The recognized leader in the marketplace is Publix. In many cases, the company has dominated this market for the past three decades and continues to grow throughout the area. Its go-to-market strategy is a wide variety of produce displayed on euro tables, spot displays, multi-deck wet racks and an open back room, which provides a sense of action, or “theater” for the produce department.
First and foremost in their produce operation is the presentation of abundant displays of high quality produce with a wide selection of items. Publix pricing is based on being competitive within its immediate operating area. This includes an aggressive banana price of $.49 per pound, which is one of the lowest in the area and lower than those at Walmart.
Another key aspect of the overall Publix strategy is its alignment of the produce department’s quality and selection with the neighborhood’s ethnic makeup and affluence. This type of selective marketing to fit the needs of the actual consumers in the area has proven to be very successful through the years.
There is a noticeable emphasis on service within the department (and the entire store) by having many clerks on the floor to answer questions as well as help consumers make selections while they are working on the department. The open back room concept allows for additional interaction with personnel working in the back room on prep of whole items as well as cut fruit and vegetable items. This strategy has been refined over the years as Publix was known to utilize packaged produce as opposed to bulk displays. This concept has been modified to where produce is now displayed in bulk with occasional displays of commodities prepackaged for volume sale.
Lucky’s is another newcomer to the marketplace from the Midwest and West Coast. This store has a very similar type of operation as Sprouts Farmers Market and utilizes that concept to portray the image of a direct-from-the-field operation. The presentation employs high tables with large displays and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.
Lucky’s also utilizes outdoor displays of key advertised and seasonal items to draw customers into the produce department. These entrances have rollup doors that can be utilized in good weather or enclosed during inclement weather.
Lucky’s focus is on price, and the stores utilize various strategies to attain this goal. The store visited utilizes different sizes and qualities available in the market that assist in creating lower cost, resulting in lower retail prices. This allows the store to be very competitive and, in many cases, the lowest in the area.
Lucky’s is adept at utilizing opportunity buys of produce from multiple sources to obtain product at lower cost and then work it into its displays. In the Fort Lauderdale store, Lucky’s had a large selection of organic produce located in major sections on both the dry display tables and in its multi-deck wet rack. The organic items are also priced very competitively.
Although pricing is a major focus, it also has many clerks working the floor to interact with customers, answer their questions and direct them toward the product they’re looking for. This appeal is directed at the consumer with the slogan “you don’t have to be ‘rich’ to be able to buy natural and organic food.” This is a direct challenge to the more expensive Whole Foods stores that are in the suburbs and outlying, affluent areas.
As the example of Lucky’s efforts to become the low-price produce operator in the region, its banana price was the lowest in the area at $.47 a pound.
Overall the store’s pricing will challenge Walmart’s position as the lowest price player in the area. The entire overall produce presentation will also offer an alternative to what Publix, Winn-Dixie and Safeway are offering in their more conventional presentations.
A new banner for Florida, Safeway is making headway in a market where its parent company, Albertsons, once competed. These new Safeway units reflect the merchandising presentation of Safeway’s most successful division in the San Francisco Bay Area. Utilizing a combination of bins and display structures, multi-deck wet racks and an open preparation area for cut fruit and vegetables, Safeway is taking direct aim at Publix.
In fact, Safeway is mirroring Publix in many ways. The store visited utilizes high-quality and wide selection of premium-size produce in abundant displays to entice customers to trial. Additionally, Safeway’s prices are extremely competitive, and in many cases, lower than Publix’s.
Since this is a new entry into South Florida, it remains to be seen if this initial strategy will continue or is an attempt to influence shopper behavior and form shopping habits. Based on my experience working there, Safeway traditionally sets goals and offers support to achieve them by certain dates for all new stores.
Stores are evaluated on performance. When goals are met, stores are rewarded with additional labor hours to maintain overall presentation. These evaluations are valuable in determining whether additional stores are to be allocated to the region. Often following this period of high-level support and its subsequent success, support is ratcheted back so Safeway can maintain sales with a reduction of costs.
Retailer Winn-Dixie has been in this marketplace for many years. However, over the past couple of decades, the overall perception of quality and sales volume of this chain (other than a few remodeled stores in the area) has been declining across all of its operations. Most recent observations are that the amount of variety and selection available in the store is not up to the standards of the competition.
This lack of variety and selection provides for a presentation that is slightly sterile, with a lot of floor showing and more fixtures evident than product on the tables. In many cases, the quality and ambiance are good, but the pricing is a bit higher than similar competitors. Winn-Dixie’s experiment with pricing apples and citrus by the “each” seems to have been unsuccessful, and the chain is returning to regular pricing by the pound.
In terms of service personnel available, it was rare to find more than one clerk working in the department, and often no one was available. Unlike Publix, service did not seem to be any type of prevalent strategy to the produce operation. Pricing was not being used as a driver, nor was variety and selection along with service.
It seemed as if Winn-Dixie’s produce department was just “there,” because that’s where it was supposed to be. Given this presentation and perception, it is not difficult to see why sales and market share have been decreasing over the years.