-crusted chicken breast. Twice a year, in spring and fall, AJ’s puts all PROGRESSIVE GROCER April 2020



AJ's Fine Foods

AJ's meat department features grass-fed beef, house-smoked meats, gourmet burgers and seafood behind brand-new, high-definition glass. The store also offers free steaming of lobsters and other seafood.

Prime and Choice steaks on sale for half off, and crowds gather to take advantage of the deal. “It’s a customer service ‘thank you’ for shopping with us all year,” Hosler says. As for seafood, AJ’s offers “the biggest variety in our marketplace,” he boasts, including king salmon, sea bass, snow crab claws, Blue Point oysters, mussels, clams, and four sizes of lobster tails ranging from 8 to 24 ounces. Additionally, AJ’s last year launched an all-wild shrimp program. Taking a cue from the meat side, AJ’s holds sales called “Seafood Extravaganzas” three times a year, timed with wild salmon season. Additionally, the store will steam lobsters and other seafood for shoppers, free of charge. The produce department also got all-new cases with the remodel, allowing expansion of bagged salads and fresh-cut fruit and vegetables. “We’re seeing huge successes with that,” Hosler says. The new double-decked wet rack yields “smaller displays but more items,” he notes. Plus, since the store boosted its organic set by 12 feet, “we’re seeing double-digit sales increases in organics,” Hosler observes. Island cases in the produce section are all low profile, so “you can see the whole department,” he says, noting with pride that the store displays 25 varieties of apples, along with AJ’s recipe for caramel apple dip. Further, the remodel allows for a more open floral department with bouquet displays and a kiosk for engaging with shoppers. “It gave us a talking point to talk with customers about what’s in season and to discuss their needs,” Hosler says.

More Than a Market

The remodel of the Central and Camelback AJ’s is a recent step in a remodeling initiative at Bashas’ over the past three years. For its part, the community has responded with rave reviews. “The most rewarding part of the remodel is seeing how our customers react to the changes. It’s been gratifying to hear how much ev52

eryone’s been enjoying the expanded graband-go area, salad bar, sushi bar, and wine and beer bar, in addition to the expanded Bistro and Boulangerie departments,” Director of Operations Mead says. “We truly are part of the community, so to have their support and see their positive feedback to the changes made it all worth it. They never stopped shopping with us.” Still, the age and size of the location presented challenges. “We wanted to bring all of the features that can be found in our newer, built-from-the-ground-up AJ’s locations to this historic Central Phoenix store, while at the same time maintain the charm and character of this location,” Mead explains. That challenge met, the success of the relaunch brought a new one: parking, due to increased patronage, especially on weekends. “We’re thankful to have a lot of support from the residential area directly behind and next to the store,” he notes. Also, suppliers appreciate AJ’s speed to shelf for launching new products, according to Mead: “Suppliers also know that our members [employees] will do a great job representing their products. We invest in education for our members, and that culinary expertise gives a new product its very best chance at success.” The retailer also provides a stage for local suppliers to sample their products directly to shoppers. During Progressive Grocer’s visit, Carolina’s Chocolate, a local maker of fine Mexican heritage chocolates spiked with spices, offered a taste of its wares. AJ’s has a distinct and important role within Bashas’ Family of Stores, Mead explains: to cover a segment of the grocery market that isn’t being fully addressed by anyone else. “There are also some things AJ’s does that translate well to our other stores, namely, being hyper-local,” he adds. “AJ’s ... does a great job supporting and representing local brands, but this location takes it to new heights. There are certainly some key learnings we share with all of our stores.” With such attention to detail at all levels, the folks at Bashas’ have taken to referring to AJ’s as “more than a market,” especially for what it means to local consumers. “It’s common at all AJ’s stores to see regular customers dropping in for coffee, tea, a bagel, or to grab lunch or dinner,” Mead observes. “This store has become a community gathering place. There are friends, family and social groups that come to the store every day or every weekend, and they stay for hours, just relaxing and catching up. ‘I’ll meet you at AJ’s’ has become a common saying in this store’s neighborhood, not only because of its convenient location, but also because of the sense of community it has, and our commitment to ensuring everyone has an enjoyable experience here.”

presented by

Prime Season For Premium Cuts Ozlem Worpel, Sr. Brand Manager for Chairman’s Reserve® Meats, discusses how color, marbling and quality make premium meat options important during grilling season. Q. How would you describe consumers’ growing understanding of the demand for premium cuts of meat, including beef and pork?

Q. What are some of the attributes of Prime Pork? What should shoppers look for, and how can retailers educate them?

Flavor has always been a driving factor in consumers’ choice of meat. As the availability of premium cuts has grown both at retail and foodservice, customers have a wide variety to choose from. The increased focus on food has elevated consumers’ expectations and understanding of quality. With Chairman’s Reserve Meats, we have provided a choice based on high-quality meat in both beef and pork. Chairman’s Reserve Prime beef and pork are selected for quality attributes that provide a consistently exceptional eating experience, at home or in your favorite restaurant.

Chairman’s Reserve Prime Pork is hand selected for color and marbling. Consumers should look for a darker pink color with white lines of fat in the muscle, marbling. The darker color has a higher pH that leads to a juicy and flavorful pork chop. Retailers should continue to educate on the lower end point cooking temperature for pork. 145°F with a 3-minute rest provides a blush of pink in the middle of the chop, and a tender, juicy eating experience.

Q. How has what we’re putting on our grills changed from traditional burgers and hot dogs to other cuts? Grilling has changed to a social event and convenient meal preparation method. The grilling season has been extending and in some markets is a year-round activity. The great flavor that grilling imparts complements the steaks and chops to create a special holiday gathering or a simple Tuesday night dinner. By offering Chairman’s Reserve Premium Meats to shoppers, grocers can help make every grilling occasion special. Q. As retailers kick off prime grilling season, what are some tips that their meat specialists can share with shoppers on what to look for when buying premium beef cuts? Always start with the grade and marbling. Not all consumers are experienced in the selection of steaks and can be confused by the differences, so simple signage and educated meat associates can help customers have a successful grilling experience they will want to repeat. Premium taste and knowledge are both important in the ultimate enjoyment.

Q. What are the benefits of carrying both Premium and Prime cuts of meat for a more diverse meat case, to meet the demands of today’s consumers? Premium and Prime programs offer a robust portfolio that delivers consistency, quality and consumer confidence at competitive price points. It gives consumers an option depending on the occasion. The right cut to impress guests or a simple Thursday night meal, they can choose the level of quality that meets their needs. Q. And finally, what are some of the newest Chairman’s Reserve Meats products? For 20 years, Chairman’s Reserve Meats has been delighting customers and consumers alike. Recently, the product line has expanded to four specific program offerings to maximize the opportunity Retailers and Foodservice Operators have. Chairman’s Reserve Premium and Prime Beef provide a choice to appeal to a larger group of customers. That choice is reflected on the pork side of Chairman’s Reserve Premium and Prime Pork. The high-quality of all four of the Chairman’s Reserve Meats allows for the customer to choose the right product for increasing sales.


For more information, visit



Grilling Outlook

Bringing the Heat AS THE OUTDOOR BARBECUE SE ASON STARTS TO SIZ ZLE, A LOOK AT WHAT’S GOING ON THE GRILL AND WHY. By Lynn Petrak ll senses aren’t equal when it comes to cooking, at least not when it comes to grilling. There’s something almost, well, primal about getting a whiff of food sizzling on an outdoor grill. From the first ancestral foods seared with fire, people have had a strong connection with this particular method of cooking. No less a revered culinary figure than James Beard waxed poetic about the thrill of the grill among those who make and eat such fare: “Grilling, broiling, barbecuing — whatever you want to call it — is an art, not just a matter of building a pyre and throwing on a piece of meat as a sacrifice to the gods of the stomach.”


Key Takeaways Grilling remains popular in the United States, with taste, convenience and social engagement cited as key reasons for this by consumers. While burgers, hot dogs, steaks and chicken are still top choices to toss on the grill, seafood, veggies and plant-based alternatives are gaining traction among shoppers. Even outside the official grilling season, many Americans continue to barbecue, making year-round marketing and merchandising on major grilling occasions a must for grocers.

