Over the course of five days this month, Danbury, Conn., where I live, experienced the opening of a Whole Foods Market and a PriceRite outlet — two stores with distinct identities that couldn’t be on more opposite sides of the supermarket spectrum. And yet their almost simultaneous appearance may be a telling indicator of the bifurcated direction of food retailing.
On the one hand, you have Whole Foods with its wonderland of organic and natural foods, some announcing they don’t contain GMOs; whole fresh salmon cut to order; produce signage telling you where the Granny Smith apples come from (Chile) and that they’re “an excellent contrast to rich cheeses”; self-serve offerings of hot Indian, Thai and barbecue; and innumerable other foodie delights.
On the other hand, if no-frills and exceptionally low prices are your goal, PriceRite, a subsidiary of Wakefern Food Corp., is your place, even though you won’t find print circulars and you can’t use manufacturer coupons. You do have to bring your own bags (or pay 11 cents per store bag) and handle your own bagging. But the bananas were on sale last week for 49 cents per pound, compared to 99 cents per pound (for organic bananas) at Whole Foods (which is actually trying to become more price-competitive). And the new store is clean, well lit, with ample produce and well-stocked with ethnic brands like Goya and Gonsalves.
Read more: PriceRite Fills Void in Conn. Town
As my colleague Mark Hamstra noted in his column last week, a growing number of shoppers are gravitating toward the Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s style of supermarketing that focuses on healthful, local and specialty items as well as cooking and food information; food, in this context, is becoming “cool” like fashion or technology. But food is also a necessity of life that still requires many people to stay within a budget; thus the proliferation of discounters like Aldi (also in Danbury), Save-A-Lot and PriceRite, to name a few. These contrasting formats seem to reflect the growing income divide in the U.S.
That leaves mainstream players like Stop & Shop, A&P and even Wakefern’s ShopRite stores trying to be all things to all people, offering enough natural, organic and specialty items to appeal to food-conscious shoppers and enough low prices to satisfy the price-conscious.
It will be interesting to watch how this confluence of styles plays out in Danbury.
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