by Kristen Cloud/staff writer
While perimeter store sales have seen a substantial uptick in recent years, perhaps taking away from purchases consumers would normally make in the center store, Al Plamann says the center store category shouldn’t be dismissed as a disappearing one. Rather, he notes, the definition of center store simply needs updating.
“What we loosely call center store, what the retailers maybe loosely call center store as well, has expanded over to gourmet specialty, natural/organic and ethnic products,” he said. “So we probably ought to redefine center store in some respect so we don’t kid ourselves that the non-perishable side, if you include some of these other categories that are growing rapidly like natural and organic, is going to actually boost the center store activity.
“And if we take a look at what’s happening on the frozen food side in natural and organic, and we include those categories that are growing on that side, actually center store is still pretty strong. Maybe as a balance, percentage-wise and total sales in the store, maybe it appears to come down some, but it’s not going away.”
Perishable side continues to find success
Perishables continue to be the proverbial shining stars of the grocery store today.
This is evidenced by the category’s vendor participation at Unified’s two-day expo earlier this week—the largest in the co-op’s history.
The produce and meat products represented—the perishables, in other words—have continued to grow, he said.
“This year we installed a mobile app for the meat ordering side of the show, so they can negotiate right there on the show floor, use the mobile app, authorize the product, authorize the sales, authorize the delivery days and really facilitate the meat sales.
“Produce sales are actually a little bit different, but I think we’ve added between 10 and 15 percent additional space on the show floor for the perishables side of the business, which represents the sales shift we’ve seen over the past few years as well at retail.”
Unified and the expo
Unified Grocers, which is celebrating its 90th anniversary year, expects to meet or exceed last year’s sales, according to Plamann, adding that one of the expo’s goals is to help both the retail and vendor communities reach price points on critical items in “a way that is meaningful.”
“In other words,” said Plamann, “focus on those items that are important to the consumer during these difficult times, make sure we have the right marketing and sales programs out there to talk to the consumer about our interest in helping them in tough times.
“The expo’s got kind of a dual purpose—being a celebration (of Unified’s 90th anniversary) but, at the same time, recognizing the difficulty of the economic world out there.”
Additionally, Plamann reveals that Bob Ling’s promotion to president of Unified about a year ago has given the CEO more time to concentrate on other areas of the business.
“We’ve been growing our retail base—in Hawaii, in the Pacific Northwest, in Alaska,” Plamann said. “Bob’s been very active with a lot of our new retailers and a lot of our old retailers, giving me a lot more time to look strategically at the company, and that I think is going to be good for our long-term growth as well.
“So this has been a fortuitous change in our organization.”
‘Pawsitively Pet’ initiative spotlights an ‘abandoned’ center store category
Unified’s center store initiative this year focuses on the pet category—cleverly called “Pawsitively Pets.”
“This is our second center store initiative launch,” said Nancy Lopez-Pedroza, Unfied’s regional marketing manager for Southern California. “Last year we launched a baby initiative, so this year we focused on pets as a category.
“The grocery channel has really abandoned certain center store categories, so what we wanted to do is provide our retailers with the opportunities to learn how to enhance the area to drive more traffic into their stores.”
In the featured photo at top: Al Plamann is the CEO of Unified Grocers, which held its 2012 expo in Long Beach, Calif., earlier this week.