NEW YORK - Store-within-a-store sections lend greater visibility to a supermarket's natural and organic products than integrated sets, according to two presenters in an e-seminar presented by SN.
Dana Forsman, natural and organic category manager for Richmond, Va.-based Ukrop's Super Markets, and Craig Geer, vice president of merchandising for Sweetbay Supermarkets, Tampa, Fla., were recently joined by Jeff Nibler, president of San Francisco-based natural food channel data provider SPINS, and Rick Moller, category director, natural and organic for Tree of Life, a St. Augustine, Fla.-based distributor, on the panel.
"I think it's about branding for us right now," Geer explained, noting that Sweetbay's 'Nature's Place' departments were located in high-traffic areas and staffed with expert employees to build awareness of these growing categories. "We're getting those trial and occasional users into the category," he said.
A similar strategy is used at most Ukrop's locations, where staffed natural food departments are positioned adjacent to produce and near the pharmacy department when possible.
"Having full-time natural and organic section managers is the way to go," Forsman said. "Our staff is educated, and we do regular seminars to keep them up to date with trends."
The stores also merchandise best-selling "gateway" products - such as natural and organic single-serve beverages, cereal, baby food and milk - in both the natural food area and on regular store shelves to encourage trial.
Although both retailers felt that store-within-a-store formats were currently the ideal way for conventional supermarkets to merchandise these products, Forsman added that, at three of Ukrop's smaller locations, there wasn't sufficient space for a separate department. At those stores, bump-out shelving and shelf blades are used to designate natural and organic products merchandised within regular aisles - a strategy often referred to as "segregated integration."
"It was a decision that we made to keep [product] variety," she said.
Segregated sets may not be necessary for much longer, Nibler said. SPINS data indicates that 96% of U.S. households used natural products in 2005, and that organics achieved 56% household penetration. And, even the very heaviest 3% of organic product buyers still bought about half of their grocery volume in a conventional supermarket last year.
"This isn't a specialty area as much as a mainstream product segment these days," Nibler said.
Local demographics and a store's merchandising history are the two most important considerations when deciding which type of merchandising strategy to deploy, though, Moller said.
"How [has a retailer] trained their consumer to shop?" he asked, pointing out that, if a chain already has a strategy for specialty or gourmet foods, it may be best to do something similar with natural and organic brands. Although some degree of product integration may be best for stores that serve customers who are already comfortable with these categories, "with complete integration, products can tend to get totally lost," he said. "You have to decide what best serves the customer on a store by store basis."
This e-seminar was moderated by Supermarket News Group Editor Bob Vosburgh, and is currently available for free viewing via a link on www.supermarketnews.com.