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Grilling Outlook Extending a popular foodservice brand, the Wahlburgers retail line includes both fresh and frozen grill-ready products in beef and turkey varieties.

Reasons for Grilling

That said, many people do just throw meat on the grill, joining those who consider it an art form. According to the 2020 “State of the Barbecue Industry” report from the Arlington, Va.-based Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association, almost two-thirds of U.S. adults own a grill or smoker. Other research, from the recently released 2020 “Power of Meat” study, prepared by 210 Analytics LLC for FMI — the Food Industry Association and the Foundation for Meat & Poultry Research and Education, reveals that 50% of grill users cook on their grills sometimes, and 28% use them frequently.

Equipped to Grill Just as there’s a greater variety of foods being grilled these days, there are more and different ways to cook meat over flame and smoke. According to the Arlington, Va.-based Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association, the majority of grill owners (61%) use gas grills, while the tried-and-true classic charcoal grill is used by 49% of grill owners, a number that’s actually up 4% since 2017, suggesting that people enjoy taking their time to use this outdoor method. There are new types of grills that are attracting the attention of grilling aficionados, too. The survey found that 9% of grill owners have a natural gas grill, while 3% said they have a wood pellet grill. The pellet grill has been getting some attention lately. The Food Network listed it as one of the top trends of 2020 because of its ease of use, “clean” way of cooking food, and the fact that people can use it to grill and smoke at the same time. (There’s even a name for this type of grillers: pellet heads.) Indoor grilling is also catching on among year-round grilled-food fans. In addition to special built-in grilling cooktops, stand-alone, fumeless indoor grills are available from brands like Breville, Phillips and T-Fal. While grocery stores might not sell indoor grills or larger outdoor grills, most do offer grilling supplies and accessories, from bags of charcoal and smoking chips to skewers, tongs and grill mitts. —Lynn Petrak

Of grill owners use gas grills. Source: Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association


Taste is the top reason that people venture outside their homes to grill or, in some cases, buy a rangetop griller to use indoors. The “State of the Barbecue Industry” report shows that 68% of grill owners do so because of the flavor, while a third (33%) like the convenience aspect. To James Beard’s point, there’s an element of artisanship to it, too: 45% cited the grilling lifestyle, 32% said it’s because grilling is entertaining, and 19% noted that it’s one of their hobbies. Grilling might be a millennia-tested way of cooking, but there are other, newer drivers for preparing food over an open flame or charcoal. “While the flavor, convenience and social aspect of grilling still remain key themes that will capture consumers’ attention, the power of influencers and social media continues to grow, bringing new engagement opportunities for brands and retailers to reach grillers,” says Rebecca Cullen, household care analyst for Chicago-based Mintel, commenting on the market research firm’s “2019 U.S. Grilling and Barbecuing Market Report.” As the weather warms up — and with people largely cooking at home in the wake of restrictions related to the COVID-19 outbreak — expect more grills to be deployed as a way to get outside and enjoy some fresh air while still remaining at home base. Late spring and summer are high season for grilling as it is, with the “State of the Barbecue Industry Report” revealing that 56% of people plan to hold cookouts on Memorial Day, and 68% enjoy grilling on the Fourth of July. The other big grilling days of the season are Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Labor Day.

What’s Cooking?

As for what’s getting tossed, or, for that matter, artfully arranged, on the grill, mainstay items like burgers, hot dogs, steaks and chicken are still popular. According to the Washington, D.C.-based National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, most Americans who prepare hot dogs like to make them on the grill, a method widely preferred over steaming, microwaving or pan-frying. In addition to burgers, a perennial favorite, sales of ribeye steaks and beef back ribs peak from May through September, based on data released by the Cattlemen’s Beef Board and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, in Centennial, Colo. More recently, shifts in consumer eating habits are affecting what types of burgers and other conventional cuts are going on the grill. In addition to beef burgers, consumers are grilling up all kinds of other patties, including those made from poultry, seafood and even plant-based ingredients.

Five Common Questions About Farmed Chilean Salmon answered by some of the world’s most notable authorities on food and health. WHY DO WE NEED FARMED SALMON? Farmed seafood provides half of all the fish we eat in the world and is critically important to relieving pressure on wild fisheries and oceans.1 If we attempt to pull that amount of seafood out of wild fisheries, we will be depleting sea life species that are important to ensuring a healthy ocean.



The farming of fish, also known as aquaculture, reduces pressure on certain overstressed wild stocks and is key to solving this pressing environmental challenge.

BY 2056



IS FARMED SALMON AS HEALTHY AS WILD SALMON? Yes. Nutritionally, farmed salmon and wild salmon have been shown to offer the same overall nutritional value, though farmed salmon has a higher content of key nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids compared to most wild salmon.3 Farmed salmon is a staple of healthy and affordable diets around the world.2

IS THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF SALMON FARMING WELL MANAGED? Chilean salmon farmers work hard to ensure fish are raised sustainably, while minimizing impact on the environment.4 This is in compliance with federal guidelines, industry standards, and recommendations shared by NGOs like the World Wildlife Fund.5, 6

HOW DOES FARMED SALMON GET ITS BRIGHT COLOR? Both farmed and wild salmon get their coloring from food sources containing antioxidant-rich astaxanthin. Crustaceans — a dietary staple for wild salmon — are rich in astaxanthin, which is also added to the feed of farmed salmon to give them their color and keep them healthy.

IS FARMED SALMON MORE OR LESS SUSTAINABLE THAN OTHER ANIMAL PROTEINS? Farmed salmon is one of the most sustainable animal proteins. A common gauge of environmental impact is its feed conversion ratio (FCR), the estimated food required to gain one pound of body mass. Of all the animal proteins, fish are the most efficient at converting protein.7






pounds 5








Fund, W. (n.d.). Farmed Seafood. Retrieved July 2019, from


International Salmon Farmers Association 2018 Report. (n.d.). Retrieved July, 2019, from


Cahu, C., Salen, P., & De Lorgeril, M. (2004). Farmed and wild fish in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases: Assessing possible differences in lipid nutritional values. Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases, 14(1), 34-41. Retrieved July, 2019, from


The fishery and aquaculture sectors in Chile (Rep.). (2010, August). Retrieved July, 2019, from Chile’s National Commission for Scientific and Technological Research (CONICYT) website: web/20100813190353/


Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations 2018 Report on the State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture. (n.d.). Retrieved July, 2019, from


WWF Farmed Salmon. (n.d.). Retrieved July, 2019, from


Bourne, J., Jr. (n.d.). How to Farm a Better Fish. National Geographic. Retrieved July, 2019, from

Visit us at to learn more about the delicious, nutritious, sustainably-raised salmon from the Patagonian region of Chile. Follow us:


Chilean Salmon Marketing Council

© 2020 The Chilean Salmon Marketing Council. All rights reserved.


Grilling Outlook

For example, the Walburgers brand, created by Chef Paul Wahlberg and his famous actor brothers Mark and Donnie, in partnership with Bloomfield Hills, Mich.-based ARKK Food Co., offers fresh ground beef for hand forming as well as ready-to-use frozen patties. In addition to Angus Beef Original and Angus Beef Bacon, Cheddar and Jalapeno varieties, the frozen line also includes Tur-

key Burger Patties with Herb and Stuffing. As consumers seek variety and health, seafood is also landing on grills, and not just shrimp on the barbie, as in the old Australian tourism commercial. John Livera, consulting chef for the Norwegian Seafood Council, whose U.S. office is in Boston, says that seafood can be an inventive twist on tradition. “In fact, most Norwegian fish can be formed into both savory hamburgers and unique hot dogs,” notes Livera, adding that whole seafood filets or seafood filet portions can be served on hamburger-style buns, while cubed, skewered and grilled salmon or steelhead trout can replace a frankfurter on a hot dog bun. Seafood, like other proteins, also pairs well with the vegetables that are being grilled more often today as consumers seek healthier food choices. “A great way to incorporate more vegetables is to add grilled tomatoes, chilies, onions and garden-fresh zucchini in a bowl, and toss with some freshly chopped herbs and a splash of olive oil,” suggests Livera.

