Out-of-Towners Go Grocery Shopping

Discussion
Jun 05, 2012

At least according to an article in USA Today, a growing minority of frequent travelers are plotting trips based on how close their hotel is to their favorite grocer.

In many cases, people are seeking out a Whole Foods or at least a local organic or green grocer to meet their more stringent dietary desires. A few have food allergies or dietary restrictions or travel with someone who does. Others seem to be just trying to find healthier options to avoid fast-food and hotel-menu options. They’re seeking takeout options from supermarkets or ingredients for those staying at hotels with in-room kitchens.

Mary Pat Baldauf told USA Today that she regularly checks nearby Whole Foods locations before booking hotels. She stated, "I’m a real geek when it comes to my travel food. I’ve lost nearly 100 lbs. eating clean, and I refuse to go back!"

The article also cited Olympic bobsledder Elena Meyers’ challenges finding healthy eating options on the road. Jay Furr, a vegetarian, said he stays near a Whole Foods for not only dietary reasons, but to stay within his company’s required budget and to avoid a eating alone in restaurants. Said Mr. Furr, "As a business traveler, I really hate eating at restaurants by myself when everyone around me is with friends or family or, at least, fellow co-workers."

At the same time, Trader Joe’s as well as its sibling Aldi are also said to have fans willing to drive fairly long distances to visit them. New York City’s famed grocers, such as Dean & Deluca, Fairway, Citarella and Zabar’s, attract a crowd of international and out-of-NYC shoppers, as well as local popular food marts in other cities. In the northeast, Wegmans and Stew Leonard’s find fans traveling long distances to experience their stores.

While not suggested in many travel guides, at least a few foreign tourists can be found visiting supermarkets for an off-the-beaten path view of the local culture.

Miko Amaranthine wrote in the Yahoo Voices! Lifestyle section, "It is not until you experience everyday lives of natives that a tourist really gets the real feeling of what it is like to be one. Travel hot-spots are interesting, but there is nothing like feeling as a native while shopping the aisles of foreign foods and gifts."

Discussion Questions: Do you see an opportunity for supermarkets to market themselves as travel destinations? What can merchants do to attract more out-of-towners to their stores?

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27 Comments on "Out-of-Towners Go Grocery Shopping"

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Ken Lonyai
Guest
5 years 6 months ago

No — supermarkets are not travel destinations. This sounds like an anecdotal story to fill space in a newspaper. Aside from a potential speck of PR, there can’t possibly be enough people traveling based on supermarket locations to warrant any effort.

Specialty merchants have always considered travelers as additional revenue.

David Biernbaum
Guest
5 years 6 months ago

This is funny because I thought I must be the only one that frequents supermarkets near the hotel when I’m on the road. I thought I do this because I happen to be in the retail and consumer goods business. However, when I don’t have to do any entertaining, I often pick up my dinner in the grocery store and take it back to my hotel room. The answer is easy; the more prepared foods offered by the supermarket, the better, and supermarkets owners and managers should be especially aware if any given store is located close to a hotel!

Art Williams
Guest
Art Williams
5 years 6 months ago

I find this interesting, but a very small factor in these grocery store’s businesses. I believe people will travel out of their way to visit a grocery or restaurant that has unique products, but not with enough frequency to support anything other than a good conversation about it.

Martin Mehalchin
Guest
5 years 6 months ago

This is a niche opportunity with an emphasis on the word niche. There’s only a few markets (NY, SF etc.) that get the volume of tourist traffic to become a noticeable trade for a grocer and many of those markets already have a Dean & Deluca or its equivalent. The vast majority of grocers should stick to their knitting and focus on serving their local repeat customers.

Max Goldberg
Guest
5 years 6 months ago

Few supermarkets are worthy of being destinations. Most fail to establish a point of differentiation that allows them to truly stand out from the competition and gain widespread recognition for it.

More than being about attracting tourist dollars, this article points to the need for retailers to establish strong core stories for their brands, to truly be different from the competition and to be worthy of consumer word of mouth.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
5 years 6 months ago

When you fly out to the prairie, a medium frequency travel destination, and a certain supermarket is your focus, it’s likely because you are a geek for certain foods or possibly you are trying to get a life.

If this phenomenon is to become a hope, hotels would add kitchens, restaurant business could be affected and supermarkets would appealingly reach out for out-of-towners. At this moment, without sufficient data, I am inclined to think that supermarkets that live upon such high flying hope would die fasting.

