18. August 2021 | Feature, Food Service Equipment, What´s new in Retail

How food and shopping elevate the retail experience

by Julia Pott (exclusively for EuroShop.mag)

Food is a central part of our lives, which is lucky for grocery stores. But how can retailers expand the key role they play in the lives of their customers – perhaps by combining shopping with culinary options?

Increased awareness about nutrition and healthy lifestyles, package-free shopping, and sustainable agriculture – these top trends have shaped the last few years. Retailers and restaurateurs can no longer afford to ignore them. The recent pandemic has likewise shifted consumer habits and has prompted a refocus on food: “The COVID-19 pandemic has changed shopping, cooking and eating routines for households across America,“ Jim Kirby, Kroger Health’s senior director describes the recent developments in the U.S.

Grocery retailers who merely sell pasta in a box and sauces in a jar might miss out on trends and opportunities to win over, retain, and excite their customers. After all, FMI, the American food industry association, states in its “2021 Power of Foodservice at Retail” report that 39% of consumers view grocery retail as a substitute source for meals prepared at home and ordered at restaurants.

Here now are a few select international examples that showcase how retailers from different sectors turn shopping into an experience and assume a central role in the lives of their customers.

Lunch after shopping

Since 2019, the American supermarket chain Kroger has collaborated with ClusterTruck, a technology startup that operates delivery-only restaurants, so-called “dark kitchens”, dedicated to preparing and delivering online customer meal orders. The partners launched Kroger Delivery Kitchens in Indiana and Ohio, providing food to customers at no additional service or delivery fees.

A pickup counter for meals in a supermarket

© Kroger

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Kroger expanded the concept to include “ghost kitchens”. The retailer repurposed approximately 1,000 square feet at each participating store to create a culinary space for ClusterTruck staff to freshly prepare meals customers can pick up in-store while they do their shopping. Customers can order from a menu of more than 80 meals and Dan De La Rosa, Kroger’s group vice president of fresh merchandising, is certain that “we meet the sustained customer demand for quick, fresh restaurant-quality meals.”

Many retailers offer restaurants, bistros, cafes, or other casual dining options to cater to consumers who want to round off their grocery shopping trip with a culinary experience.

Selfridges, the chain of high-end department stores in the United Kingdom, shows how to perfectly combine brand design and gastronomy with Alto, its rooftop restaurant. For four months during the summer, the restaurant will feature a Dior inspired design and decorations courtesy of the latest Dior Maison Collection, the iconic brand’s home décor line. Needless to say, the food and drink menu has also been adapted to pay tribute to Dior’s history.

 

As part of its transformative store renewal program, British multinational retailer Marks & Spencer also gives its M&S Cafés a new look. Starting with its M&S Café at its new Solihull Sears store – one of around 350 of the retailer’s cafes – customers are invited to a dining experience with new refurbishments and a modern and inviting design. “Whether it’s a spot of lunch in between clothes shopping, a quick bite-to-eat after picking up a Click & Collect order, or a family breakfast trip out, for many customers, visiting the M&S Café is a key part of the shopping experience,” says the press release.

 

The new Café at Sears Retail Park is a test and learn location, designed to deliver a modern customer experience: QR codes are in place at every table, allowing customers to place their order in seconds either via their smartphone or by means of the new self-service digital screens at their table. Stuart Machin, COO and managing director of M&S Food, says: “With hospitality being a key part of the M&S shopping experience for many of our customers, by testing our café renewal format in Solihull, we hope to cement our reputation as a great destination for families.”

Customers line up at an open food truck

© Sam’s Club

Attracting customers with mobile tasting and sampling

Meanwhile, Sam’s Club, a division of Walmart Inc. and a leading American membership warehouse club, relies on mobile pop-ups to take the culinary experience to the next level. The retailer operates food trucks that regularly stop at select Sam’s Club stores to allow its club members to taste and sample featured products. “Additionally, Sam’s Club is testing new ways to sample items, such as roaming events that bring sampling directly to members as they checkout, visit the member services desk or use Sam’s Club Curbside Pickup,” the company announced in a press release.

From the store to your kitchen

Kroger teamed up with several media and technology partners and developed Chefbot, its AI-powered Twitter recipe tool to accommodate Kroger customers who love to cook but lack inspiration. Customers can upload a photo of three ingredients from their kitchen and then tweet the image to @KrogerChefbot. Thanks to AI, Chefbot subsequently identifies the ingredients and then scans thousands of unique recipes to ultimately deliver a list of personalized recipe recommendations. “Especially as the majority of shoppers are eating meals prepared at home multiple times a day during the pandemic,” the company continued to deliver on its brand promise according to Mandy Rassi, Kroger’s vice president of marketing.

A cook seasons fish on a platter

© Waitrose

The British supermarket chain Waitrose likewise tries to get invited into its customers’ kitchens. Participants of the Waitrose & Partners Cookery School can attend virtual cooking classes through a livestreaming platform. The retailer offers themed cooking classes for adults, a series of virtual cooking classes for children to help them develop new skills during the summer holidays, and events such as the “Virtual Food and Drink Festival”.

Food offers retailers many opportunities to get to know their customers better, to inspire them and to use creative tools to earn and build a loyal and exciting customer base. Inspiration and a customer-centric strategy are the key to success in this setting. Follow us to keep updated on the latest trends:

Our video report featuring Edeka Zurheide Feine Kost in Düsseldorf shows how wine, gastronomy, and grocery retail pair well together.

Of course, you need the right equipment to deliver an extraordinary customer experience. Interested persons can always find inspiration at EuroShop. Last year’s EuroShop 2020 trade fair and its Food Service Equipment dimension was no exception. Check out our video report titled Food is love.

Last but not least, the pandemic also increased need and demand for home-delivered and pick-up meals. Which self-service solutions have a future in retail? And how do supermarkets take an active part in the thriving convenience market? Find out more in our article titled Self-service food options: a taste of the future?.

Tags: customer loyalty, food markets, food retailing industry, gastronomy, instore catering, omnichannel, restaurant
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