Plant-Based Options

Speaking of veggies, while cauliflower “steaks” may not elicit the same sizzle and aroma as conventional beef steaks on a grill, such items are an option for the growing number of flexitarians, vegans and others seeking to add more plant-based proteins to their diets. As the 2020 “Power of Meat” report shows, sales of plant-based meat alternatives grew 11.8% to reach $760 million in 2019. Like brands based on animal proteins, plant-based food companies are using grilling season as a time to roll out or tout plant-based products that can be cooked outside. MorningStar Farms, for example, will introduce plant-based alt-meat items over the next few months under the new Incogmeato brand. “Our burger patties, original bratwurst and Italian sausage are the first of many new plant-based foods coming this year from Incogmeato, so that people who are looking to sneak more plants on their plate can do so deliciously,” says Sara Young, general manager of plant-based proteins at Battle Creek, Mich.-based Kellogg Co., the parent company of MorningStar. A plant-based brand striving to replicate the signature “snap” of traditional hot dogs is Chicago-based Upton’s Naturals, which has a vegan hot dog that it says mimics


It’S A FaMiLy ThInG. As any busy family knows, the real star of the show at mealtime is the food, best accompanied by the sound of laughter and the stories of the day or memories of the past. That’s why today’s meat case and freezer aisles feature more branded options for shoppers looking for something favorite and familiar, yet different.

DiD YoU KnOw....

– PaSs tHe BuRgErS –


The Wahlberg family understands a thing or two or three about making good food, sharing good times and creating strong performances. That’s why the trio of renowned Chef Paul Wahlberg, actor Mark Wahlberg and actor/musician Donnie Wahlberg pooled their collective talents to create Wahlburgers, a thriving group of restaurants and an equally thriving line of retail products developed in partnership with ARKK Food Company.

A majority of consumers – – eat burgers at home or away from home at least once a week. And, growing at 10 times the rate of other meats, premium beef is a driver for retail growth.

– CeRtIfIeD QuAlItY – – NeW PrOdUcTs & CoMiNg AtTrAcTiOnS –

Available at grocery stores around the country, the Wahlburgers line includes angus beef products made with a proprietary blend of brisket, short rib and chuck chosen from the highest quality cuts. Offerings are available in different forms for varietyseeking shoppers to enjoy with their families: Ground Beef, Pre-Formed Patty, PreFormed Beef Sliders and Brick-Pack.

WhAt’s iN a nAmE? NeW CeRtIfIeD AnGuS BeEf WaHlBuRgErS


Meet the newest members of the Wahlburger family: Kobe-Style Blend Patties and Prime Blend Patties (both available now) and upcoming additions like Wahl Sauce, which will be available in the Spring. With today’s shoppers seeking more variety, the Wahlburgers brand also includes three frozen patty blends: Angus Beef Original, Angus Beef Bacon, Cheddar & Jalapeno, and Turkey Burger Patties with Herbs and Stuffing.

Based on consumer and retailer interest in Certified Angus Beef®, the Wahlburger family of products recently expanded to include a line of Certified Angus Beef® products, including fresh Ground Beef, Pre-Formed Patties and Sliders, along with signature Craft Blend and House Blend patties. Packages feature the Certified Angus Beef seal as well as the stamp of approval from the Wahlberg brothers.

LeArN mOrE aBoUt aDdInG tHeSe tOp pErFoRmErS by visiting or calling 248.484.4050 today.



Grilling Outlook Winging it at Home As consumers are rediscovering their cooking and grilling talents in the wake of stay-at-home orders in many parts of the country, many are looking to recreate favorite dishes that they’re missing from restaurants. One example is chicken wings, which can be smoked or grilled at home. The Just BARE Chicken brand, for its part, has developed tips for consumers to make wings at home, starting with portioned Wingettes and Drummettes that can be seasoned using a basic marinade ratio of one part acid, one part oil, and one or two parts aromatics, with added herbs and spices. Among other ideas, Greeley, Colo.-based Just BARE is offering recipes for Sriracha Spiced Sticky Wings, Blackberry-Chive Glazed Chicken Wings, Korean Marinated Chicken Wings, and Chipotle-Spiced Honey Garlic Wings with Pepper Jelly Dip. —Lynn Petrak


This barbecue season, MorningStar Farms is launching a line of plantbased alt-meat products that can be prepared on a grill.

the taste and texture of the real deal, but is made from wheat-gluten seitan and other natural ingredients. There’s another thing that retailers should bear in mind when marketing and merchandising the barbecue experience: The grills being fired up now and through an uncertain summer don’t really go cold when the weather turns. Around 75% of grill owners use their grills in the winter, according to the “State of the Barbecue Industry” report, with “off-season” grilling tending to spike on Thanksgiving, New Year’s Day and Super Bowl Sunday.



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The Unusual Suspects INTRODUCE CUSTOMERS TO UNFAMILIAR TROPICAL FRUITS THROUGH GRILLING. By D. Gail Fleenor any customers can’t wait to fire up the grill each year. Steaks, hamburgers and hot dogs are popular choices as the family prepares meals outside or in. This grilling season, produce managers can encourage customers to try grilling tropical fruits so that flavors intensify as the natural sugars caramelize, causing juicy fruits to get even juicier. “Consumers are looking for ways to expand their healthy eating,” says Mary Ostlund, marketing manager for Brooks Tropicals, based in Homestead, Fla. “There are only so many apples and bananas you can eat. Specialty and tropical produce helps provide exciting alternatives and additions to menus and snacks.”

Key Takeaways Almost any tropical fruit can be grilled, outdoors or in, making the cooking method a smart way to encourage customers to eat tropical fruits they may not know or have been afraid to try. Caramelization occurs when the sugar of fruit is introduced to heat, and intensifies the flavor of a grilled fruit. To promote tropical fruits, make use of POS materials, demos, samplings, and recipes and preparation videos that are readily available on the internet.

Grilling Adds Flavor

Grilling, whether outside or indoors, is a healthy way to bring out the flavor of fruits, according to famed lifestyle maven Martha Stewart. Her grilling suggestions for fruits include choosing a fruit that’s ripe but not too ripe. The raw fruit should be firm so that it holds up on the grill. Cut the fruit into large chunks that won’t fall between the bars of the grill grate. Grill them over high heat for three minutes without turning so the fruit will have grill marks, and then flip for one to three minutes. Stewart’s article, “The Best Way to Grill Fruit,” is available online at The site also provides recipes for tropical fruits pineapple and mango.

Pineapple is delicious raw or grilled. PROGRESSIVE GROCER April 2020




Grilled fruit adds something special to a meal.

Star fruit, passion fruit, red guava and dragon fruit are riding a rising wave of popularity, according to Ostlund. These four fruits from the tropics are perfect grilled accompaniments to fish and steaks. Ostlund’s employer, Brooks Tropicals, grows exotic fruits and vegetables throughout Florida, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. “Star fruit has stepped over the threshold of just being a garnish,” Ostlund notes. “Supermarkets that added this fruit’s star-shaped slices to in-store fruit salads have proven motivational to consumers.” Star fruit is a simple add-on to any dish, breakfast, lunch or dinner. If added before baking, it has a crisp, sweet taste that blends nicely with the entrée, other veggies and other fruits. Star fruit can also be eaten like an apple, bite by bite. Additionally, the five-pointed fruit is a popular addition to the barbecue. For example, Toasted Star Fruit can be prepared directly on the grill or wrapped in aluminum foil to avoid burning it. Show your customers how to prepare star fruit at an in-store demonstration, and provide them with several recipes easily accessed on the internet. Some customers are afraid to try tropical fruits that they’ve never seen before and don’t know how to prepare or cook.

