ALBANY, Calif. -- Andronico's Markets here, as well as Draeger's and G&R Felpausch, are building their reputations with international foods as each approaches the category with different views.
Bill Andronico, president of the 10-store company located in the San Francisco Bay area, sees imported and domestic foods often blurring. The demand for imports is being driven by a shrinking globe, sourcing opportunities, and efficient transport of goods, he said.
Andronico's emphasizes its specialty and gourmet offerings rather than promote foods under the broader import umbrella. "Items do not necessarily sell because of being strictly an import," he said. "Items sell because they are value-added."
In procuring specialty foods, Andronico said he drills down into a category and looks deeper into what it represents. He sources these items based on identifying unique attributes.
"We look for a provocative profile from companies with products of distinct attributes. We like to introduce our customers to the people behind the products. It bolsters the product image," he said.
While this approach is best suited for local producers telling their stories, Andronico said he is not backing off imported products. "We don't consciously mark a certain number of imports. We keep our eyes and ears open for opportunities, and we pay attention to imports as part of our mix."
Andronico pointed to private label as a big opportunity in specialty foods. "We are moving more deeply [into] private label to leverage the opportunity of value-added," he said. "Whether American flavors, Asian fusion or Hispanic selections, we are looking at private label as a means to address specialty." He said preserves, marinades, sauces, dessert toppings, condiments, oils, vinegars, salad dressings, chips and salas are examples of some of Andronico's value-added, private-label specialties.
On the shelf, Andronico's merchandises imports and domestic specialties together by category. These items are chosen to satisfy an ethnic taste or offer a superior product profile.
"The Bay area is a melting pot," said Andronico. "In looking at Asian cuisine, for example, you have to understand both traditional and fusion-inspired ingredients. You have to make these ingredients available because it's what our customers want. There is a growing awareness for traditional cooking, and there is a lot of crossover with fusion."
To capitalize on shoppers' demand for crossover foods, Andronico creatively merchandises ingredients by placing them conveniently on an endcap with a recipe, or featured in the prepared-foods area, alongside a completed dish.
A POINT OF DIFFERENCE
Draeger's, Menlo Park, Calif., is known as a destination for international foods. According to Richard Draeger, vice president of the three-store gourmet food operation, imports are a point of difference that attracts Draeger's upscale shoppers. "We present the international items purposefully, and make a statement," he said.
The retailer uses imported mustard, oils, vinegars, jams and jellies to make a gourmet statement. "We are using imports as leverage within our market. You have to focus on your core strengths and expertise if you want to be better at what you do. Using imports, as a category, takes the commodity aspect out of the business," he added.
Draeger's carries imports mainly of European origin. "Our customers are familiar with those products because of their international travels," Draeger said. "The growth of Asian and Hispanic products is also huge."
Draeger's integrates imports next to domestic items on the shelf for easy shopper comparison. Imports are aggressively merchandised through double facings, featured on specially built floor displays or cross merchandised with other items. For country-specific promotions, items are grouped by nation. Importers and consulate representatives often make store appearances to promote foods from their respective countries.
"When we put imports in the front of the store, we have found the greatest impulse effect at the checkstand," Draeger said.
G&R Felpausch, Hastings, Mich., recently reformatted a traditional Felpausch Food Center into a Zucca's format. The shift enabled the operator to make a strong perishable statement and double the size of the international dry-grocery offerings. The 47,500-square-foot Zucca's now presents a full array of imports, including olive oil, syrup, jams and specialty sauces that are unique to the country of origin. The specialty section is arranged by country and includes items to match the cuisine of Asians, Jewish, Indian, Dutch, German, British and more.
Zucca's customers are driving demand for international foods, said Janine Dalman, director of consumer affairs, G&R Felpausch.
"We have customers who like to cook with authentic ingredients, and we have customers [who] like the specialty items. So we market to both segments," she said. "We aim to meet the needs of those who want authentic ingredients and those who want the cache of gourmet."
Zucca's serves a large Japanese population, as well as a growing Spanish segment. According to Dalman, Zucca's has received requests for imported products used as ingredients by each ethnic segment. The store also carries specialty meats and produce specifically for these ethnic shoppers.
Product knowledge is important in supporting Zucca's international and gourmet dry-grocery sections. "Our associates are able to sell products," said Dalman. "They work with our vendors to find out all about new products and learn about the differences between varieties. There is continuous training so that our associates know the latest trends, tastes and flavors."