Monday, July 16, 2012

Do You Have Store or Brand Loyalty?

I saw an interesting article yesterday on grocery stores. The premise was that millennials, are more apt to go to multiple stores to get the kinds of food products they want rather than just settle for what a particular grocery store had to offer. It said that baby boomers are more apt to have store and brand loyalty that limited their desire to visit multiple stores and settle for what brands one store had to offer.

The article discussed how stores and brands are being proactive in order to accommodate the consumer’s wants and needs because they are starting to lose market share…Here's what I have to say on the matter of stores and brands being proactive to gain customer loyalty...Buuuuuull Shit!

Flash back ten years…I’m standing at the deli counter of a southern grocery store chain which shall remain nameless. Let’s just call it Jiggly Porcine and leave it at that. Now we aren’t talking about a location in bugger bottom here, or Mayberry RFD…we’re talking about metro Birmingham, AL. I had the following conversation:
Deli Clerk: Can I help you?
Me: Yes please…Do you have any Mortadella?
Deli Clerk: Uh…what is that?
Me: It’s deli meat.
Deli Clerk: Well I’ve never heard of it…
Me: well ok, never mind…If you don’t carry something I want, can I ask that you order it and I will buy it whole?
Deli Clerk: Yeah sure. *leaves and returns with order form* what can I get you?
Me: Mortadella
Deli Clerk: *puts away order sheet* Well I’ve never heard of that.

This isn’t the only time I’ve ever asked for something at a grocery store and been met with gratuitous lip service rather than customer service. I’ve asked for Olive salad, Sriracha, deli meats of different varieties, sausages, various vinegars and so on. So over the past ten years never once did I get a request filled. I could understand this with perishable or fresh items, or even if the store didn’t have a relationship with a particular vendor.

But in some cases I’ve actually seen the product in another location of the same store chain within a distance of 15 miles. My thought was they have access to it as I’ve seen it in another one of their stores…and yet they won’t bring it here? You have three brands of canned hearts of palm and you can’t make room for Trappey’s hot peppers in vinegar?! I don’t think the hordes of hearts of palm folks will riot if one of the brands is suddenly missing.

I have a few local grocery stores I enjoy going to and several that I won’t go near. The one’s I won’t go to are because of their customer service and/or store policies. Anyone who knows me knows how I despise “store cards.” I’ve already beat that into the ground so I’ll discuss it no further except to say this…The stores that have loyalty cards could have the best meats, dairy and produce on the planet... plus give you a free spider monkey and a bag of silly putty with every purchase and I still wouldn’t visit them.

I must admit I am a bit confused on how the whole grocery store product placement thing works but near as I can tell the vendors pay to place products in certain and specific positions in a store or chain of stores. Or that's about as far as I got in a conversation with my cousin Deb who is a regional sales manager for a baby food company...Then my ADD kicked in and I spent the rest of the time looking at the pretty colored packaging she had on a shelf behind her in her office.

So it just may be that I’m an idiot and we can leave it at that. But it seems to me if they have the same vendor or brand and more than one shelf space…I should be able to get at least one request out of ten! I mean really... the hearts of palm folks got their way, why can’t I?!

I myself have certain stores and farmers markets that I go to for produce. Not that the other stores produce sucks, but they may have a little better selection or carry particular items I buy a lot of. For meats I like a local butcher shop and a grocery store where I have a good relationship with the meat guys. Guys whom I trust and know what I like and more importantly, what I don't like. 

Then there are specialty food stores, co-ops and ethnic markets…oddly enough the grocery stores in the big cities of Lee and Northwood New Hampshire (total population in the 5,000 range) don’t carry a lot of Asian ingredients outside the esteemed and well regarded “La Choy” line of crap.

I shop nearly every day and I know most people can’t or won’t do this, because for a lot of folks it’s just not practical. I also have routes I will take to hit two or three stores for particular food items. This is something I also know a lot of people won’t do. I don’t mind traveling to get the products or services I want.

I used to think maybe I was an oddball for doing this, but I know a lot more people that are adopting similar habits. I think this will be a growing trend in the food buying world, and with good reason. This is how a lot of shopping in Europe is and has been done forever. Butcher, baker, produce, etc…The baker makes better bread, and who would know meats better than a butcher? It just makes sense. 