More to Explore

“Passion fruit sounds like a fruit you want to have, but you are not sure how to enjoy it,” Ostlund notes. “Anyone who’s watched ‘The Great British Baking Show’ has noticed how passion fruit seems to be in at least two or three of the dishes that contestants bake. It can’t be long before North Americans are trying this fruit in dishes they prepare.” The gnarled-looking fruit with the sweet interior grows on a flowering vine. According to Los Alamitos, Calif.-based specialty produce provider Frieda’s, passion fruit is the largest berry of all. The color of passion fruit is purple or golden yellow. The fruit is round and about 3 inches long, with a waxy rind that becomes wrinkled-looking as the fruit ripens. Inside the fruit are sacs filled with orange-colored juice and small, crunchy seeds. The juice mixture is known as pulp. The


fruit is a good source of fiber and vitamins. Again, there are recipes online for this fruit, such as a video recipe for grilled tuna with passion fruit on YouTube. A dragon fruit display in the produce department can entice exploration by your shoppers. “They are curious to find out what the shocking-pink-and-green pointy fruit is and what else is in store for them in the specialty aisle,” Ostlund notes. The lime-green spines of this cactus fruit are supple and cover the fruit. Inside, the fruit pulp is spongy soft, similar to a kiwi but grainier. According to “Melissa’s Great Book of Produce” by Cathy Thomas, dragon fruit, also known as pitaya, tastes like a marriage between kiwi and pineapple. Add to the startling outside an inside of either bright white or deep crimson red with little black specks, and this fruit attracts attention, especially at an in-store sampling. Dragon fruit is full of nutrients. Grilling cubes of it is a popular way to enjoy this unusual fruit. Make a tropical fruit kabob with cubed dragon fruit and kiwi on a skewer. Lightly brown it on the grill and add a light coating of sugar. Use a sprinkle of chili powder to balance the caramelized sweet flavor when grilling the kabobs. Red guava, the sweet fruit that’s a mainstay in Latinos’ smoothies, pastries and sweets, is beginning to hit the sweet spot for all consumers, Ostlund observes. It can be enjoyed like an apple, bite by bite, or sliced into yogurt. Red guava is popular in barbecue sauce and as a meat marinade. One recipe on is Grilled Sweet Guava Chicken, which uses the fruit in a glaze for grilled chicken. For those who may not know, caramelization occurs when the sugar of fruit, for example, is introduced to heat. Compounds are released that change the flavor and the color of the sugar. The most immediately noticeable effect is the darkening of the sugar’s color. Caramelization can only happen in dry heat, which needs to be high to happen quickly.

Dragon fruit, also known as pitaya, is strange-looking but tasty grilled.

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Perfect Pineapple

Pineapple may seem to be nothing new in produce departments, since most offer both peeled and cored items as well as with the peel tuft of pointed leaves on top. Grilling pineapple, however, may be entirely new to customers. Once they try it, though, they’ll make it a grilling staple. A grilled slice of pineapple on top of grilled chicken can make the meal special. Jerk spices are popular now, and pineapple is the perfect partner. The grill caramelizes their natural sugars, and the taste is outstanding either on the grilled meat, or after on vanilla ice cream. For the adult crowd, add rum sauce atop the ice cream and pineapple. On Malcom Reed’s website, there’s a recipe called Fireball Pineapple in which an entire pineapple (minus skin but including the core) is grilled until it’s caramelized, after having been soaked in Fireball Whiskey for at least two hours. The cinnamon whiskey adds zing to any occasion, and the recipe accentuates the fruit’s flavor. Be sure to prepare customer POS material that includes the pineapple’s background. Millennials in particular enjoy learning about what they’re eating. Images of pineapples can be found in pre-Incan ruins in Central and South America, the first home of the pineapple. Christopher Columbus’ crew enjoyed the sweet-tart taste of pineapple on the island of Guadeloupe in 1493. Spaniards called them “piñas,” or pinecones. The English name adds apple, ensuring it’s known as a fruit rather than an inedible cone, according to “Melissa’s Great Book of Produce.” To determine whether a pineapple is ripe, look at the crown of leaves on top, which should be bright green, not dried or brown. Also, the fruit should yield to light pressure and smell fragrant. Refrigerate ripe pineapples for up to five days. A smaller version of the Gold Pineapple, Baby Hawaiian Pineapple, standing just 5 to 8 inches high, has a crunchy texture. South African Baby Pineapple is very sweet and has golden flesh. Both have edible cores.

Go Beyond Typical

What does the typical supermarket carry in the tropical fruit category? Gelson’s Markets, based in Encino, Calif., offers “a full line that begins with some standard items like pineapple, mango, bananas, papaya and kiwi,” says John Savidan, senior director of produce and floral for Gelson’s. “We also carry some tropical items that I would say are considered to be more exotic, like dragon fruit (red and yellow), mangosteen, rambutan, star fruit and cherimoya. We pretty much carry them all throughout the available seasons.” For those interested in making the most of their tropical fruit selection, it’s not too late in the year to download Brooks’ free tropical fruit calendar from the company’s website, Information and photos of tropical fruits are also readily available at and Tropical fruit can be an investment for many customers, who are afraid to try and not like it. Alongside the other pointers offered here, simple in-store cuttings or demonstrations with samplings of grilled tropical fruit dishes can persuade customers to take the fruit home for barbecuing and increase produce department profit.


Don’t Toss Those Seeds! Mary Ostlund, marketing manager at Homestead, Fla.-based Brooks Tropicals, wants people to know that the seeds of many tropical fruits are edible and tasty. Of the fruits mentioned in the main article, Ostlund asks “Which do you toss, and which do you love? “In all cases, the seeds can be extracted and eaten,” she notes, adding that her hope is that providing answers about seeds will stem any consumer reluctance that may exist. “In most cases, you would be tossing some great nutrients if you toss the seeds,” Ostlund asserts. Passion fruit is a great example, with seeds that will remind consumers of sunflower seeds, both raw and baked. However, it’s difficult to separate the seeds from the flesh of passion fruit. Shoppers should check with a doctor if they’re on medication, however, as passion fruit seeds can interact with certain drugs. By contrast, red guava’s seeds can be easily extracted and eaten. The seeds provide additional fiber, which is why guava is considered to be a fruit that helps in weight loss. Meanwhile, dragon fruit has tiny seeds that contain fatty acids, including omega-3 and omega-9, as well as natural oils. Additionally, pineapples can occasionally have tiny black seeds just below the peel that aren’t generally available for eating separately. —D. Gail Fleenor

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Beverage Alcohol

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Beverage Alcohol

Roughly 40% of our total alcohol volume is done during the short summer season. Every week during the summer, alcohol sales will be far greater than even Super Bowl week.” —Jamie Szpylman, Tops Markets

“At Tops Markets, the total beverage alcohol category will see major volume increases over the summer months,” says Szpylman. “Roughly 40% of our total alcohol volume is done during the short summer season. Every week during the summer, alcohol sales will be far greater than even Super Bowl week.” Further, the retailer has experienced yearover-year sales growth in the alcohol category for the past two years. “We do see slight declines in true beer, including craft beer sales, but the explosion of flavored malt beverages, especially hard seltzers, has more than made up for those declines,” observes Szpylman, noting that the FMB segment has logged “triple-digit growth the last few years.” As to consumers’ other alcohol preferences, he notes, “We are also seeing trends towards better-for-you beverages which are lower in artificial flavors, sugars and calories.”

Ready for Summer

Tapping into both trends in time for summer is a new product line from Brewers Collective, the craft business unit of St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch. LQD (pronounced L-Q-D) is “a beverage line for health-minded consumers that are unwilling to compromise on taste or quality. “After brainstorming with brewers from across the 13 craft partners that comprise Brewers Collective, it became apparent there was an opportunity to collaborate on a unique beyond-beer offering,” said Brewers Collective President Marcelo “Mika” Michaelis at the time of the product line’s March debut in select markets. “With craftsmanship and real ingredients at its core, LQD has provided our brewers with a platform through which they can directly and creatively address consumer needs.” LQD’s products are brewed using simple, quality ingredients, such as real fruit, that are naturally fermented. Available in individual-flavor 6-packs and variety-tea 12-packs made from sustainable materials, the line comes in three flavors: Hard Agave Limeade, Hard Passion Fruit Green Tea and Hard Hibiscus Green Tea, with Hard Hibiscus Lemonade due this summer. All have an ABV of 5.2% to 5.9% and contain fewer than 200 calories. Another recent summer-focused malt beverage introduction is sparkling Malibu Splash from New


York-based Pernod Ricard USA in Strawberry, Lime, Passion Fruit and Pineapple flavors, sold in 4- and flavor-variety 8-packs. Meanwhile, among other types of ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages, better-for-you options are also widely available, along with convenience. “As the weather gets warmer, many consumers are hosting outdoor parties, dinners and barbecues, and rather than toil with creating cocktails for lots of guests, it’s easier to have RTDs on hand,” asserts Kimberly Diggs, content manager at Carrollton, Texas-based BuzzBallz, whose products are made with 100% juice and premium ingredients, and feature less sugar than other major brands, as well as no high-fructose corn syrup. “We’ve certainly observed spring and summer spikes in sales for other RTD brands; however, we generally aren’t seen as a seasonal purchase, which has allowed us to maintain steady sales year-round.” Diggs adds that “we see the benefit of offering RTDs that are shareable during the warmer months, and have been exploring new flavor innovations and size formats over the course of the past year.” This month, BuzzBallz rolls out Uptown Wine Cocktails, a 1.5-liter RTD in six bold flavors, including Mango Margarita. In merchandising its products, “BuzzBallz [has] found that our consumers enjoy the hunt of finding their flavor(s) of choice in dump bins,” notes Diggs. “It also showcases, in a visually appealing way, how compact our products are, which is convenient for consumers on the go. In our soft launch of Uptown Wine Cocktails, we’ve found that end cap displays and case stacks in high-traffic areas near meal solution centers of grocery stores have produced the most success for us.”

