Nonfoods Talk: Getting no respect

It is time for the media to understand that supermarkets offer the same services as drugstores when it comes to health and beauty care.

While watching the Today show in late December, I caught a segment about expensive health and beauty care items and how one editor from a women’s magazine found inexpensive replacements.

Right up my alley, I thought. Finding inexpensive, yet worthwhile health and beauty care items at supermarkets is the marketing edge that separates mass retailers from more expensive purveyors of HBC items. So, I ignored the morning stock and sports reports in favor of this segment.

I quickly learned, however, that the magazine editor was not interested in telling consumers that these alternatives were available at all mass market outlets. Instead, she repeated—over and over again—how shoppers could find these items at the drugstore and only at the drugstore.

It is no wonder that so many consumers do not consider the supermarket a legitimate place to purchase HBC items. If the mainstream press, including a media outlet as respected as the Today show, is unwilling to tell consumers that these products are also available at supermarkets—and discount stores for that matter—grocery stores really have little chance of winning the market share battle.

Unfortunately, suppliers are largely at fault for this trend. Inexplicably, many HBC manufacturers go out of their way to promote their products through drugstores well before they start pushing them through food stores. Some suppliers stress that the three major drugstore chains are much more willing not only to stock their merchandise but to give the items good locations and the proper in-store support.

Nonfoods buyers at supermarket chains have long countered that this is simply not true and that they also must fight against this trend. Yet, I have often heard that supermarkets put up so many barriers to new nonfoods items that suppliers are forced to go elsewhere for entry.

Still, one grocery retailer notes that his chain devotes as much room to the oral care, hair care and feminine hygiene categories as the major national drugstore chains.

“I saw that segment, too,” says an HBC buyer for a major regional supermarket chain. “It was over the Christmas break and I was taking a few days off. I found it very interesting that supermarkets were not mentioned. I think it is important that the press realize that we sell a lot of HBC items and we do a pretty good job merchandising and marketing these items.”

Eastman Kodak’s decision to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January reminds me of a time 15 or so years ago when Kodak and its low-priced competitor Fujifilm fought tooth and nail for market share in mass market outlets. Back then, everyone was buying film and the introduction of more expensive APS film to take the place of 35mm promised huge sales and profits for suppliers and retailers for decades.

Heady times meant that stores were giving film prime placement in the traffic pattern, including front-end placement and full endcaps. Processing machines only added to the glamour and the profits of the photo category at mass retailers.

Of course, as we all now know, the digital revolution killed film sales and Kodak’s dilemma was simply not avoidable. It goes to show how quickly things can change and how important it is to stay ahead of the trends to maximize profitability.

As some of you may know, I was involved in a serious car accident in late December. Another driver was weaving between lanes and broadsided my car at a high rate of speed on a major New Jersey highway. It left me with six broken ribs and a broken collarbone. I am happy to report that I am on the way to a complete, albeit slow, recovery.

One of the things that I learned from this misadventure was just how important the pharmacist can be during a time of need. I was able to rely on the pharmacist at a local supermarket for some ideas that helped make me much more comfortable during my recovery. That is exactly what I needed him for and I appreciated the help.

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