Mariano's Amanda Puck shares effective tips

Grocerants represent the new way people eat. They blend trips there to save time, try innovative foods and favorite dishes served at the stores they go to most—and readily find sociable settings, music and wi-fi connections for fun dining experiences at value prices.

Retailers notching these points on their performance scorecards need one more key ingredient to make their grocerants fly: social media buzz.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, LinkedIn and Snapchat are ingrained in customers’ lifestyles. Excel on these platforms to raise awareness of grocerant concepts, new items, promotions, special events, and charitable works. Social media, done well, can help lift trip frequency, transaction size and net profits.

Use social media to educate followers about the foods you serve to help engage customers further, making them feel closer to your business, and see you as more authentic and credible. When customers comment on your social media pages, respond quickly, show empathy, and have the store call them directly to resolve issues that inevitably arise in day-to-day commerce.

“We love interacting with customers and creating better experiences through social media,” Amanda Puck, Director of Strategic Brand Development at 34-store Mariano’s, a banner of Roundy’s, which Kroger recently acquired, tells Foodservice@Retail: Grocerants. The chain uses the various platforms in distinct ways to build buzz about its grocerants, help improve performance and recruit employees. 

Puck, who previously ran an agency, helped open Spago Chicago and marketed hotels, shares more social media tips for FRG readers who are contemplating grocerants or are newer at it:

  • Social media is highly visual. Emphasize terrific photographs and augment with fun, witty messages to build trips and destination appeal, show the inventiveness and value of your prepared food offerings, and fortify your total-store image.
  • Attract customers who want a social experience. At Mariano’s, for instance, that could include happy hours each night at its oyster bars. “It’s a lively scene,” says Puck. “We message that our seafood is restaurant-quality, it comes from the same vendors as city restaurants, that we carry east and west coast varieties and many sauces, and we pair oysters, shrimps and clams with wines and beers. Customers post about their discoveries here. We often repost them, and use their words to build excitement about the experience and service we give.”
    • Other post-able experiences at Mariano’s include the piano bar setting at its store in the Ravenswood neighborhood in Chicago, IL, the chain’s different wine and beer specials every day, and pizza specials on Tuesdays and Saturdays. During the National Hockey League season and playoffs, Mariano’s extends its pizza specials to Blackhawks game nights.
  • Reinforce custom capabilities. Cake decorators at Mariano’s can personalize specialty cakes with tiers, images and messages. “We repost what customers say and show in their social media messages and photos,” says Puck. “It’s fun for the decorator teams to see this interaction.”
  • Emphasize green, local, and good for you. Starting this summer, Mariano’s is committed to selling pesticide-free greens and tomatoes grown with 90% less water (and using them as grocerant ingredients) from a new BrightFarms commercial greenhouse in Rochelle, IL. “Discussing this on social media is a great way for us to engage and educate customers who are really interested in what they’re eating,” says Puck. “We do this cohesively, through sampling events, clear in-store signage, e-mails, social media, and our newsletter and website.”
  • Play up storewide seasonal themes on social media, such as apples in April, grilling in May, and new gelato flavors on the horizon for summer. Two photo-worthy examples: Mariano’s sweet shops are known for dipping chocolate and caramel on popcorn and berries, and inducing “one for me and one for you” impulse purchases; they just rotated a caramel apple popcorn theme item.  Grilling stations will emphasize burgers, salmon, steak and buffalo chicken sandwiches, plus lunch and dinner specials.
  • Get customers to salivate. Photos on social media can excite people about full-margin new and innovative items. At Mariano’s, these include calzones, Chicago Italian subs, and special smoothie flavors each month. The latest is arugula-based Green Rocket, which generates social media comments. The chain recently used Facebook to pictorially show what local chefs and vendors could do with the tropical fruits papaya, coconut, jackfruit and starfruit.  “We had almost 4,000 likes, more than 100 comments, and 200 shares of posts on jackfruit,” says Puck.  “It inspires people to ask about other fruits too. These comments yield important customer insights, which our department feeds to the buyers and grocerants to help them further satisfy demand.”
  • Note your support of community and charities. Mariano’s biggest-selling smoothie is the Super Kale. The chain’s mascot, Super Kaley, is the chain’s social-media celebrity, says Puck. SK also appears in public with community organizations such as Girls on the Run, a Chicagoland Public School System group that inspires girls to run 8Ks, move and develop with confidence, and be fit and healthy.
  • Recruit grocerant talent. Mariano’s reaches out to its 249,000 Facebook followers and 31,700 Twitter followers with career-page posts seeking employees for its grocerants. Part of a comprehensive recruitment process, it reaches outsiders as well as current employees who may want to switch to a different store or department, says Puck.

 

“Social media is about awareness. ROI should be considered, so we track sales trends of items we post,” says Puck. A dedicated social media expert at Mariano’s “has a great relationship” with store managers, category managers, chefs and grocerant teams, she adds, noting the chain’s process to maximize social media impact: “Brand Development is in the stores day to day. We’re among the first to know of new plans and offerings. We draft the communications strategies, messages and timelines, collaborate, get agreement, and execute in an integrated manner. There is no contrived feel to what we do—it is very organic, authentic and natural.”