Austin through and through. 1995. After no one would invest in Tito’s idea, he put it all on credit cards and built his own distillery in this shack on twelve Austin acres. We’re still in the same spot today. Rooted in Texas for over twenty years.


Beverage Alcohol Additionally, Austin, Texas-based Canteen Spirits’ recently launched canned sparkling vodka-and-soda line offers a gluten-free product with zero carbs, zero sugar, zero sodium and just 99 calories per serving, in all-natural Watermelon, Lime, Black Cherry, Grapefruit and Cucumber Mint flavors, available in 6-packs.

‘Beer Time’

Just because sales in the beer segment are down a bit at retailers like Tops doesn’t mean they’re out as an in-demand summer quaff for consumers, especially in a particular format. “Summer has a few basic rules: Anything from the grill is always on the menu, photos posted on social media must be perfect, and cold beer must come in cans,” asserts Wesley Jaramillo, commercial marketing channel director — off-premise at Heineken USA, in White Plains, N.Y. “With the warmer weather comes a shift in consumer preference for cans over bottles. Cans cool faster and are more suitable for on-the-go, away-from-home consumption. “We’re putting our focus on cans to ride the wave of 9% import can growth and 5% Heineken Original can growth,” adds Jaramillo, citing figures from Chicago-based Nielsen. This month, for the beer brand’s Summer of Cans marketing initiative, the Heineken 15-pack is rolling out, featuring 12 cans of Heineken Original and three cans of no-alcohol Heineken 0.0. “The new pack, which capitalizes on the trend in cans, provides an ideal configuration for summer entertaining and a no-alcohol alternative for times when beer drinkers want a great-tasting beer but without the alcohol,” explains Jaramillo. “Now there’s a pack of beer for anyone and everyone, anytime.” What’s more, in regard to the rise of healthier beverages, he notes: “With better-for-you drink alternatives starting to make a bigger impact across the category, Heineken 0.0 is at the forefront of this trend, with a better-tasting no-alcohol, fewer-calorie beer proposition.” Heineken’s summer program will focus on driving display execution, sales promotion and increased distribution of all can SKUs in all channels to encourage trade-up from lower-value beers, supporting 15-pack distribution and displays to boost sampling of Heineken 0.0, with the goal of sampling 10 million beer drinkers. “We will leverage the iconic green identity and brand positioning with engaging consumer mechanics that promote ‘fun with friends’ throughout the summer,” says Jaramillo. Additionally, social posts will drive consumers to retail, where eye-catching merchandising will encourage purchase of Heineken cans and engage


consumers in a sweepstakes. Consumers who share photos with Heineken, using the hashtag #CANdidSummerSweepstakes via Twitter or Instagram, are entered for a weekly chance to win a CANdid Summer prize box or the Grand Prize Custom Summer Vacation trip. A large 3D can display enhancer prominently shows off the new Heineken lager can design to draw shopper attention to the product, while a wide range of additional POS enables visibility in all store formats. “Summertime is beer time,” affirms Jaramillo. “Following the few basic summer rules will drive sales and profits and keep shoppers engaged and refreshed all summer long.”

The Lighter Side

When it comes to wine, as in other beverage alcohol segments, better-for-you alternatives are coming to the fore, especially in summer. “We’ve noticed that the fitness and health/wellness communities became early adopters of beverages like hard seltzer that are pushing the envelope and driving new trends,” says Mark R. Warren, co-founder of FitVine Wine, a Lodi, Calif.-based maker of wines that contain less sugar, fewer sulfites and no flavor additives. “That group, in particular, has shifted away from higher-sugar or heavy-calorie drinks in warmer months, and instead opted for drinks that are light and refreshing.” Continues Warren: “Regarding wine consumption, we see rosé and white varietals become more popular in the spring and summer, aligning with the notion that people want something lighter. Given these are typically served chilled, we think it falls right in line with what consumers are looking for, especially those purchasing seltzers or light beer.” He notes that FitVine’s “Rosé, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay perfectly match the trends we’re seeing, and are an excellent fit for those seeking something lighter in the summer months.” In marketing and merchandising the product, Warren observes: “The branding is critical. Wine can be intimidating, and there are a lot of choices, so the first goal is to stand out among the crowd and capture the consumer’s attention quickly. Knowing this, we recently redesigned our label and the packaging to give the brand a bold new look.” The second imperative is “to communicate why your


Beverage Alcohol product is different,” he adds. “In our case, retail marketing and merchandising are meant to disrupt wine and get people to think, ‘What’s actually in this bottle I’m about to drink?’ The partners we work with at the retail level are helping to communicate the benefits of our product and are working directly with retailers to set up the type of displays that will appeal to their consumers.”

Freezable, Functional and Fun

Creative beverage alcohol formats are also enabling consumers to find optimal refreshment during the dog days of summer. “We’ve noticed that consumers have adopted a heightened awareness of ingredients, calorie count and alcohol content,” observes Ken Wegner, president of The Jel Sert Co., maker of SLIQ Spirited Ice, a new alcoholic freezer bar coming to stores in June. “We also observed that they are looking for innovative new products that are portable and enhance their social experiences. Whether they’re at a barbecue, a concert, or having a drink while engaging in summer activities, they want products that are convenient but also premium.” As to SLIQ, which Wegner describes as “a modern take on the popular freezable treat that millions of consumers grew up loving,” the item “combines premium spirits infused with unique flavors and a sorbet-like texture that delivers a touch of sweetness and a ton of refreshment.” In developing the product, West Chicago, Ill.-based Jel Sert “took a flavor-first approach,” he notes. “We have an exceptional R&D department that has been trusted by the top CPG brands in the world to launch new products featuring their iconic flavors. They applied decades of experience, innovative thinking, and the latest in food and beverage technology to SLIQ’s development process. The result was a perfectly balanced premium freezer bar offered at a competitive cost.” According to Wegner, “SLIQ aligns perfectly with current drinking trends and consumption behavior that has been propelling the hard-seltzer space. It has portion control, a low calorie count, 8% ABV, innovative packaging, convenience, premium alcohol, and portability. It’s also functional and can be the perfect way to cool down on a hot summer day.” When developing SLIQ’s packaging, versatility was crucial. “We need consumers to be able to identify our product in several different scenarios and for retailers to be able to display it in a variety of ways,” explains Wegner. “Our packaging was designed to allow for individual bar sales, 9-count carton sales and displayable case stacking.” He adds: “From a marketing standpoint, we’re focused on creating opportunities for consumers to engage with both the brand and the product. We want to show them that SLIQ can be easily incorporated into their lifestyles and also enhance their social experiences. We are currently planning activations at summer festivals, creating local retail activations in key markets and participating in top-tier trade shows.” What’s more, SLIQ is just the beginning of Jel Sert’s move into beverage alcohol, according to Wegner. “We plan to continue to grow and innovate in this new category, and are already looking to the future,” he says. “From sample sizes to jumbo or twin tubes, we can continuously introduce innovations into the marketplace, keeping consumers interested and excited.”


