Grocery Theatricals Put Under the Spotlight

Discussion
Jul 28, 2010

By Bernice Hurst, Contributing Editor, RetailWire

Stop and smell the coffee,
roast chicken and freshly baked bread. Breathe deeply, relax, submit to temptation
then walk around the aisles filling your shopping cart with wonderful food
for yourself, family and friends. That’s the
theory. Enticing smells will increase spend and build loyalty. What you see,
however, isn’t always what it appears to be.

As The Independent newspaper
in London reports, not all those warm loaves of bread lining the shelves are
freshly baked from scratch. Some in-store bakeries are used "merely to
warm up bread made in industrial units hundreds of miles away."

The Advertising
Standards Authority (ASA) recently ruled against Tesco ads, for example, for "implying
that its bread was baked from scratch, when most of its stores had done little
more than pop near-finished loaves into the oven." While
coffee beans can be seen whole and then ground, especially when customers do
the work themselves, there is no guarantee that bread hasn’t been prepared
elsewhere and then finished off for show purposes.

Other accusations have been
made by food and farming pressure group Sustain against stores whose meat and
fish counters are allegedly "a way for
supermarkets to demonstrate their stores offer all the benefits of a traditional
high street under one roof."

The newspaper then explains why critics
believe they don’t always "match
the high standards of specialist independent traders." Some supermarket
fish counters sell "thawed frozen food that may have been caught 10 days
previously, rather than bought that morning at the docks." Meat may be
imported and butchered off-site. Fresh produce often goes to central distribution
units before it reaches branches.

Food writer and supermarket critic Joanna
Blythman is quoted as describing in-store bakeries as "nothing but bogus
retail theater." The article’s
point, and the ASA ruling, concern transparency. There is nothing to indicate
any objection or ignorance on the part of consumers, simply a demand that there
be little or no likelihood of people being misled. Nor is there any indication
that this is actually the case. Consumers may be perfectly aware of what they
are seeing and buying. And they may or may not be unhappy about it.

Discussion Questions: Do you buy the argument that supermarket theatricals
are a means of misleading the consumer or do you see them as an essential
element of improving the shopping experience? What U.S. grocers are best at
retail theater?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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21 Comments on "Grocery Theatricals Put Under the Spotlight"


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Bob Phibbs
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

When I discovered Walt Disney had pumped fresh smells from the Main Street stores to lure customers I thought it was brilliant. Still do.

Smell is a visceral attachment and a very acceptable way of tapping emotion which is why we buy in the first place. Seems like newspapers are reaching for moral outrage where none exists.

David Livingston
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

Humans are highly sensitive to smells, sounds, and visual pleasure. It’s only natural to try to sell product by stimulating our senses. Odd though, two of the country’s fastest growing and most successful retailers, Walmart and Aldi, have yet to impress my senses.

Nikki Baird
Guest
Nikki Baird
10 years 9 months ago

I think the transparency aspect of the articles, vs. focusing in on retail theater specifically, are not really connected. As someone who maintained that Montgomery Wards was in part undone by the fact that it’s really disconcerting to shop for women’s apparel when it smells like tires, I can’t argue the point that smell is an important part of the retail experience.

But I also can’t argue that we seem to be on the cusp of our century’s Upton Sinclair/The Jungle moment in terms of understanding where our food is really coming from and how not paying attention to that is having an impact on our bodies.

So, if the bakery is adding value to the bread by finishing off the bake, and that helps sell bread, I’m fine with that. However, I do think there are far more pressing opportunities for grocers than bread smell when it comes to creating a relevant, differentiating experience for consumers.

J. Peter Deeb
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

More retailers should utilize live cooking demos that spur consumers to not only buy products but enhance the in-home cooking experience. Honesty in what is being prepared, the difficulty in the preparation and the freshness of the product should be paramount in the retailer’s approach to this process. It is a labor intensive activity and results need to be verified.

Wegmans is at the top of the list of grocers who utilize these programs to increase sales. Trader Joe’s and Harris Teeter are two more who do a good job.