David Livingston
Guest
5 years 6 months ago

Only if the supermarket is a travel destination. Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are destination stores. I doubt anyone would pick a hotel because it’s close to a Winn-Dixie. I could certainly see a store like Wegmans or Whole Foods being able to market themselves to travelers. Those stores offer excellent dining options which would appeal to travelers.

Adrian Weidmann
Guest
5 years 6 months ago

Most definitely. I take advantage of local grocery stores whenever and wherever I travel. I started doing this years ago when I was in London. I bought all my meals at Harrod’s deli in the basement. It was a fantastic experience. Not only is it a healthier option, but I get a chance to experience first hand not only what grocers are doing for retail, but also observe the shoppers and their behavior. With the ever increasing selection of prepared foods, shopping for your dinner as a traveler is frankly a lot of fun. Grocers located in high business traveler areas should understand this trend and cater to these folks. In collaboration with local hotels that may not have their own dining rooms or restaurants, local grocers could expand their market considerably.

Dan Raftery
Guest
5 years 6 months ago

Nice of USA Today to figure this one out. Supermarkets in vacation destinations have been doing this for as long as I can remember. Special offerings include expanded chilled beverages, expanded prepared foods and delis, travel size HBA, kitchen/outdoor utensils.

Service needs to be ramped up in high traffic locations. So does security inside and outside the store. The key is knowing the demographic. Hilton Head vacationers won’t be looking for the same things as Orlando vacationers.

Ben Ball
Guest
5 years 6 months ago

Aside from the days when all CPG types made a required pilgrimage to Stew Leonard’s — I have to believe this is a trend limited to very special needs or interests. Whenever I am in Scottsdale I stay near an AJ’s and look forward to it, but it’s not why I pick the hotel.

Brian Numainville
Guest
5 years 6 months ago

While people do at times head to a certain supermarket for specialty products or signature items, as well as perhaps unique services, I don’t think this turns supermarkets into a tourist destination (except for maybe some of us industry folks that fill our spare time when traveling with walking through stores…).

Ed Dunn
Guest
5 years 6 months ago

This is a favorite travel hobby of mine. I love going to local grocery stores and shopping while traveling. I know where the Walmart SuperCenter and Publix near Disney World are. I was wondering if maybe a specialty grocery store should open up a concept chain in the airport terminal — might work!

Supermarkets should definitely promote their locations near popular tourist destinations. If McDonald’s, Burger King and KFC do this worldwide and attracts travelers, why not supermarkets?

Joan Treistman
Guest
5 years 6 months ago

In the cases described the travelers were already familiar with the supermarket they wanted nearby. I’ve also shopped at the Whole Foods instead of eating out. That works for some business travel and pleasure trip when traveling for business. But I can’t see planning the trip around the retailer. Generating awareness at the hotels within a certain radius of exiting locations would be a way to take advantage of the business traveler desires and cultural immersion goals of the tourist.

Ben Sprecher
Guest
Ben Sprecher
5 years 6 months ago

Nope.

The Olympic bobsledding demographic, as appealing as it might look on paper, is too small to warrant re-jiggering your overall marketing program.

For most supermarkets, there are bigger gluten-free, organic tofu burgers to fry.

Bill Bittner
Guest
Bill Bittner
5 years 6 months ago
Having been there, I can understand how frustrating it can be to eat healthy while on the road, but I still don’t believe the casual traveler will make the local supermarket banner a priority. ON THE OTHER HAND, I think retailers who are in destination locations make a huge mistake by not taking advantage of the opportunity to capture new converts. The one time a family shopper is certain to step out of their routine is while they’re away on vacation. Whether they’re going to the shore, the mountains, or driving cross country, they still need to eat and will often end up at the closest store. Here is a great opportunity to show that shore visitor what a great experience they have missed by not going to the retailer’s store in their home town. The challenge is that they may not stop in because even though it is convenient, they don’t have a frequent shopper card. Retailer stores in “destination areas” should offer “card free shopping” to allow shoppers without a card to receive… Read more »
Roger Saunders
Guest
5 years 6 months ago

There are a great many items for grocers to focus time, attention, and money on. Functioning as a travel destination, is not one of them.

W. Frank Dell II
Guest
5 years 6 months ago

This is a very small and limited market. It consists of people traveling alone and staying at a hotel with cooking accommodations. This would less than 1% of travelers. Another group would be someone who formally lived in an area and wants to stock up on items they cannot get at home. For the vast majority of food retailers, move on to the next issue unless your store is truly unique.

Carlos Arambula
Guest
5 years 6 months ago

It appear that grocers that will appeal to travelers are already doing so.

I do believe this can be a local initiative for specialty grocers with deli service and limited service hotels that can provide a better/healthier/less expensive alternative to casual dinning and QSR for road warriors.