Soon to be on Tap?

When asked what they see ahead for beverage alcohol, suppliers focused on a few important attributes. Unsurprisingly, Wegner predicts: “We think the alcohol category will see more innovation, with an increased focus on functional products that complement the hard-seltzer space. We also believe flavors will be a key driver for purchase, as well as variety packs.” “With almost 10 years in business, we’ve seen the trends in RTDs evolve,” notes BuzzBallz’ Diggs. “In past years, consumers were not concerned with product ingredients, but today’s consumers are more knowledgeable. We envision many retailers showcasing RTDs committed to high-quality, natural ingredients to cater to these consumers. There will also be a rise in fruit-forward flavors as consumers continue their quest to healthier lifestyles. Though there will also be a need for products that allow consumers to indulge, which evoke a sense of comfort, many of these products will still need to maintain those quality standards to stay competitive. With the rise in Americans willing to pay a luxury tax on convenience via grocery delivery, we also predict retailers will begin spotlighting RTDs in an effort to drive those consumers into stores.” “We see the consumers demanding more out of both alcohol brands and retailers,” observes FitVine’s Warren. “We’ve also seen brands start to be more transparent about what’s in their products and what their benefits are. That’s almost the bare minimum for entry for brands who are looking to capture the growth of this new health-and-wellness category.” He adds: “It’s to the point now where retailers set up specific sections or displays for brands that are catering to consumers looking for something with fewer calories, sugar or carbs. … All in all, it’s more transparency of ingredients, of the brand itself, and quality of the products being delivered.”


Loyalty Programs


oyalty programs have been around for decades, from box tops to punch cards, but never before has technology played such an important role in winning over customers. Thankfully, the days of keychains full of plastic cards are almost entirely over, replaced by digital programs that can garner much more data for retailers and a much better experience for customers. Eighty-seven percent of Americans are willing to have various details of their activity tracked by a brand in exchange for a more personalized and relevant relationship with the brand or program, according to Canada-based global customer engagement agency Bond Brand Loyalty. Many grocery retailers have been revamping their ideas of a customer


Key Takeaways Many grocery retailers have been revamping their ideas of a customer loyalty program, turning to digital solutions. “Personalization” is the key concept in these programs, evident in such initiatives as Giant Food’s Flexible Rewards and Target Circle. Other loyalty programs, like Costco’s, offer shoppers enhanced benefits for a fee.

other retail sectors, is “personalization.” “The power of personalization is key to a winning marketing and overall retail strategy today,” asserted Rick Gomez, EVP, chief marketing and digital officer of Minneapolis-based Target, earlier this year.

The Power of the Circle

loyalty program. Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix Super Markets launched its first membership program, called Club Publix, in March. Club Publix is free and includes early notifications of sales, the ability to pay with a scan of the Publix app, the option of e-receipts, and a number of other digital features to ease reordering items and to personalize shopping lists. Also last month, Landover, Md.-based Giant Food launched its new Flexible Rewards program giving customers more ways to earn and redeem rewards on both in-store and online purchases. The digital program includes Gas Savings (similar to the chain’s old Gas Rewards program), Grocery Savings and Special Rewards (such as free grocery items). The word uttered repeatedly during the rollout of both of these loyalty programs, as well as many more in the grocery industry and

Target rolled out its new customer loyalty program, Target Circle, nationwide in 2019, and Gomez talked about the process leading to its adoption at the NRF 2020 trade show in January. “We’re trying to show our guests that we appreciate them and to give them something special for shopping at Target. But we made it awfully hard on them to navigate through everything that we were trying to do,” Gomez said of the number of options available before Target Circle, including the Red credit and debit options, the Cartwheel app, and the points-based Red Perks. “It didn’t allow us to offer the kind of connected experiences that make it clear to guests ... that Target loves them back.” Target ultimately pulled the plug on its points-based Red Perks program, saying that it was too limiting and transactional, instead opting for Target Circle. The program’s features all come together on a mobile app where customers can keep track of savings, redeem offers and pay with their Red cards. “The beauty of this program is its simplicity. It’s free, there’s no membership fee, there’s no complicated registration process,” Gomez noted. “Guests earn 1% every time they shop at Target, money that they can apply to a future shopping trip.” Target has also gotten shoppers involved in its philanthropic efforts, giving customers a vote via the mobile app on which charities their local store should support and enabling them to donate their cash rewards to their favorite organizations if they so choose. Gomez said that between October 2019 and January 2020, customers donated more than $2.4 million to almost 900 charities nationwide. During the holiday season, more than 40% of Target sales were connected to Target Circle. According to Bond Brand Loyalty, programs that establish positive emotional connections with members see 27% more of their membership increasing their spend with the brand, and 70% percent of members are more likely to recommend brands with good loyalty programs. “We live in a fragmented society because we have so many choices; we have fewer shared experiences, which means fewer things that can bring us all together,” Gomez observed. “I believe that beloved brands can still be a unifying force, but making that real requires us to think differently about what it means to be a beloved brand.” Take a look online, and you’ll find thousands of memes and social media posts about shopping at Target. For many people, it’s about more than just the retail transaction. PROGRESSIVE GROCER April 2020



Loyalty Programs

Enhanced Benefits

Free isn’t the only option for grocers when it comes to loyalty programs. Thirty-seven percent of members are willing to pay a fee for enhanced benefits, and that number is even higher among Gen Z (47%) and Millennials (46%), according to Bond Brand Loyalty.

Target's new loyalty program, Target Circle, launched nationwide in 2019 and includes multiple ways for shoppers to redeem their rewards, such as donating to the charity of their choice.

Germany-based Statista reports that Issaquah, Wash.-based Costco had 98.5 million cardholders worldwide in 2019, all paying for the perks of shopping at these stores. Outside of the grocery industry, Boston-based footwear and apparel company Reebok launched its new loyalty program, Unlocked, in 2019, catering to two distinct clientele, potentially a solid idea for grocery as well. The tiered program addresses the needs of two types of customers. First is the traditional consumer who wants white-glove customer service, early access to products, free training and nutrition plans, and access to exclusive events. Second is the retailer’s community of verified training professionals desiring personal and professional development certification workshops. “We were clear that we needed to use all of the data and the insights that were available to us,” says Matthew Blonder, VP, marketing and digital brand commerce for Reebok, about creating the new program. “The program could not set us on a dangerous and indefensible path of discounting. Rather, the program had to be based on a creative value for our consumer.” The four buckets of rewards for Reebok Unlocked

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are partner rewards; early access or exclusive access to new products; exclusive access to activations, events and experiences; and ongoing career development workshops, training and certifications. “This rich tableau of deeply researched benefit-based rewards have proven themselves critical to making the company incredibly successful,” Blonder notes. Reebok has seen higher purchase frequency and order values for members of the Unlock program, and the tiered system provides the company with a wealth of data. “This framework helps us to flag consumers who are likely to churn out of our ecosystem before they do something and targets them with measures to re-engage and bring them back into our arms,” Blonder explains, “encouraging growth in both purchase frequency and average order value.”

Craving More

Right now, digital reward programs through a shopper’s cellphone reign supreme, and that makes sense, especially in the grocery industry. A huge 67% of shoppers say that they use a grocery retailer’s mobile

app while they’re shopping, according to Winston-Salem, N.C.-based technology company Inmar Intelligence. Rewards have evolved from “25 cents off your next purchase” or “your fifth cup of coffee free” to much more personalized benefits for shoppers. These ways of connecting will only continue to expand. An overwhelming 95% of loyalty members say that they want to engage with a loyalty program through new and emerging tech, including wearables, augmented or virtual realty, biometrics, chatbots, and more. The Giant Co., based in Carlisle, Pa., and like Giant Food, a banner of Ahold Delhaize USA, rolled out an augmented-reality experience this past winter, rewarding customers for finding unique snowflakes throughout its stores that triggered an interactive character surprise on their phones and the accumulation of Giant Choice Rewards points. The game was simple and encouraged shopper interaction, two things that must exist in any loyalty program. “When our brand is at its best,” Target’s Gomez said, “we’re never complicated or transactional. We’re easy and inspiring. We’re personalized and intuitive.” Grocers must embrace technology to satisfy the deeper connection that customers crave.


