From long-established chains to concept stores, grocery sellers have had to set themselves apart from the competition in order to draw in more customers. For some, the answer is hospitality that goes above and beyond; for others, it may be talking robot animals. American supermarkets in particular have succeeded in establishing a loyal customer base through unconventional means, though their tactics may be surprising. Here is our list of the most unique supermarkets in America:
Though larger retailers are experimenting with automated grocery in urban areas, rural markets are taking their ideas to a new audience. In New Prague, Minnesota, members of Farmhouse Market can access fresh food at any time using their key card. The store is open to the public during regular hours, but members can enter in the middle of the night to make purchases if needed.
Membership costs $99 for the first year and $20 thereafter, and the owner has received national attention for the store’s unique operation. Farmhouse Market offers organic and locally-produced food in an area where large retailers were the only food source. Their website points out that despite rural areas producing most of the food in Minnesota, all that food makes its way to urban centers instead. Since its creation, dozens of interested parties have contacted the owner for advice on opening similar stores where they live.
Originally the site of a train station, this indoor-outdoor market began operating in 1997 as a way of re-purposing the location and creating a community hub in Charleston, West Virginia. The market operates year-round, and serves as both a farmers market and a bustling food hub.
Chocolate shops, coffee stands, and all sections of a grocery store are represented, and the market is home to one of the city’s most popular restaurants. Capitol Market is a space for West Virginia visitors and natives to experience community events throughout the year and see what the city has to offer.
Dekalb Farmers Market
As shown in the video above, residents of Decatur, Georgia are fond of their local grocery store. At 140,000 square feet, the store offers international foods that no other grocer in the area can compete with. It has all the standard departments–produce, meat, bakery, and so on–but also stocks ingredients from all over the world.
Dekalb Farmers Market has 184 flags hanging throughout the space, firmly establishing itself as an international food giant. Foreign produce, spices, coffee beans, and much more make visiting the market a culinary adventure. The meat department even sells quail, goat, and rabbit, which are difficult to find in U.S. supermarkets. It’s no wonder why the store has over 100,000 visitors every week.
The local grocery store in Berkeley, California got its name from moving into a former bowling alley in 1977. Rather than change the sign, the owners saw it as an opportunity to appeal to the college-town residents. After moving to a converted Safeway building in 1999, the store expanded to fill a 40,000 square foot space with fresh produce and affordable groceries.
Berkeley Bowl opened a second store in 2009, this time in a modern building with plenty of parking. This location carries a larger selection of Asian groceries, and even stocks cookware imported from Japan. Square omelette pans, chopsticks for cooking, tea pots, and sushi-making supplies are all available in-store. However, the biggest draw for Berkeley Bowl is still the overwhelming variety of produce.
Dave’s Fresh Marketplace
What started as a food stand in Warwick, Rhode Island has grown into the state’s largest independent grocery chain. David Cesario’s grocery stores have all the makings of a traditional supermarket, but include an extra dose of hospitality. Shoppers are welcome to a free cup of coffee while they shop, and Dave’s Fresh Marketplace prides itself on customer service and doing things “Old School,” as they put it.
Some stores also have educational food tours, guiding customers through various cuisines and ingredients as they taste their way through the store. These can be anywhere from an hour to two hours, and include the “Gluten-Free Walk, Taste, and Test” tour and the “Learn to Read a Food Label” tour.
Jungle Jim’s International Market is known for its extravagant displays and attractions, making it equal parts grocery store and theme park. The main store, which measures over 300,000 square feet, holds surprises around every corner. The selection of foods from over 70 countries draws customer from all over Ohio to Jungle Jim’s Fairfield location, and makes for a vibrant shopping experience.
Despite some displays like an animatronic lion belting Elvis songs, the store is much more than a collection of gags. Jungle Jim’s also carries one of the largest wine collections in America, and its humble beginnings as a food stand are reflected in the store’s low prices. In 2012, a second location was built in Eastgate, Ohio that resembles a traditional grocery store more closely.
Jungle Jim’s isn’t the only retailer promising a theme park experience in its stores. In Connecticut, Stew Leonard’s also aims to provide quality groceries in a fun environment. Stew Leonard’s runs on two tenets of customer service, etched into a boulder at the entrance of each location. Displays throughout stores have led some, including the New York Times, to call Stew Leonard’s the “Disneyland of Dairy Stores.” During warmer months, visitors can even enjoy an outdoor petting zoo. What makes this retailer unique, though, is its product selection.
Whereas many of the supermarkets on this list offer a wide variety of products, sometimes upwards of 80,000 different items in a single store, Stew Leonard’s only carries 2,200. These products are carefully curated, giving the impression of an old-fashioned neighborhood market. Much like Jungle Jim’s, Stew Leonard’s employs a variety of animatronic animals as well as costumed employees that heighten the family-friendly environment.
Though these supermarkets inspire loyal followings, they still rely on competitive pricing. Stores like Stew Leonard’s have the benefit of managing a small number of items, but this also means that their customers are more sensitive to price changes. Meanwhile, larger markets like Jungle Jim’s require more careful management of competitive shops. Checking prices monthly or even quarterly is not necessary for most of the items in these giant markets.
To find out more on optimizing your competitive shop program, you can read our 7 tips here. For more information on innovative retail spaces, read our individual store reviews like Falling Prices and CVS MinuteClinic on our blog.