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Bloom Fades at Food Lion

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The first inkling of change came in 2010, when Food Lion officials announced that four stores being developed under the chain’s progressive Bloom banner in the Raleigh, N.C., market would instead open up as Food Lions. At the time, a spokesperson said the retailer had decided against expanding the upscale, shopper-friendly stores into the Raleigh area. Instead, it would expand in already-established markets.

CLICK HERE to check out an SN tour of a Bloom store in 2009

Parent company Delhaize has been whittling away at the concept since then. The Raleigh scale-back was followed last year by removing the Bloom name from North and South Carolina, due to poor sales.

“The lagging economy, store location and consumer preferences have been contributing factors,” a chain spokesman told SN, adding that the remaining 42 stores in Virginia and seven in Maryland were still strong performers.

However, by then the economies of scale had been lost and the remaining units couldn’t very well maintain momentum. The announcement today that Delhaize is retiring the Bloom name altogether — closing some and converting others to the Food Lion banner — was all but anticipated by industry observers, and is not without precedent (more on that in a minute).

First, it has to be said that when the first Bloom store opened in Charlotte, N.C., in 2004 (official name: Bloom, a Food Lion Market), Delhaize was commended for developing a concept that changed the way American shoppers looked at their local supermarket. The store design was more intuitive and strived for a balance of style and common sense.

For example, everyday items like bread and milk, as well as prepared foods for dinner, were grouped in a section near the front of the store called Table Top Circle. Frozen foods were also logically located near the front end. Shorter shelves (64 inches instead of the industry standard 68 inches) made products easier to see and retrieve, and lent the entire store an airier feeling. HBC was grouped next to the pharmacy area. This opened up the categories to cross-merchandising and cross-selling by pharmacists — a strategy that is quite common in stores today but was considered somewhat daring back then.

Then there were the technical feats. Self-scanning and kiosks were a part of the store environment from the start. There was PAT, a cart-mounted touchscreen offering store navigation, product information, recipes and specials — all available in real time as shoppers plied the aisles. As recent as last summer, Bloom introduced smartphone apps that performed virtually the same functions. In Washington D.C.-area stores, televisions delivering marketing messages from the shelf were introduced.

Bloom might disappear from storefronts, but parts of it will live on in Food Lion stores. After all, Bloom was a new experience for the retailer, too. Bloom was the place to test ideas and stretch strategies, to find new ways to reach the consumer. Those concepts that worked have been incorporated elsewhere, The same thing occurred when Supervalu shuttered Sunflower, and continues to happen with Publix taking what it’s learned in its GreenWise units and incorporated best practices in regular Publix stores as well as the new Publix/GreenWise hybrids.

With Bloom’s exit, consumers will have fewer choices when they’re in the mood for a slightly different shopping experience backed by a major retailer. They’ll have to be content with shopping the regular stores, seeking out the little touches that remain.

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