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Cold Chain Solutions


Key Takeaways Recently introduced technology, including Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, temperature-sensitive flexible barcodes and blockchain, can help to ensure the freshest product for consumers. These solutions also enable companies to better communicate with their business partners and demonstrate best practices. At the same time, deploying such tech will help companies meet increasingly strict federal requirements for food safety.



anaging the cold chain in today’s supermarket environment is like a game of chess: Each calculated move impacts the end goal of bringing safe, high-quality perishable food to consumers. While the game continues to prove more challenging, thanks to a more complicated supply chain, as well as growing demand for fresh products, new technologies are helping retailers, suppliers and other players in the supply chain hone their strategies. The latest tech tools — including Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, temperature-sensitive flexible barcodes and blockchain — are not only helping to ensure the freshest product for consumers, but are also enabling companies to better communicate with their business partners and demonstrate best practices, while meeting increasingly strict federal requirements for food safety. As an added bonus, companies are finding that they can measurably tackle food waste, fueling many firms’ mission statements to be more sustainable. “Maintaining food quality and safety is a primary challenge facing retailers,” observes Amy Childress, VP of marketing and planning for cargo solutions at Emerson, based in St. Louis. With the FDA’s recently announced New Era of Food Safety initiative, technology providing traceability and other services to ensure an unbroken cold chain will receive a big boost, she predicts. “This is especially critical with the global demand for year-round access to perishable products,” notes Childress. “Achieving this feat can require fresh produce to be transported by land, sea and air, encompassing the point of harvest, processing, cold storage and distribution — all before it ever begins the last-mile delivery to a store or restaurant. It’s staggering to realize that there can be potentially as many as 20 to 30 individual steps and multiple changes of ownership throughout this journey.” Thanks to new connected IoT monitoring and tracking infrastructures, operators now have better potential visibility into each step of a food’s journey, and even the possibility for comprehensive cold chain traceability, continues Childress: “Stakeholders at each point now are able to monitor, control and track a variety of conditions necessary for preserving food quality, including temperature, humidity, the presence of ripening agents, lighting, and much more.” She points to the value of being notified in real time that an in-transit shipment has fallen out of the ideal temperature range, for instance. “This allows [suppliers] to correct the issue promptly with the carrier or even reroute the shipment to a nearby location and preserve that cargo,” notes Childress. “Retailers and growers can also track their shipments to ensure carriers follow proper routes and monitor delivery timelines. For retailers, these devices help them to validate pro-

Retailers in Control

Stakeholders at each point now are able to monitor, control and track a variety of conditions necessary for preserving food quality, including temperature, humidity, the presence of ripening agents, lighting, and much more.” —Amy Childress, Emerson

Challenged by the growing complexity of the cold supply chain, some grocery chains are taking more control of the process by producing their own perishable items. A few recent examples include Walmart’s end-to-end Angus beef supply chain, Costco supplying its own rotisserie chickens, and Kroger partnering with German vertical-farming startup Infarm to hydroponically grow selected produce right in its stores. “A retailer that grows its own product, where it makes sense, can better control the process,” observes Jim Dempsey, director at Panasonic, based in Newark, N.J. “And if you grow it yourself, it’s easier to maintain that data to use on the blockchain — you have chain of custody.” Joe Battoe, president and CEO of Chicago-based Varcode, notes that this development may also present some new challenges for retailers. “With this trend, more retailers are becoming manufacturers — not just managing a private label brand through a contract manufacturer, but more and more beginning to manufacture their own products,” he points out. “And with that, they’re needing to bring in specialty skills that really haven’t existed on the retail side before. When you’re going direct, you’re now subjecting yourself to a little more risk.” —Jenny McTaggart




Cold Chain Solutions

duce quality on receipt and monitor all their suppliers to ensure they’re meeting the freshness standards that their customers demand.” For its part, Emerson is providing real-time tracking and logging products that monitor perishable shipping environments in transit and storage. “Data from our Go Real-Time Trackers and Go Loggers is pushed to our cloud-based online portal, Oversight, [which] provides both visibility and analysis of critical cold chain information and helps our customers make better supply chain decisions,” explains Childress. Toward the end of the supply chain, Emerson also provides tools to help ensure optimal refrigeration temperatures in retailers’ stores, she adds: “Our refrigeration compressors have the reliability and tight temperature control needed for today’s refrigerated cases, walk-in coolers and freezers.” In addition, Emerson provides facility and asset monitoring. “These advanced systems provide real-time access to the critical information that retailers need to immediately track, triage and quickly respond to issues related to food safety and quality,” says Childress. “Twenty-four-seven, automated temperature monitoring and recording devices help operators eliminate the need for time-consuming manual documentation, access on-demand reporting as needed for food safety compliance purposes, and provide historical cold chain data.”

Flexible Tracker

Another supply chain technology provider, Chicago-based Varcode, has developed a unique system to help companies monitor the cold supply chain from beginning to end, according to the company’s president and CEO, Joe Battoe. Today, it’s not atypical for a company to have 10 or more changes in chain of custody from source to destination, he notes. While most companies actively monitor the temperature controls of perishable products while the items are in their custody, the problems are more likely to occur at the handoffs of product, he estimates. “For example, the product sits on the dock somewhere, and then the truck door is left open for an extended period of time, waiting for someone at the receiving dock to unload it,” Battoe offers. Varcode’s patented solution, FreshCode, was designed to address challenges like this. The barcoded tag, which is flexible and looks like a little sticker, records constant temperature measurements throughout the supply chain, and data can be captured by any scanner or mobile phone. “When you scan the barcode, it sends up who scanned it, what they scanned, when they scanned it, where they scanned it and the status, including whether it has been out of the prescribed temperature range and for how long,” explains Battoe. “Then that data is sent up to our cloud, and the cloud can notify in real time any concerned stakeholders in the supply chain. If they’re using a smartphone application for this, it can send down smart recommendations about what to do. We work with our clients to define these actions.” All of this data is stored in a blockchain-enabled data set, he adds. Varcode was recently selected by the Walmart Food Safety Collaboration Council as one of eight companies to participate in the Walmart Food and Safety Innovation Pipeline. Bentonville, Ark.-


based Walmart designed the program to advance food safety initiatives in China, aiming to pilot solutions in real-world environments. Meanwhile, Varcode is working on pilots and more advanced projects with retailers. According to Battoe, the fastest-growing segment of the business has been buy online/pickup in store or home delivery, especially since FreshCode can monitor temperature all the way to customers’ homes. “Because of the low cost of our product, the retailer can include it in deliveries of perishable and frozen products,” he says. “It can be scanned by the delivery driver, ensuring it was in good condition when it was delivered.” San Jose, Calif.-based NextFlex, which provides flexible hybrid electronics (FHE) systems (electronics that can fold, bend and adhere to surfaces), is still in talks with the supermarket industry. “There are many potential applications for our systems, including smart displays, tracking tags, and environmental and condition monitoring,” says Jeff Bergman, program lead for structural health and asset monitoring at NextFlex, adding that cold chain monitoring is a “high interest” area for the company. “Our consortium members have already designed and built prototype low-cost temperature monitoring tags to demonstrate the technology capability,” he says. “The concept is to integrate low-cost FHE temperature tags into existing product or shipping labels.” Bergman continues: “With widespread adoption of FHE-based sensor tags, it may be possible to not only detect spoilage before it occurs, but to utilize that information to rapidly take action to reroute shipments or prioritize the sale of the product with the shortest shelf life first. This would reduce spoilage and other losses, creating higher profits for suppliers and lower prices for consumers.”

