Nonfoods Talk: The bedbugs are biting

Bedbugs have reappeared in many locations. Is this an opportunity for grocery stores?

By Seth Mendelson

Those nasty bedbugs are biting everyone and everywhere. In fact, if you believe the press reports on television, newspapers and the Internet, bedbugs are showing up not only in beds at hotels and homes, but in movie theaters, doctors’ offices and office buildings. Even such upscale, high-brow retailers as Victoria’s Secret and some department store chains have had to temporarily close because of bedbug sightings.

For those of you who are not aware, bedbugs have become real big news and, apparently, a real big problem, in some parts of the country, specifically the New York area. These night-crawling creatures, which were practically eliminated several decades ago, have made a dramatic comeback, infiltrating beds and buildings and causing real and perceived concerns among a more and more itchy population.

Forget the bad economy and all of the other problems in the world today, everybody is talking about bedbugs. To avoid transporting them, many people are now leaving their luggage in the garage for two or three days after staying at a hotel (NOTE: it doesn’t work; bedbugs can live without food for as much as a year). Others are leaving their suitcases on top of furniture in the hotel, hoping that the insects do not find their way into the bags (NOTE: that doesn’t work either; bedbugs apparently are great climbers).

Bedbug hysteria has gotten so big that entrepreneurs are flooding the marketplace with all kinds of remedies, many ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. In fact, The New York Times is reporting that some people have employed bedbug-sniffing dogs to flush out these blood-sucking insects. Thus far, it appears that the dogs are not successful in finding these bedbugs, but I am certain that they will keep at it, especially at the money being charged for their services. I am also certain that as the problem grows, more products and services will pop up portending to solve the bedbug problem.

The best and most affordable solution may rest in the supermarket aisles. Some experts say that simple insecticides may be the best way to eliminate bedbugs, though they must be applied correctly and consistently.

The current bedbug pandemonium should translate into more grocery retailer profits, especially in segments such as household cleaners, household accessories and, in particular, the long-suffering and slow-growing insecticides category.

But, like just about anything else, retailers have to work at getting this business. The first thing, of course, is to stock the merchandise in the proper setting and with the proper assortment. That means in-store signage is vital to informing consumers that these products are available.

Then merchants must educate their shoppers about the need for these products, their application and what should be purchased. Brochures will help, but the product’s packaging will probably be enough to educate shoppers on the use of these products.

Most importantly, retailers have to show their shoppers that they understand their needs and, in this case, their fears. Other retailers, including the do-it-yourself retailers, are already gearing up for the increase in demand for these items. It makes sense for grocery stores to get involved in this area.

Having a section devoted to bedbug detection, control and elimination may not sound too nice, but it can go a long way to helping build sales and profits in categories that have long struggled in food stores.

Seth Mendelson can be reached at 646-274-3507, or at

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