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Sorensen: Get Rid Of Ethnic ‘Store-Within-A-Store’

Ethnic foods aisle

Cindy Sorensenby Cindy Sorensen/founder and CEO, The Grocery Group

Over my 36-year grocery industry career, I wish I would have set aside a nickel for every grocery store I had visited, whether it was as a sales representative, a sales manager, a shopper or as a vacationer. I know my “nickel per store visit” would have amounted to quite a fortune.

When on vacation, my family knows there will always be stops to visit local grocery stores. This probably can be said about anyone who is in the grocery industry.

One of the things I find to be most interesting during these visits is what I learn about the communities surrounding these stores. The departments I find to provide the most learning about a local community are the produce and meat departments. It is in these departments where the story of the local neighborhood can be identified.

I have seen produce and meat cuts and varieties I never knew existed. In my conversations with produce and meat department managers, I learn so much about the neighborhood and consumer who purchases these items. I find it fascinating.

Why does Western Wisconsin find cow’s tongue to be such a delicacy? Why does a suburban store in Minneapolis specialize in chicken feet? What do consumers do with cactus ears? These are items I don’t find in my local stores.

What I do see in my local stores and stores I visit throughout the U.S. is the existence of ethnic food sections. I started to see these sections emerge in my local Minneapolis stores at least 10-15 years ago. Since I speak German and love the country and its food, it was exciting to finally be able to purchase some of my favorite German foods at my local grocery store.

But as I wander the myriad of ethnic foods represented in these sections, I can’t help but see the missed opportunity for retailers. These ethnic food offerings are great for those consumers who know what to do with them, but there are many shoppers who never wander down these aisles because these products are not on their list or because they have not been provided with ideas on how to use them.

The opportunity exists to create awareness of these products with these shoppers. How can that be done? First, I would suggest removing the “ethnic store-within-a-store” concept that most retailers have. The products should be mainlined with the product categories where they belong. This is much like the effort taking place by retailers to remove organic sections and to mainline organic products with conventionally produced products.

The second idea is to provide shopper solutions through cross-merchandising of these ethnic products. Provide recipes and serving suggestions utilizing multiple product categories. Commit a store program to highlighting an ethnic recipe on a monthly basis. This will not only provide solutions to shoppers but will also send them into multiple categories within a store to increase the possibility for incremental purchases as the program “pulls” them down many aisles they may have overlooked.

Shoppers are looking for new, creative recipe ideas. Research has shown they are increasingly looking for ethnic flavor influence in those recipes. It’s time to mainline ethnic foods and provide solutions to today’s shoppers.

Cindy Sorensen is the founder and CEO of The Grocery Group, which focuses on developing leadership in the grocery industry by supporting industry professionals in their career development. The Group also develops programs to connect grocery industry professionals to colleges and universities to help attract, recruit and retain a talented workforce in a competitive employment market. Reach Sorensen at [email protected]

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