Because of the low cost of our product, the retailer can include it in deliveries of perishable and frozen products. It can be scanned by the delivery driver, ensuring it was in good condition when it was delivered.” —Joe Battoe, Varcode

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Food, Beverage & Nonfood Products

Comfort Food in a Hurry

Available in traditional and Florentine flavors, fully cooked Sous-Vide Turkey Meatloaf from Diestel Family Ranch is made from butcher-quality, whole-muscle cuts to provide authentic turkey flavor and premium texture. The sous-vide cooking method ensures a moist and flavorful loaf every time, while making it easy for home cooks to get dinner on the table in 30 minutes. Pre-formed and pre-sauced, the products are ready to serve after being reheated with a quick boil on the stovetop, or warmed in the oven or microwave. Influenced by the classic comfort food recipe, the traditional turkey meatloaf is blended with bread crumbs, rolled oats and eggs, while the Florentine turkey meatloaf is stuffed with a mixture of spinach and feta crumbles, and both are topped with a sweet tomato glaze. Made from slow-grown turkeys fed a 100% vegetarian diet and raised with plenty of fresh air and room to roam, the antibiotic-, carrageenan- and MSG-free product line is low in fat, calories and cholesterol, and offers 20 grams of protein per serving. Each 16-ounce meatloaf serves two to three people for dinner and is sold frozen at a suggested retail price of $8.99.

Sparkling Clean

Grower-owned caffeinated beverage maker Gojai has launched its cornerstone line, Gojai Organic. One of the nation’s first organic gently caffeinated sparkling waters made from simple ingredients, among them real fruit oils, triple-filtered reverse-osmosis water and organic unroasted coffee beans — one of the most natural sources of clean caffeine — the beverage comes three light and refreshing flavors: Orange, Lemon and Grapefruit. One can contains the same amount of caffeine as a half-cup of coffee or a can of diet soda, without any calories, preservatives or sugar, making it an appropriate choice for those following a keto, low-sugar or low-carb diet. Gojai Organic retails for a suggested $1.99 per 12-ounce sleek can and a suggested $19.99 for a 12-pack.

Enticing Slices

Sustainable and humane meat producer Niman Ranch has debuted a convenient 6-ounce package of sliced deli ham, available in Black Forest, Applewood Smoked and Honey flavors, and made from pork raised with no antibiotics — ever. Set to arrive in stores this month, the deli ham will join the company’s other pre-sliced deli items, which include Corned Beef, Pastrami, Roast Beef and a charcuterie line, creating a complete suite of deli meat options. Niman Ranch teams with a network of 740 independent U.S. family farmers and ranchers who raise their animals with the utmost care and respect for the land. The deli product line will be featured throughout the year in a series of activations, starting with a “Brunch Hard” blitz and followed by other seasonal events, including bridal shower season and back to school. Depending on region, the suggested retail price range for the sliced deli ham will be $6.99-$7.99.

Healthy Clusters

Mindful snacking brand Supernola, part of Evolve Brands, has launched nationally its on-the-go line of organic and plant-based clusters made with superfoods, fruits, tree nuts and seeds. Created with the mission of making healthy eating easy, the nutrient-dense line incorporates high-quality ingredients sourced from around the world. The non-GMO, certified-organic, and Paleo-, grain- and dairy-free clusters are formulated to be easy on the digestive system and can stand in for a single-serve energy/snack bar as a multifunctional snack for any occasion. Available in six flavors — Banana Nut Crunch, Dark Chocolate Nut Crunch, Dragon Fruit Lemon Zest, Honey Sweet Goji, Triple Berry Vanilla and Pineapple Ginger Fusion — Supernola retails for a suggested price range of $2.79-$2.99 per 1.5-ounce pack of clusters.;


Seafood Specials

Northern Wind has launched a value-added line of culinary-inspired seafood products under its Bon Cuisine brand. The ready-to-cook line encompasses 16 offerings, among them an 8.8-ounce Basa Fish & Chip Goujon, retailing for a suggested $6.49, and a 2.9-pound Tempura Hoki Fish Taco Kit (pictured), retailing for a suggested $10.49. Bon Cuisine is available nationwide for chain supermarkets, independent supermarkets, gourmet food stores, club stores and foodservice operators. “We know that our customers are looking for new, exciting and innovative value-added seafood products for their customers,” says Northern Wind CEO George Kouri. “We believe our new Bon Cuisine product line meets that challenge and fills a void that has been in the market for way too long.”

2 Kinds of Cheese, Please

Sargento Foods’ Snack Bites line offers two complementary flavors of 100% real, natural cheese that have been thoughtfully paired to enhance each flavor, while the convenient individual servings make on-the-go snacking a snap. With up to 7 grams of protein and up to 110 calories per 1-ounce serving, the snack packs come in four pairings: Colby + Monterey Jack, Fiesta Pepper Jack + Asadero, Sharp White Cheddar + Mild Yellow Cheddar, and Rustic Gouda + Mild Yellow Cheddar. All of the varieties are a natural source of calcium. The Snack Bites line retails for a suggested $4.99 per 6-count package. www.

Snack on Dates

Joolies, a grower of organic California medjool dates in Southern California’s Coachella Valley, has come out with Snack Packs featuring three pitted dates or three whole dates, providing a delicious and healthy option for a post-workout snack or child’s lunchbox. Boasting natural plant fiber and a low glycemic index, dates provide clean energy with no crash, are packed with magnesium and B vitamins, and contain 50% more potassium than a banana by weight. Also, the superfruits are noted for their sweet caramel flavor. To ensure the best possible quality, Joolies dates are hand-picked from the tree, carefully packed at peak ripeness and never dried. “Making medjool dates more accessible and snackable was a natural next step, but it just hadn’t been done before in the category,” says Joolies CEO Mark Masten. “We’re excited to see these positioned in the produce and center-aisle sets of the grocery store and beyond, like coffee shops and other points of brand discovery.” A vibrantly colored 1.4-ounce snack pack — about the size of a deck of cards — retails for a suggested $2.49.

Sustainable System

Humble Suds, a line of nontoxic mineral- and plant-based cleaning products, is on a mission to bring transparency to the cleaning aisle as the first brand in the category to illustrate and list its ingredients on the front of its packaging. Each vegan and cruelty-, gluten-, phthalate-, SLS- and synthetic fragrance-free product contains five or fewer ingredients. The line is also making strides toward the creation of a closed-loop sustainable and zero-waste system for its cleaning products with the introduction of 16-ounce fully recyclable amber glass bottles for its All Purpose Cleaner line, as well as concentrate refills for the product in the same kind of bottles and with aluminum caps. The suggested retail price for the All Purpose Cleaner (pictured) and the Scour Cleaning Paste is $14.95, with the All Purpose Concentrate, good for two refills, retailing for a suggested $12.95. The 40-ounce Concentrated Laundry Soap (covering 50 loads) and Revival Wood+Leather Conditioner both retail for a suggested $18.95. PROGRESSIVE GROCER April 2020





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BARU Marketing & Media BIRO Manufacturing

3 34

Bringoz 79 Butterball, LLC


Buzzballz LLC

Cover, 9

Calico Brands


Campbell Soup Company Chilean Salmon Marketing Council Chiquita Brands

Inside Back Cover 57 Inside Front Cover

Clean Energy


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Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese, LLC


Daymark 35 Del Monte Fresh Produce N.A., Inc.


E & J Gallo Winery


EPTA America


Fibre Box Association


Fifth Generation Inc..: Tito’s


Forte Products


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Back Cover

General Mills, Inc.


Goya Foods Inc.


Inline Plastics Corp.


Mars Wrigley Confectionery


NestléPurina 49 New Pig


Oliver Winery


Saputo Cheese USA, Inc.


Thermal Technologies Inc.


Trion Industries Inc.



Tyson Brand Solutions


Tyson Chairman’s Reserve Meats


Tyson Star Ranch Angus


Volk Enterprises


UNITED STATES MARKETS • Convenience • Grocery/Drug/Mass Store Brands • Specialty Gourmet Technology • Hospitality • Apparel CANADIAN MARKETS • Convenience • Pharmacy • Foodservice ADVERTISING SALES & BUSINES S STAFF CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER Jennifer Litterick GROCERY GROUP PUBLISHER John Schrei 248-613-8672 SENIOR MARKETING MANAGER (NEW ENGLAND, SOUTHEAST) Nella Veldran 201-937-7972 SENIOR MARKETING MANAGER (MIDWEST, GA, FL) Theresa Kossack 214-226-6468 REGIONAL SALES MANAGER (SOUTHWEST, MI) Tammy Rokowski 248-514-9500 JUNIOR ACCOUNT MANAGER-GROCERY GROUP Natalie Meehan p 773-992-4410 m 619-823-4926 ADVERTISING MANAGER Jackie Batson 224-632-8183

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