Know your customers, create appropriate food themes, and message and promote inventively.

Put the same effort into marketing your grocerant concepts as you place in food research & development.

So advises Gary Zickel, Manager of Foodservice Operations, Mariano’s, a division of Roundy's. “Otherwise, they’ll just be like another kiosk in your store,” says Zickel, a recognized pioneer in the retail foodservice segment. “Proper marketing is essential to grocerant success. If people don’t know the prepared foods you’re offering, they won’t try them, and you can’t make sales,” he adds.

Foodservice@Retail: Grocerants readers can benefit from these tips, based on his experiences as a restaurateur and helping to develop numerous concepts at the Mariano’s chain of 34 stores in and around Chicago: 

  • Understand your target customers in each trading area. Know if they want prepared foods to eat at the store and take home. Decide on food themes they’ll want by analyzing demographics, understanding their lifestyles, and observing which other businesses succeed in the local market. Segmenting works—our Veg/d concept appeals to yoga enthusiasts in certain neighborhoods. If you’ll compete directly with other established businesses nearby, develop a distinctive niche to win people over.
  • Price competitively. Our significant buying power is an advantage. We can, for instance, buy oysters and sushi-grade seafood for less than any nearby restaurants can. Your grocerants can do the same with any food theme—buy the highest quality ingredients, market your products as quality, and protect profits with the spread between your lower costs and competitive prices.
  • Emphasize quality through signage and product labels.  Our sushi chefs skin and slice fish behind the bar, all with fresh ingredients. This contrasts with some other grocers that sell packages of pre-sliced frozen fish with pre-made rice. Not only do customers see our chefs work, we also use package stickers that read, “Made with sustainable fish and organic produce.” Also, when we market pizza with high-quality tomatoes and herbs, our signs describe it as “house-made” to convey hominess.
  • Cross-promote with the rest of the store. Make people aware they can buy quality ingredients to help them replicate the prepared-foods taste experience they enjoy at your grocerants. For example, displays of organic tomatoes by the hot pizza station connote extra freshness. These are the same ones we sell in the produce department, and use to prepare the pizza sauce.
  • Maximize impulse appeal of prepared foods. Build impulse with visual displays, as we do by sushi, salad and pasta bars, and oyster bars. Also, give out actual samples, as we do of pizza, sushi, smoked brisket, and pork.  You’ll convert more shoppers into diners if you train staffers to speak knowledgeably about the food.
  • Run sales, promotions and coupons. Coordinate schedules to enhance total-store success. Help drive store traffic on typically slow Tuesdays, and capitalize from high customer volumes on Saturdays. Make these deals visible in in-store flyers, on your chain website, and in social media.
  • Expand social media use to build your image as a fun, value, great food destination. We post deals and suggest sell full-price, full-margin items on Facebook and Twitter. We encourage repeat grocerant trips by offering a free gelato after a person buys 10, and the same with maki rolls, coffee, and smoothies. On a routine weekday, we might message, “Don’t cook at home. Come buy our smoked pork and brisket and sides to create your meals.” On a nice day, we might suggest, “Come in for a coconut gelato.” On a hot day, “Cool off with a smoothie.” Social media is also a way for customers to comment to us and give us a chance to rectify any issue and possibly incentivize them to visit us again.