By Melanie Franner
The local grocery store has been inundated with change over the years. And the pandemic has brought to the fore just how important it is for these stores to continue to evolve.
A recent report from Deloitte, The future of food: a Canadian perspective, underscored the pressure that grocery stores currently face. The report states:
“In recent years, the lifestyles and consumption habits of Canadian consumers have been changing in response to a variety of factors: health and wellness trends, climate change worries, food and plastic waste concerns, the ubiquity of online shopping, rising food costs, and even changings demographics. Then COVID-19 hit – and pushed the pace of change into overdrive. Food retailers found themselves racing to keep up while aiming to strike a balance between investments and operating efficiencies.”
Big isn’t always better
One of the trends currently in play among grocery operators is the actual size of the store.
“Supersize stores had a large influence on layout and design due to their sheer size,” says Chris Fowler, president, Matrix Marketing Concepts Inc. “In the past few years, things have migrated back to smaller footprint stores, which calls for a completely different design approach.”
And, in fact, the Deloitte report highlights this trend:
“The large-format stores that rose to prominence five to ten years ago are making way for smaller formats that focus on fresh products and food discovery as retailers right-size and ‘right-brand’ stores to be more relevant to the needs of local markets…”
The report cites a 2020 opening of a Real Canadian Superstore – the brand’s first urban location in Calgary. The new location sported a 36 per cent to 48 per cent smaller footprint than that of a typical Superstore in the area.
Setting the mood
Fowler attributes the design changes being seen in today’s grocery stores to the developing needs of today’s consumers.
“Consumers value a warm, inviting, welcoming environment to shop in,” he explains. “You see evidence of this across the retail industry in many channels, not just in grocery.”
Henry Friedmann, Western Regional Sales, Arneg Canada, suggests that competition has spurred grocery operators to up their offerings.
“Competition has increased the importance of getting customers to try new products,” he says, adding that more inviting colours, better lighting and more eye-catching food displays are popular methods being used to better engage customers.
Friedmann cites LED lighting and signage as two tools that grocers are implementing more widely.
“LED lights have played a big role in recent years to improve energy savings, as well as improve the presentation of the products,” he says. “Signage has evolved as well as a way to get customers’ attention.”
Fowler also speaks to the fixture changes being implemented in today’s stores.
“We’ve seen lots of changes and use of natural materials and lighting where you haven’t seen it traditionally applied,” he says. “Even in areas like backwall signage (category signage) where we are doing backlit fabric panels that have brilliant resolution, and are very inexpensive to update graphics.”
Offering the right product mix to attract consumers is another key element of a grocer’s success.
For example, the Deloitte report states that “Fresh food is fast becoming the key driver of store traffic and sales”. It says that nearly half of Canadian survey respondents don’t buy groceries online because they want to choose their own fresh ingredients.
“Accordingly, retailers are devoting a larger proportion of square footage to fresh produce, meat and dairy products and making room for an expanding selection of plant-based alternatives…”
Having the right fixtures and layout in which to present these fresh offerings is also key to increasing a store’s appeal.
“There has been lots of new development in the design and merchandising of perimeter departments, such as fresh,” says Fowler, who adds that the company’s ModoShelf is a case in point. “ModoShelf is an excellent example of a brilliant merchandising solution that better showcases product, extends the life of the produce, and is easier to both shop and merchandise.”
Over at Arneg Canada, Friedmann points to the company’s wide range of refrigerated cases and systems that can be used for merchandising displays in a variety of departments, such as meat, drinks, bakery, cheese, fish, milk, etc.
“Our products are designed to meet the needs of grocery stores,” he says. “They evolve with the evolving needs of our customers.”
Fowler believes that some of today’s grocers have managed to find the right balance between product and display that is needed to better engage the customer.
“Certain retailers are doing it very well,” he notes. “They are offering a good mix of materials and product offerings. And are creating inviting spaces in the stores. The boutique feel of stores is appealing on many levels.”
One grocery store that went through a major renovation is the Safeway Charleswood Centre in Winnipeg. The grand re-opening took place on December 10, 2020.
“The customers just absolutely love it,” says Manager Paul Miller. “We completely revamped the store and introduced a new, bright design.”
The renovation took about six months to complete, mainly at night to minimize interruption to customers. The redesign included everything from the lighting to the paint to the merchandising.
“It was a complete remodelling,” says Miller. “We put in new fixtures, new paint and new LED lights. It’s created a brighter, more appealing store. And a better shopping experience for our customers.”
The redesign also put the emphasis on different focal points within the store, at times by increasing the linear feet of certain departments.
“A lot of our customers are looking for ready-to-go meals,” explains Miller. “They want to grab and go. So we increased the size of our deli department. We made significant cosmetic and design changes to the department as well.”
One of these changes is the addition of a live lobster tank – a brand new offering for this location, and one that satisfies the evolving needs of the customer base of this particular store.
Another big redo took place at the Red River Co-op Food Store in Lorette, MB.
“We wanted to do a complete interior refresh to make it look fresh and news,” says Ryan Madla, store manager. “We also wanted to update the brand and make space for new merchandise.”
The renovation, which involved both interior and exterior work, was completed by Parkwest Projects Ltd. in 2021.
The interior renovations were significant. The deli fresh department, for example, was expanded to include additional products, such as the brand’s fried chicken program, a beverage and coffee section, a curry bar, and soup offering.
Other changes included: a new bakery production area; new produce displays and coolers (plus a renovation of the produce prep area); new meat cooler and meat-cutting room; and an upgraded checkout and customer-service desk.
Also among the renovations were new bakery fixtures, a new cake display counter, and a new “Made in Manitoba” section in the grocery department.
“There has been a lot of positive feedback,” says Madla. “Customers say they feel like they are coming into a brand new store.”
With or without the pandemic, Canadian consumers will demonstrate their changing needs through their purchasing habits. The pandemic has served to quicken – and heighten – this evolution. Grocery stores need to continue to show customers that they are up for the task.