Veronica Kraushaar
Guest
Veronica Kraushaar
5 years 6 months ago

Yes! Food as entertainment is hot, and the thousands of food bloggers around the country are usually dedicated store-watchers also. You didn’t mention Stew Leonard’s, arguably the “Disneyland” of grocery. We know folks who won’t go to the Northeast without a peek in there. Of course, when you’re in the business like we are, store checks are part of every vacation, much to the family’s consternation.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
5 years 6 months ago

I can tell you that great places like Fairway, Whole Foods (Bowery) and Dean & Deluca in New York City are already reaping tourist revenues as we speak. All they have to do is generate compelling reasons to experience these uniquely-differentiated stores. Keep it simple and high-impact!

Lee Peterson
Guest
5 years 6 months ago

I travel for a living and I’ve never done that. Seems like a good idea, and I’ve enjoyed being close to the Whole Foods in Chelsea before, but I can’t fathom a plus-plus business being built on that premise. With precious marketing dollars few and far between, I’d rather focus on more lucrative targets, like the surrounding neighborhood.

Kenneth Leung
Guest
5 years 6 months ago

It is not travel destination marketing, but to market to travellers of coverage and work with the local hotels in the area. When I travel I do ask the hotel front desk for a grocery store to pick up fruits and gallon water, etc. The only thing the supermarkets need to do is local awareness and perhaps add traveler friendly items. More of a tweak for local areas then “travel destination” marketing.

Stan Barrett
Guest
Stan Barrett
5 years 6 months ago

There might be an opportunity via social media or the store’s website along these lines — going out of town this summer/business trip. Find our locations on the way to/at your destination. I know as a family if we are looking for a quick meal on a road trip, Sheetz or Wawa is the place of choice. Something for everyone. I could see an app that would plot your trip and plot your stops. Not sure it was destination, but the food hall at Harrod’s on trips to London was a “can’t miss.” I wouldn’t have built a trip around it though.

David Livingston
Guest
5 years 6 months ago

This got me thinking of some of the most memorable supermarkets I’ve visited. H-E-B Central Market and Whole Foods in Austin. If I was vacationing there, I’d make a point to have dinner at each one. One of the best kept secrets is Pechin’s in Connelsville, PA. If you want to see where Stew Leonard’s meets Deliverance, this is the place. I think they still have 19 cent hamburgers and a river than runs under the floorboards. It sits a few miles out of town off the main road. Great story there.

James Tenser
Guest
5 years 6 months ago

There may indeed be a solution-selling opportunity for some food stores to provide travelers with wholesome meal options. I suspect the smaller-format urban stores we’ve been hypothesizing about in this forum may be especially well-suited for this.

That may even mean a bit of localized marketing at hotels, including in-room tent cards and take-out menus. Quick delivery would be a nice touch too. Hey, if pizza guys can do it, why not the supermarkets?

Online grocery services could stock the fridge for guests at extended-stay hotels too. This might be a premium service compared with regular food shopping, while time-pressed business travelers see it as an economical and relaxed alternative to meals out.

But “travel destination?” I think that’s over-playing the concept.

Tim Henderson
Guest
Tim Henderson
5 years 6 months ago
I’ve been a longtime advocate of marketing to travelers who want to shop the brands they trust while on the road. As noted in these articles, supermarket cafes are a great way to reach out to travelers. But this type of travel marketing can go beyond food. I recall that Macy’s offers domestic and international travelers special discounts for shopping at Macy’s stores in destination cities. And the Men’s Warehouse Lifetime Free Pressing offer is a good example of a brand that understands the occasional needs of its consumers while on the road. Travel marketing can be done by both nationwide chains and small indies. Nationwide chains like Walgreens, CVS, Walmart, Target and Safeway can, for example, reach out to frequent shoppers and loyalty club members with information on store locations in key destination cities and messaging around items the traveler may need while on the road. The same brands can work with hotels and other non-competitors in destination cities to provide similar information. Indies can market in similar ways, but their in-depth knowledge of… Read more »
Matthew Keylock
Guest
Matthew Keylock
5 years 6 months ago

Focusing on attracting out-of-towners could be the opposite of looking after your best customers.

However, recognizing the needs of travelers and working out whether there is a suitable play to serve their needs would be worth some time for some grocers.

In the UK, retailers such as Marks & Spencer and Waitrose have located stores at motorway/roadside service stations to provide great quality convenience options for travelers.

Convenience retailing is in a slightly different place in the US, but I for one would welcome this kind of innovation on my road trips.

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