Grocery stores have always served as community hubs, places where people could run into a neighbor or a friendly face while doing the week’s shopping. Grocers have been known to host events like cooking classes and food drives in order to foster those customer relationships, and it’s never been too difficult to convert someone into a loyal customer once they’ve developed that link to a store.
Now, mega-companies like Amazon and Walmart are looming over the grocery industry with convenience and big data, creating renewed pressure for grocers to develop a connection with their community in order to stay ahead.
Those cooking classes and food drives just aren’t cutting it anymore in the quest to serve communities in a meaningful way. Becoming a true community grocer is a necessity to thrive in this industry in 2020 and beyond, and there are a few grocers who are setting the standard for all of the rest. In this post, we’ll share a few examples of grocery retailers who are inspiring us with their commitment to community.
What is a community grocer?
A community grocer is a person who sells food and small household goods while maintaining a commitment to the wellbeing of their community and a personalized customer experience.
That definition is short and sweet, but it’s a genuine departure from the standard grocery experience. It encompasses a broader expectation that customers have now in regards to retail, that the experience of shopping in your store be just as important as the products you sell and the prices you set.
To keep a customer coming into your local store instead of turning to large retailers like Amazon and Walmart, you have to emphasize the neighborhood factor, and implement programs and events that actually make a positive impact on your community, benefitting real people in a real way that goes beyond teaching them to cook with ingredients from your store.
3 community grocer success stories that inspired us
H-E-B and their Emergency Preparedness Department
H-E-B is a well-known grocer based in Texas, and, with a tagline like “No Store Does More” it’s easy to see why we’d choose to feature them in a post all about community grocers. H-E-B is a household name in their region, spanning across one of the largest states in America and developing an almost fan-like following because of their commitment to their communities.
One example of how H-E-B is changing what it means to be a community grocer is their Emergency Preparedness Department. As a grocer located in an area of the country that is frequently targeted by natural disasters like hurricanes and wildfires, H-E-B decided to create this department with the express interest in proactively preparing for instances where members of their community would not have access to food.
Among H-E-B’s emergency preparedness resources are three mobile kitchens and two water tankers, vehicles that allow the grocer to access communities who may have been cut off from critical roadways during an emergency. With this equipment at their disposal, the Emergency Preparedness Department can provide crucial food and water to members of their community that find themselves in peril.
The H-E-B Emergency Preparedness Department is not just a pop-up initiative that is brought back to life whenever a natural disaster occurs, it’s an ongoing part of their corporate structure, which shows their commitment to serving their community throughout the year. The grocer creates content that continuously educates and informs their community about how to prepare for an emergency, and provides real-time data about which stores are open and closed should an emergency arise. That’s what it means to be a community grocer today.
Whole Foods and their Community Giving Days
Whole Foods is another grocer with a great reputation nationwide, and not only for their great produce selection and recognizable branding. The company (though now owned by Amazon) has made a name for themselves by adhering to the concept of being a community grocer through dedicated efforts within the neighborhoods that they serve.
As an organization, they give each store autonomy to run their businesses in a way that makes the most sense for the area. That notion alone is one that many grocers can take away from this post and bring to life in their stores. What’s best for one store may not be for another across town.
One way that Whole Foods is accomplishing the goal of being a community grocer is through their Community Giving Days. Several times a year, Whole Foods stores will host these daylong events wherein 5% of that day’s net sales are donated to a local nonprofit or educational organization. These events help to fund groups that are having a direct impact on the local community, and keep the money that Whole Foods is making in the neighborhood. Whole Foods’ Community Giving Days don’t take a ton of effort from a corporate perspective, and yet they are able to create an authentic connection between themselves and the community that they’re serving.
Sprouts Farmers Market and their Healthy Communities Foundation
Sprouts Farmers Market is another inspiring example of what a community grocer can be, now and in the future. Sprouts is known for being one of the first grocers to make natural foods a priority, opening in 2002 with the mission of making these health-focused foods available to everyone at a reasonable price.
Their website says it all: “We believed that eating clean and living healthy was more than just a trend. At Sprouts, it’s our passion. And we knew that by focusing on farm-fresh produce and other healthy, affordable items, we could create a grocery experience where you didn’t have to be wealthy to eat healthy!”
Sprouts’ company ethos is ingrained in the idea of being a community grocery, and they’ve taken that passion to the next level with their Healthy Communities Foundation, which sponsors local “health and wellness related causes that directly impact the neighborhoods where our customers and team members live, work and play.”
The organizations that Sprouts works with include REAL School Gardens, Vitamin Angels, and Autism Speaks. This is what Sprouts says about their foundation: “We focus on giving locally in the areas of food security and hunger relief; promoting health education and nutrition; and helping people living with disabilities and health concerns.”
Looking for more examples of grocers creating a connection with their communities? We highlight some of our favorite initiatives in our latest eBook. Click below to download this free resource.