The Europeans tend to shop that way because they feel as though they deserve better than what can be brought together in one place. Even in a produce market, they may not decide what's for dinner until the actually see what's available so they may have "the best" of whatever is available that particular day.

We deserve better, and with a little work we can have better. My mom used to go to one grocery store and load up for the week with a menu and shopping list in hand because there were few options...this isn't the case anymore and she shops more often and at multiple stores now. Of course she'll still call me asking what to do with "the green and spindly looking broccoli!?" Uh, that's broccoli rabe mom. "Why do they use the name broccoli then?" ....*sigh*..... Cause it's just spindly broccoli mom...

Let’s face it, a store can’t bend to the will of all its customers or be all things to all people, some stores are really only good for one thing. Hell, Wal-Mart proves this in spades every time I go in there. Yeah, I do go there because the thing they can't be beat at is price point. Price point is what I want on paper/disposables, processed foods or other consumables.

The meats I don’t have a problem with although I don't typically buy mine there…I’ll explain… if what you’re looking for is USDA Choice cut of meat…That’s what you get at Wal-Mart. It’s the same stuff you get when you go to an Outback, Longhorn or Texas Roadhouse restaurant or even in most cases your own local supermarket. Thumbing your nose at it just because it is from Wal-Mart is silly.

The reason I don't buy meat there is because as I said earlier, I have a good relationship with my butcher and with the meat guys at a local supermarket. They will do things for me Wal-Mart won’t, and sell me cuts of meat Wal-Mart doesn't have…for instance...if I’m in a hurry and want a rack of lamb Frenched, a roast trimmed, or I want a USDA prime dry aged côte de boeuf. The last place I'm going is a place that sells pork rinds next to pre-cooked bacon.

Brand loyalty, I suppose I have a few brands I’m particularly fond of and wouldn’t switch…Toilet paper comes to mind first as I grew up in a house where you could read a newspaper through the toilet paper. If you ever have to seriously consider which of the two papers (News or Toilet) you’d rather use for…the job…you need better toilet paper. Aside from toilet paper, Beer, aluminum foil, zip top baggies and paper towels… there are few brands I need to have.

Probably lowest on the list of product loyalty would be any processed foods. When I heard the folks who make processed foods are stepping up to gain market share by producing more organic and artisan products, I nearly sprayed coffee all over my keyboard.

Hey processed food guys, I’m pretty sure that’s why you’re losing market share to begin with…people are tired of being lied to and crapped on by your marketing department. Not everybody looks at a can of cream of chicken soup and pleasures themselves to the thought of it being gluten free...they usually take it for granted. Besides…If you're gonna pleasure yourself at the supermarket, save it for the beer aisle.

When you start jerking the paying consumer around by the collar and marketing with words that have nothing to do with your product…you’re just being dishonest. Artisan potato chips sold by the ton has made me somewhat suspicious that someone is actually making them by hand. Instead of using terms like organic, free-range and Artisan…try this for a marketing angle.

New from Gampbell’s… the good folks who brought you arsenic free chicken noodle soup…proudly introduce two new flavors to you… the American sheep public. Toe nail free spicy acorn gazpacho and camel consommé (naturally low in ethylene glycol). I’m sure these would fly off the shelf I mean…who really knows “what” is going into your competitions product?! Right?!

I don’t condemn supermarkets for trying to provide more and better products to their customers, but work on the customer service and services available first…the products and store loyalty will come along with that. I also have no problems with food companies that have a track record of producing great product and expanding their product lines in a like manner. As for food companies trying to be what they were never intended to be I’ll finish by saying this.

You can take a dog terd and put it in a pretty container; you can label it gluten, trans-fat free, diet, lite, all natural, organic, cage-free, free-range and artisan. You could spend billions of dollars marketing it in TV and Print advertising, then putting it in every grocery store in America….but in the end…It’s still shit.


  1. Over here, the same trend is sneaking in, but doing your shopping at the little local shops is always better!! Too bad many had to close let's spread the word!!!!!!!!! Great post!

  2. Right from the beginning I couldn't stop thinking about Trader Joes...they just do so many things right.