The Great Grocerant hears from the tandem of Melanie Dwornik, M.A., R.D., Dietitian and Culinary Nutrition Supervisor, and Joe Gozzi, Director of Foodservice and ShopRite Kitchen, about how Wakefern Food Corp., the nation’s largest member-owned food cooperative, brings memorable foodservice experiences to customers.

The Great Grocerant: What inspires you to pursue the grocerant opportunity today? 

Melanie Dwornik and Joe Gozzi, Wakefern: We focus on health & wellness and foodservice at ShopRite.  We also really strive to inspire and educate shoppers through our hands-on cooking classes, chef demos and easy meal solutions. Combining the expertise of our chefs and dietitians is key to providing great in-store and take-home dining experiences.

The grocerant opportunity is a natural extension of our culinary workshops and the meal solutions our own ShopRite chefs already provide customers in stores. More than 70% of ShopRite stores now have some form of in-store dining - whether a café, oyster bar, second-floor seating or sushi bar (most offer sushi prepared by trained chefs).  Foodservice is one of our exciting, fastest-growing departments.  Many stores feature chef-prepared entrees and sides, hot bars and ShopRite Kitchen soup bars. Some stores even feature smokers for smoking meat, beer gardens and smoothie bars, which are elements of fast-casual restaurants in-store.

TGG: Which three words come to mind when you think of your grocerants.  Why?

Dwornik and Gozzi: Trending – We know our customers want options and flexibility. They may want to prepare a gourmet meal at home, purchase one to take home, or eat a meal in store.  Fresh – We make it easy for families to have fresh, cooked meals made from clean ingredients in-store and out. Many ShopRite stores offer center-plate meal solutions, hot foods and soup bars, where customers can pick up hot entrées, sides, salads or soups.  Convenience – People are so busy and limited in time, it’s important we recognize that and always work to make meal solutions healthy and easy. Our customers can often find the same entrees made in-store in our ShopRite Kitchen branded line of entrees. This enables them to take home the same quality, prepared meals and replicate the grocerant experience.

What sets your efforts apart to win meal share vs. many kinds of eateries and food retailers?

Dwornik and Gozzi: We rely on our supermarket knowledge and a willingness to be flexible as we implement new and diverse menus for in-store and take-home dining. In-store dining - the grocerant - is always changing.  We succeed when we give customers choice. Some stores are adding second-floor seating to accommodate diners; others are adding more dining seats in visible spots.

We also have a growing staff of chefs and dietitians who make such a big difference connecting with customers. Our culinary workshop chefs work with our dietitians to host great in-store workshops and demos for customers and community groups.  Customers learn about new foods, nutrition concepts, culinary techniques and specialty diets through our classes. It’s all practical information they acquire in-store for use at home. 

While our Culinary Workshop Chefs enhance the customer experience and develop relationships with customers, our ShopRite chefs develop prepared-foods recipes and meals, which we roll out in stores and offer as part of the grocerant and prepared-foods experience. Our continued innovations strengthen customer loyalty.

TGG: Describe the importance of the grocerant to the rest of the store.

Dwornik and Gozzi: By providing a variety of quality prepared foods in our stores - for dining in-store or at home - our customers know they can find everything they need at ShopRite.  The ShopRite of Greater Morristown, NJ, which opened in 2013, has become a destination location because of all the in-store dining elements the store includes.  More of our ShopRite stores are using chefs, dietitians and grocerants to grow business and customer loyalty. 

TGG: In your experience, can a grocerant change how shoppers view a store?

Dwornik and Gozzi: The grocerant can encourage customers to slow down, check out the offerings and gather to meet friends at the store. Our culinary programming and in-store dining opportunities definitely change how customers view the store by getting them to think more about their food and even take some time out to eat in the store. 

Our culinary chefs often partner with our retail dietitians to educate customers through culinary workshops.  Also, our “Family Meals” campaign educates customers, and inspires them to plan and prepare more meals at home. Recently, many customers called 1-800-ShopRite to talk directly with our chefs about Thanksgiving Meal prep as part of our “Chefs on Call” program.

TGG: Share with us your own food background, and how you see the role of grocerant chef enhancing a store's success.

Dwornik: I’ve always had a passion for food and a strong connection to the industry.  I wanted to be a chef in high school but decided instead to focus on healthcare, specifically nutrition.  I worked my way through a variety of restaurants growing up, starting with my family’s restaurant and eventually heading to Mario Batali’s Del Posto, where I did a bit of everything from back of house as chef’s assistant to front of house as maître d’.  The food industry is in my blood!

I graduated with a degree in nutrition from Montclair State University, earned a Master’s in Food Studies from New York University, and completed a dietetic internship and the French Culinary Institute’s Classic French program in Culinary Arts.  

My goal has always been to make healthy food easy and accessible for all people.  Good meals don’t have to be expensive or out of reach. I think that fits with what we do at ShopRite. Combining culinary and nutrition has allowed me to develop this new role for Wakefern as Culinary Nutrition Supervisor.  This position focuses on customer-facing programs that aim to inspire and educate our customers to share more meals at home with more help from their local ShopRite!

Gozzi: I’ve always had a love and passion for food and I’ve been lucky to work in the field for most of my life. I’ve been with Wakefern for 39 years. Prior to my foodservice role, I was instrumental here at building the specialty food business.  For more than 15 years, I sourced the ShopRite Imported private label line. I traveled and learned about food and food culture in many countries–and attended different culinary schools, including Culinary Institute of America boot camps.  Food is integral to my professional and personal lives–I love to cook at home for my family, and I love to spend time with ShopRite chefs in our ShopRite Kitchen. My objective has always been to build a culinary culture within the walls of Wakefern and ShopRite supermarkets, using trends and flavors from around the world.

TGG: What can NRA Show do to help your grocerant be more successful?

Dwornik and Gozzi: In addition to communicating health and wellness trends, we want to learn more about how to attract and retain culinary talent.  

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