From in-store cooking classes to a personal shopping service, grocers across the nation are introducing new ideas to turn their stores into places to spend their leisure time as well as shop.
By becoming a destination for shoppers, grocers can increase traffic and deepen loyalty with their customers. Some of the most innovative retailers are now go-to spots for daily workouts, wine tastings, family meals and, of course, buying groceries.
"We have to give shoppers a compelling reason to continue to be with us, and we've got to think outside the box a little bit," Amanda Fischer, a spokeswoman with New Jersey-based ShopRite, told sister publication Grocery Dive.
ShopRite's Wellness Center
In its Morristown, New Jersey store, ShopRite wanted to create a community hub and lifestyle center where shoppers could regularly gather, said Fischer. What resulted was the Village Food Garden Wellness Center, which opened in 2013. The wellness center includes free registered dietitian services, a full service pharmacy, a learning space for children and a fitness studio.
The fitness studio costs $25 a month, significantly lower than most gym memberships, and features classes like Zumba, yoga, barre and circuit training, along with invitations to special events and discounts at ShopRite’s juice bar and for its catering service.
For parents with kids between the ages of three to eight, ShopRite provides free childcare in its learning center, where kids participate in activities, games, watch a movie or play with toys for up to one hour.
ShopRite's wellness center offers time-starved customers a one-stop shopping space and lifestyle hub that has over time become a community gathering place. Shoppers have forged friendships, Fischer said, and often have drinks together at the store's bar, Bin 37, or grab coffee in the mornings after working out.
"We've become this strong community hub and created a sense of belonging, which is not something you get in a traditional supermarket," said Fischer.
Jungle Jim's Experience Center
Often described as a theme park for food, Jungle Jim’s International Market in Ohio recently opened an airport-themed experience center called JXC, or Jungle Experience Center, where customers can take part in telepresence tastings, seminars and special events. All events are presented through a four panel, 110-inch screen that connects visitors with a two-way communications system with people and places around the world.
One popular event the retailer regularly stages is a five-course gourmet meal paired with a tasting from the retailer's famously large wine collection. Guests can eat and sip while taking a virtual tour of the winery.
Other events include cigar festivals, international craft beer festivals, cooking classes and bourbon tasting. Last summer, JXC hosted a screening to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the cult favorite, "The Big Lebowski." Guests dressed up as their favorite character and noshed on themed dishes like "Donnie's In-N-Out Sliders."
The retailer throws about 20 to 30 events per year and tickets range from $20 up to about $150, according to Jungle Jim's executive director Jimmy Bonaminio.
Because its 200,000-square-foot store can be so overwhelming, founder and CEO Jim Bonaminio said they wanted to curate some experiences for the customer. "We focus on pairings and high-end dinners where we talk about ingredients, wines or cheeses," he said. "Drawing on the vast amount of selection we have and distilling it down to very specific experiences."
Gelson's Markets Sip 'N Shop
Gelson's in-store wine bars have become a regular draw for customers. Starting two years ago, the Southern California grocer gave these shoppers another reason to stop by with Sip 'N Shop, a service that lets customers relax at the bar while a store associate does all the shopping.
The process is fittingly straightforward and informal for a retailer that prides itself on being a breezy, upscale destination. Customers give the bartender their grocery list along with their beverage or food order and a Gelson's employee does the shopping. If the employee completes the order before the customer is done visiting, Gelson's holds the products until they are ready.
After launching at its Silver Lake store in 2017, the service is now offered at 12 of Gelson's 27 stores that feature an in-store bar and will expand to 13 by the end of the summer, according to John Bagan, Gelson's chief merchandising officer.
"As we introduce new concepts like our bars, we try to figure out how do we expand and build on that reputation for great customer service," Bagan said.
The service is free and there is no minimum order size. Bagan said the service is mostly utilized by customers who are regulars, but that it has also drawn in new customers who are curious to try it out. The retailer doesn't aggressively advertise Sip 'N Shop outside its stores' four walls, positioning it mostly as an added value for existing customers. There are tent ads on each table in the bar, a pamphlet in each menu and bartenders are able to discuss the service with customers.
Gelson's has seen a 35% increase in average basket size with orders using the service than without, Bagan said.
H-E-B's live music venue
The news that Texas favorite H-E-B will close down a store is usually cause for dismay among loyal shoppers. But in the case of its store at South Congress Avenue location in Austin, the tear-down will make room for an even bigger, splashier location.
The new store, which is set to open in 2022, will feature a beer garden, food hall and live music venue to accompany a 110,000-square-foot grocery store. The store is meant to be a "community gathering place," the company told Eater. There will be indoor and outdoor seating, and its 12-vendor food hall will feature many of H-E-B's classic restaurants, with more local restaurant brands likely to be added to the mix, too.
H-E-B has offered live music at stores in the past. But this will be its largest stage yet — a fitting addition to the city dubbed the "Live Music Capital of the World."
In addition to the food and beer hall, the new store will include murals and art installations, and more organic, bulk and produce items.
Earlier this year, H-E-B opened a two-story store, which featured an extensive line of seafood items, produce, organic produce, dry food offerings, a from-scratch bakery and a New York City native cafe. Just like its newest store, the location also featured art installations for customers to admire while they shop.