Is Food Shopping Making a Comeback?
By Menachem Lubinsky, President & CEO Lubicom
“Food shopping” is quite different from “food buying.” Kosher retailers say that they are seeing more “shoppers” in their stores these days. You are probably familiar with the profile of the food “buyer.” They are usually pressed for time, may have a specific list of items on a paper or perhaps on their phone, and are pretty much oblivious to any foods that seem out of the ordinary, such as a new and different item. Shopping, for many of them, is rote – such as people who shop on Thursdays for Shabbos and pretty much buy the very same items every week.
Compare this person with the “shopper,” slowly making her way through the aisles, eyeing every item that seems interesting, picking up the package and reading the ingredients or other interesting facts, and most importantly willing to take home a product they’ve never tried before. The retailers say that with few exceptions these shoppers enter the store with no real idea what will end up in their carts.
The food buyer covets one-stop shopping, having neither the patience nor the time to visit multiple stores. The food buyer might have preferences for certain stores, perhaps a bakery or take-out store. They like familiarity so they can walk right up to the shelf and pick up the items that they are looking for.
The shopper, on the other hand, makes it a point to walk an entire store and even to check out other stores such as another kosher supermarket or even a specialty store or discounter that may have an interesting item or two. That’s right, even checking out Costco for that unique product.
You can walk through the parking lot of Pomegranate in Flatbush on a Sunday and notice many out-of-state license plates. Store administrators say that some of these out-of-town customers often spend many hours just walking the store. Clearly, the shopper is more relaxed and views shopping as an experience.
It’s no different than shopping for clothes in a department store. The buyer is there for a skirt, suit or an evening dress for an upcoming event. The shopper is interested in whatever she encounters trekking through the aisles.
The kosher food shopper is a growing trend, say the retailers, often shopping on a supermarket’s slower days.
Howie Klagsbrun of Gourmet Glatt, with stores in Cedarhurst, Woodmere, Lakewood, and Boro Park feels that the “shopping environment” has changed. He says that the majority of his customers come to his large stores without a list. “There is a great deal of socializing which we encourage, even offering free coffee,” he says. Frequently, customers interact with one another, recommending certain products.
Surprisingly, he and other retailers say that the shopping experience is what is driving their steadily increasing sales over the internet, where leisurely perusing is part of the experience.
The retailers estimate that 70% of their customers would be considered buyers as opposed to shoppers, with the latter category growing steadily. While Malky Levine of Evergreen with stores in Monsey and Lakewood agrees that she sees many more shoppers, she attributes a great deal of it to “impulse buying,” customers who simply pick up an item because it is interesting or new.
“Much of it has to do with a much better economy in the frum world and the resulting increased disposable income,” she suggests. She says people are buying more and even willing to spend on a new upscale item. As an example, she cited Gefen’s new cookie butter, which impulse buyers are picking up.
Mr. Klagsbrun differentiates between moms at home and working mothers. He sees many young mothers who simply spend time in the store with their toddlers in tow.
He and Mrs. Levine both say many of their customers shop online but supplement the “actual buying” with the shopping experience of actually walking the store, not to speak of the fact that many shoppers will not buy “fresh” items like fish, meat, and produce online.
Mrs. Levine says that working moms are typically “impulse shoppers” with more income. She says: “They will walk into the store and figure out what they can feed their hungry family and pick up some interesting items even if they are more expensive.” On the other hand, say the retailers, many younger moms are on a tight budget and are very frugal in their food purchases.
It appears that retailers are more conscious these days of the variety of customers coming to their stores. They want to make sure that they are prepared for and stocked to meet the needs of all types. They also understand that the dynamics of shopping have dramatically changed. The large, upscale kosher stores have become a destination, a social experience. They recognize the impact of technology and new opportunities for sharing in real time. There is also a recognition for the home chef who relies on new recipes in magazines or on such sites as Kosher.com.
Retailers are also fully aware of the changing demographics and resultant buying habits. There is the younger set with more disposable income than ever. There are the very large families with a need for economizing but still interested in new, quality items. Finally, there is the traditional shopper who seems to never change, always buying the traditional foods.
If you are the perennial "buyer," you owe it to yourself to find some time to be a shopper. You just might enjoy the experience!