Dispatches From the Supermarket Wars
Does anyone else besides me read those supermarket flyers that get stuffed in mailboxes on Saturday? I find the visual language of those broadsheets to be maddening. It’s like the supermarkets are inviting all of their category managers into my house at one time, and all of them are trying to talk over each other. Some are shouting out loud, while others are mumbling something softly into their chests.
Where are all of the good designers when you need them?
A reasonable person would just throw these offensive documents in the recycling bin and not bother with trying to decode them or, even worse, cross-compare them against competing grocery stores. But I’m not really that smart. And besides, there are some fascinating nuggets of information you can learn by doing a little investigative spelunking.
ShopRite is going after Price Chopper with a vengeance. These guys are playing for keeps. How do I know this? Because it is in the circular.
Price Chopper has for a long time prided itself on its Kosher for Passover selection, as well they should. At the Kosher Chopper on Central Avenue in the town of Colonie, it’s impressive as heck. There was even an event scheduled this past weekend to call attention to the annual effort.
The circulars tell a different story. To be fair, this week Price Chopper weighed in with less real estate than ShopRite. The new entrant came to the table with 12 pages versus the Chopper’s 10.
Two full pages of ShopRite’s circular are dedicated to Passover foods. In a cluttered and chaotic environment this double-truck spread really sends a message. And it leads with Kedem Grape Juice. If you have kids, this juice is a necessity to keep the young ones at the table for the entire meal. And they all have to have four cups, so you can go through a fair bit of juice. ShopRite beats Price Chopper on this $1.99 to $2.99.
Price Chopper only dedicates a half of one page to their Passover effort. And to their credit they have matched ShopRite’s customer loyalty scheme of awarding a five pound box of matzoh with a qualifying $50 purchase. But ShopRite allows their customers to choose from a variety of unleavened bread brands, while Price Chopper’s offer is only good for a fine but unexceptional variety.
Point to ShopRite.
A while back, Price Chopper brought Boar’s Head deli meats into the store with great fanfare. Then they recently pulled them out of all stores. Personally, I think all of these mass produced deli meats are nasty. Give me some good salami, made by skilled artisans using old world methods, and I’m a happy guy. But industrially produced meat products? No, thank you.
Still, people are oddly brand loyal to Boar’s Head and for some reason think it’s good food.
ShopRite has one half page of their weekly circular dedicated to just six Boar’s Head products. It’s among the most legible and visually appealing sections of the twelve page monster. At the top of the page it reads, “ShopRite is Proud to Carry a Full Line of Boar’s Head Premium Deli Meats & Cheeses.”
I had no idea. The local blogs were all aflutter when Price Chopper and Boar’s Head split ways. Nobody knew what to do. Where would they get their precious industrialized meat? Some thought they might have to visit smaller local shops. If I recall, ShopRite was never part of that conversation.
It would seem as if this will help ShopRite chisel another little piece off of Price Chopper’s market share.
Then there are the other more tangible things that exist beyond the pages of newsprint. Like ShopRite opening another new store within blocks of an existing showcase Price Chopper location. The newest one is being built right now in Colonie just on the other side of the intersection from the Kosher Chopper in Colonie. And from the looks of it, the new store would seem to have a ShopRite gas station too.
ShopRite gas station?
Well, in order for Price Chopper to chop prices lower, they scuttled their popular cents off gas promotion. ShopRite’s response was to open up their own branded gas station that was not only ten cents lower per gallon than the average market cost, but all pumps are full service for no additional charge. Visiting the ShopRite gas station feels like taking a trip to Jersey without leaving Albany.
It seems like Price Chopper is spending a lot of their time responding to the competitive threat instead of getting out in front of it. And any time they make some misstep ShopRite is there to capitalize on it to their own advantage. Maybe there are other things that Price Chopper is doing that I haven’t been seeing. And it’s possible those things are hiding in plain sight in their infuriatingly designed circulars.
Honestly, I’d love to see Price Chopper step up and repel this competitive threat. They are the local company. They are tied into our community. But in some ways this feels a lot like the tailspin one of my advertising agencies took many years ago.
Foote Cone & Belding San Francisco was the largest agency in town for as long as most people could remember. Advertising folks have short memories. But when business started to fall off, and they were no longer the biggest agency, they didn’t really know who they were. And without a real identity based on something more meaningful than just their size and importance within the community, they struggled.
Downsizing continued. The agency got smaller and moved into a smaller building. And then there was more downsizing and an even smaller building. They never fully bounced back.
I would suspect that Price Chopper’s Mega Meat Sale is part of the company’s strategy for success. But somehow ShopRite is finding a way to offer parity pricing even during this promotion this week. Besides, I can’t be the only one who takes pause when confronted by a laundry list of really inexpensive meat.
How something that needs to be born, fed to market weight, sent to slaughter, and butchered can cost less per pound than conventional cultivated white mushrooms makes no sense to me whatsoever. Animal protein should cost more than fungus. When it doesn’t I do not think I’m getting a deal. Rather I question the quality of the meat.
Price Chopper isn’t going to win by being the source of questionably cheap products, that aren’t meaningfully less expensive than its competitor. I just hope they find something better, and soon.