Kevin Graff
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

Let’s see…the media is making a fuss about the whining of some–apparently hard–done by small group of independents who are, as always, struggling to make it work. Where have we seen this before?

I have lots of empathy for independents trying to compete, but crying foul here just isn’t right. The use of scents works, and to suggest someone shouldn’t use it or post disclaimers is a bit ludicrous. Maybe a few more independents should learn from these big guys. Like the ‘stinky’ fish shop down the road that doesn’t smell fresh at all, or the prepared food shop that is going out of business partly because it smelled so sterile and lacked any sign of home cooking at all.

Who does it best? I’m in Canada, and both Longo’s and Whole Foods do it better than most.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

Most supermarket visits are too sterile, prompting a boredom and annoyance response from many consumers. We have five senses for a reason and the olfactory dimension is an important one. Walk through a farmers’ market and smell the fresh fruit and vegetables or the pies emerging from the oven. How can one not buy? How about Pike’s Market in Seattle with it’s multitudes of aromas not to mention the visual theater or the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia?

We are selling food, not hardware or household goods. The variety of bouquets is an opportunity to enhance the shopping experience and increase the basket size. Let the drugstores be sterile, not the food retailers.

Wegmans and Whole Foods are the leaders in romancing food.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
10 years 9 months ago

Anything that makes a consumer’s life and senses more enjoyable when shopping is a fine objective. Life is full of mundane moments. Why add to them? So when everything else is right in a store, nothing beats an acceptable “Sense of Theater.” Stew Leonard does a fine job in that regard.

John Karolefski
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

There is clearly nothing wrong with in-store theater that uses sights and smells to delight shoppers. What could be wrong about creating a pleasant experience for grocery shoppers who traditionally don’t like being in the store very long in the first place? The average shopping trip is about twenty minutes long. Three cheers for grocers who prompt shoppers to stay longer because they take the time to smell the bread–and maybe buy some that wasn’t on the shopping list.

Derek Rodner
Guest
Derek Rodner
10 years 9 months ago

This reminds me of the Masters Tournament a few years back. CBS got in trouble for overlaying bird sounds in the TV feed. They got nailed because a bird lover noticed a particular birdsong was from a bird that wasn’t from that area. Classic!

This is similar. While I agree that it could be misleading, I think everything is about good theater these days. From that new car smell in a dealership to having your house perfectly cleaned for a party (when most of the time the kids have turned it into a disaster area), it’s all about putting the best foot forward and appealing to all of the senses.

So, I think I like the idea but I know someone will complain.

Ben Ball
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

This sounds like a cause looking for an issue. Misrepresenting previously frozen fish as “fresh” and stamped skate wing as “scallops” is largely a thing of the past in U.S. supermarkets from what I can tell. Savvy consumers saw to that.

Using the aroma of bread being “finished” in the store to enhance the shopping experience is the sort of “retailtainment” we have been encouraging as an industry for years now. Let’s not start bashing retailers for doing something positive in that regard!

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

What a surprise! Supermarkets are doing what they have to in order for us, the consumer, to decide what we want to purchase. Using the senses of taste, touch, and smell only increases the value added, to me.

I have no issue with this. Additionally, I also like the new smell the dealers apply to a freshly bought car. I have no thought that I am being “taken” by this.

Sid Raisch
Guest
Sid Raisch
10 years 9 months ago

Savvier consumers still seek out the “real deal.” It is amazing how many people are not so savvy and fall for trickery, otherwise it wouldn’t be profitable. I don’t think the government should restrict providing a more enjoyable shopping experience, but should also not allow deceit, otherwise known as fraud. We want the same type of protection ourselves against other forms of consumer fraud, don’t we? That is a legitimate role of government.

Carol Spieckerman
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

Just yesterday, a UK client was chatting with me about how the UK market is much more open to retail theater and I shared my belief that the US market is theatrically challenged. The model here still hinges on ensuring that the senses are not negatively drawn vs. leveraging the positive possibilities. Cutting clutter, clearing aisles, turning down the volume, extracting that tire smell (how did Sam’s accomplish that, anyway?), etc. I’ll take a good old-fashioned bread fake any day.

