Stand-out design

Grocers are upgrading décor, lighting and other design elements to woo shoppers.

By Kim Ann Zimmermann

Warm colors. Inviting layout. Energy-saving features. While these phrases are familiar to house hunters scouring the real estate ads, they are also apt descriptions of some of the latest trends in grocery store design.

After a period of grocers trying to mimic many of the design and layout elements of the big box retailers, experts say many supermarkets are going back to their roots with décor that exudes home and warmth. This is especially true of independent retailers.

“We work primarily with independent retailers and we feel that independent grocers truly understand the need to define themselves with a feature or even several features that allow them to stand out in the crowd,” says Steve Mehmert, president of Mehmert Store Services, based in Sussex, Wis.

He says that when contemplating a design upgrade, many grocers are choosing to focus on the departments and services that set them apart. “They are creating first-class perishables, produce, deli, meat and seafood departments—focusing on their specialties—and intentionally scaling down their grocery, beauty care and pet food, areas,” he says. “They know that customers are probably going to make two or three stops on their shopping trips and they may be going to one of the discount stores to buy paper products, dry goods and canned goods, so they focus on making the perimeter departments shine.”

While most shoppers gravitate toward the perimeter, experts note that the center store should be an integral part of store design. “There is a lot happening in terms of design to make the center store a destination,” says Tom Huff, CEO and creative director for CIP Retail Impact, based in Fairfield, Ohio. “Don’t ignore beer and wine and branding for beverages and the snack area.”

Whatever department becomes the focal point, the layout should reflect the importance of that area, according to experts. “Grocers can go a lot in terms of making the center store a designation,” says Huff.

“If you’re going to hang your hat on having the freshest meat, seafood, or whatever your niche is going to be, establish your expertise in the area by making that the first thing that customers see,” says Tony Camilletti, executive vice president of D|Fab, based in Madison Heights, Mich.

Designers are focused on ways to make the shopping experience easy and efficient for the customer and profitable for retailers. Tom Phillips, CEO of Phillips Enterprises, based in Bellevue, Wash., says supermarkets are paying closer attention to the way shoppers shop when developing layouts. “There is a better flow between the various departments and an effort to create excitement throughout the store,” he says. “They’re looking for ways to make the shopping experience more personal for consumers while providing convenience.”

Mehmert says grocers are incorporating elements of the communities they serve into store design. “They are working hard to make sure their store offerings, design style and personality endear them to the community.”

Huff also sees independent grocers tailoring their store designs to appeal to local residents. “We’re seeing high-quality independent grocers creating designs that appeal to the demography, location and historical background of the areas they serve,” he says. “They are incorporating elements that are important to the community.”

Pop of color

Huff says one of the most inexpensive and dramatic ways to change the look of a store is through the use of color. “We’re seeing a lot of lighter colors—what I refer to as modern pastels—such as corals and lime greens,” he says. “The trend is then a strategic use of good saturated graphics on a clean, open background that highlights the products.”

Allison Westrick, executive creative director for Dublin, Ohio-based WD Partners, says the strategic use of color can have a significant impact. “We’re seeing grocers use neutral colors such as black and white and then do a singular bold color. They really want food to be the hero.”

Rich colors are a way to set the tone of the store for shoppers, says Camilletti. “We’re seeing a greater use of earthy, warmer neutral colors and brighter accent colors that are very saturated,” he says. “There is certainly bolder risk taking, and there isn’t a fear of using strong, dominant colors. The colors used in supermarkets are taking on a more residential feel, and colors that are being used in home design are making their way into the retail environment.”

He says that changes in colors and materials can direct the shopper. “Retailers can distinguishing high traffic by changes in flooring, color and texture,” he says. “You can also draw shoppers to a far corner, for example, with a bright, attractive color on one wall.”

Shine on

Lighting will have an impact on the color scheme of the store, according to experts. Colors vary depending on the lighting, whether it is traditional fluorescent fixtures, LEDs or natural lighting, which is becoming more popular. Lighting can direct attention to specific products.

“Many grocers are using natural light wherever possible using daylight harvesting and solar tubes,” says Westrick. “We’re also seeing some supermarkets use large, overscale dramatic focal fixtures in unexpected places such as the frozen food aisle.”

There is also a move to energy-saving LED lighting, which experts say is improving in terms of color rendering and output. “LED lighting is making strides, and in our opinion metal halide fixtures are a thing of the past,” says CIP’s Huff. He says there have been improvements in LED technology, but it has a way to go. “Right now, you would need too many fixtures to light the entire store effectively.”

Installing energy-saving equipment and implementing sustainable design features are some of the ways grocers can communicate their commitment to the community and the environment, which can win over shoppers. “It is amazing how energy conscious today’s shopper is and how much they appreciate it when a store makes an effort to save energy and reduce their carbon footprint,” Mehmert says. “Grocers are carefully evaluating strategies for saving energy without compromising merchandising. They are looking at automated controls for the refrigeration, lighting, heating, air conditioning and even the hoods over the cooking equipment.”

Grocers should have a sustainability plan prior to finalizing a design concept, experts note. “How the retailer approaches sustainability can have a huge impact on design,” says Camilletti. “If a retailer is looking at a LEED-certified project, for example, that has different requirements than if they just want to use as much green or sustainable elements as possible without LEED certification.”

Experts say the delicate balance between artistry and the bottom line will continue. “Supermarkets will continue to want the biggest bang for their buck while looking for ways to maintain the shopping experience,” Camilletti says. “Going forward, fabricators and designers will be challenged like never before.”

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