Center Store Solutions
Progressive Grocer|December 2020
HERE ARE SIX WAYS THAT GROCERS CAN GROW IN 2021.
Lynn Petrak

Key Takeaways

In the center store, trends toward customization, transparency, and a balance of indulgence, wellness and responsibility will remain in play and even intensify, while new and increasingly digital shopping behaviors accelerated by the pandemic are expected to persist.

Prioritizing product placement and reconfiguring store layouts are also important components in shaking up the section.

Further, grocers can make creative use of end caps, reinvent their personal care and pet sections, and heat up the frozen aisle.

The center store experienced a dramatic revival in 2020 as a result of pandemic-driven buying behavior. However, 2021 promises to look very different, and will bring with it new challenges and opportunities to grow sales in what is expected to be a more normalized demand environment, thanks in large measure to the pharmaceutical industry’s development of COVID-19 vaccines.

Exactly when the pandemic ends may be unclear, but grocers have plenty of visibility into trends that will influence center store categories. For example, trends toward customization, transparency, and a balance of indulgence, wellness and responsibility will remain in play and even intensify. Meanwhile, new and increasingly digital shopping behaviors accelerated by the pandemic are expected to persist.

Against this backdrop, the center store promises to be more dynamic than ever, and a place where grocers have an opportunity to reimagine solutions to shoppers’ needs and position themselves as multipurpose, multi-occasion destinations. In an omnichannel environment, making the store an ecosystem of interconnected elements can propel grocers ahead at a time of increased competition in both the e-commerce and brick-and-mortar arenas. Those interconnected elements can vary and depend on unfolding trends and world and national circumstances, but here are six ways that grocers can drive center store sales in the new year.

1 Focus on the Center Screen

One of the most dramatic impacts of the 2020 pandemic was the sudden and massive shift to e-commerce, includ-ing click-and-collect and home delivery. E-commerce will continue to comprise a growing portion of grocers’ sales in 2021, according to research conducted by Toronto-based Mercatus. The digital grocery solutions provider forecasts that online grocery sales will top $250 billion by 2025, for more than a fifth of all grocery sales, based on results of a consumer survey fielded last June. That’s a big 60% leap over pre-pandemic predictions.

“The growth of online grocery in 2020 and its predicted long-term impact, coupled with customers’ continued loyalty to brick and mortar, makes it clear that these avenues must complement each other in creating a great customer experience across a grocer’s entire brand,” says Mercatus President and CEO Sylvain Perrier.

That means retailers need to employ a shopper-centric “center screen” mindset in the center store, as that is increasingly where sales occur. As consumers buy online for store pickup or delivery, they’re straying from their previous and traditional habits of browsing the supermarkets and navigating carts from the perimeter to the center store aisle. Now they’re clicking tabs for categories like breakfast foods or grains and pastas, not in any particular order, to find groceries on their lists, and perhaps find and try new items.

Given this different mindset, grocers can grow categories typically found in the center store on their digital sites in creative ways, free from physical-store infrastructure constraints. Already, most stores with an e-commerce presence have set up their pages with featured deals and seasonal suggestions, and many use the screen to spotlight certain hot categories like organic, free-from or vegan.

As new models, e-commerce specialty stores have the flexibility to be inventive. New York-based e-grocer Hive sells more than 800 shelf-stable products online from a carefully chosen assortment of items based on sustainability and social responsibility factors. Another e-retailer, Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Pop Up Grocer, is a virtual pop-up that carries curated prescription boxes; each box includes a surprise limited-edition selection of up to 10 grocery items.

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