David Rich
Guest
David Rich
10 years 9 months ago

The stores should first think about what the customer wants. Would customers rather grocery shop in an odorless environment, or do they not mind that a grocery store plays up the various smells of food? Grocery stores, like any retailer, should create a shopping experience for its customers, above all. I’m inclined to think that a little bit of intrigue doesn’t hurt.

People go to the grocery store to buy food. Whether they get swayed to buy different products than they intended has to do with a myriad of factors, including how the product is displayed, what the weekly promotions are and how the brand packages and sells its food. Unless the theatrics are covering up bad products, I think certain tactics are necessary in order to stand out among the different grocery store chains.

Jonathan Marek
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

Ah, I can’t get the thought of fresh waffle cone smell at Ben and Jerry’s out of my mind. They pump it out the front of the store and it’s brilliant. I also remember touring SuperQuinn grocery stores in Ireland, smelling the freshly baked bread as you walk in. In both cases, it’s a bit of theater, but the theater accurately reflects the concept.

Ultimately here, the proof is in the product. The waffle cones at B&J actually do taste good. If the reality doesn’t live up to the theater, the consumer will resent it and the store will pay the price.

JOE BENITES
Guest
JOE BENITES
10 years 9 months ago

As long as the smells are coming from a legitimate source (real bread being cooked), I think it’s a great way of getting the consumer to sample or buy, but if the smells are not genuine, and what you smell is not what you get, then I feel it is as irresponsible as lying on a news story.

George Whalin
Guest
George Whalin
10 years 9 months ago

Retailers are in the business of encouraging customers to buy! The steps they take to accomplish that goal are hardly meant to trick customers. The business of selling to consumers these days offers many challenges. Getting shopper attention in stores is just one of those challenges. Retailers and consumer products manufacturers use a variety of tools including attention-grabbing packaging; shelf positioning; familiar aromas; product sampling; and more to encourage customers to buy.

Anne Bieler
Guest
Anne Bieler
10 years 9 months ago

Improving the store experience with fresh aromas should be a step forward. European stores are ahead with scent trails and custom scents, which make things a bit better.

There are more than a few retailers who are not sensitive to the unpleasant odors coming from fresh fish cases that don’t smell “fresh,” dairy cases. Always a hard area to keep sanitized but in the summer, can be more noticeable–fresh coffee or bread smells pretty good as an option!

Mark Price
Guest
Mark Price
10 years 9 months ago
Retailers today are challenged to create a differentiated experience to drive customer retention and loyalty. The greatest part of that retention comes from a personalized interaction that reflects caring and authenticity on the part of the sales associate and the company as a whole. However, another part of creating an environment that encourages repeat is a unique, entertaining experience. Whether smells, sounds or video, stores today are pushing farther to differentiate themselves. For example, Hollister (a teen clothing retailer) sprays perfume and cologne on their clothes, shows videos of Huntington Beach and allows customers to select the music that is playing in their stores. How about that for customization? At the same time, remember from the first paragraph that “authenticity” is a critical component of customer retention and loyalty. If a store misleads with their “fresh baked” or “just caught” messaging, then they are not holding true to honesty and commitment to their customers. It is not a question of whether sounds and smells are good business or not – rather, it is purely a… Read more »
Odonna Mathews
Guest
Odonna Mathews
10 years 9 months ago

Supermarket aromas make shopping more enticing and often more fun. Warm bread smells good to me.

Think of all the opportunities that exist–announcing that hot bread is just coming from the oven, warm pizza or rotisserie chickens are ready to go for dinner, or freshly steamed and spiced shrimp is ready for pick-up. Making a short announcement in the store lets customers know the retailer is focusing on fresh! Even Panera notes the time the coffee was made indicating good flavor as well as freshness.

Jerry Gelsomino
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

I don’t see the place for theatrics in the supermarket. I would like to see more in-store cooking demonstrations and easy recipe how-to’s to help me decide what’s for dinner tonight!

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