Nonfoods Talk: All the buzz

A new Fairway Market store in suburban New Jersey is catching the eyes and wallets of consumers from near and far. Will it last?

I would love to have a crystal ball to see how Fairway Market’s new store in Woodland Park, N.J. will be performing in six or nine months. Quite frankly, I am very interested to see how this chain does, in general, as it expands throughout the New York metropolitan area in coming years.

Right now, Fairway is the talk of the Big Apple metropolitan area—along with Wegmans—because it has developed a reputation for offering a wide range of products in some pretty spiffy categories. A walk through the Woodland Park store will find an impressive choice of products across dozens of categories, including coffee, tea, soy sauce, olive oil, cheeses and soy milk, as well as a vast assortment of organic and natural products.

The company has big plans, too. With lots of private equity money behind it, plus the feeling that they are creating a niche in the New York marketplace with its merchandising strategy, Fairway is opening up stores throughout the region.

Perhaps company officials should slow down a bit. The Woodland Park store is a great example. On the site of a shuttered Pathmark store along well-traveled Route 3, the unit is just blocks from huge and well-established ShopRite and A&P locations. In addition, Trader Joe’s is quickly building a new store within a few miles of the Fairway store.

Most importantly, Fairway may be an upscale store—with prices to match—in a decidedly middle- and working-class area, one that may have little interest in 50 or so varieties of soy sauce or olives.

Noticing the lack of shoppers thus far, a company official said a strategy going forward was to attract shoppers from a wider area. “We hope to draw in consumers from outlying and more affluent areas,” said the store official working the unit on a recent weekend. While there are many affluent areas within 10 to 15 miles, it is hard to believe that enough of these consumers are going to make a regular trek to Fairway to stock up on soy milk and artisan cheeses to make a difference.

This is where nonfoods comes into play. The bottom line is that Fairway does not have much of a nonfoods section and that says volumes. Sure the chain stocks an assortment of the necessary products, including toothpaste, deodorant and skin care items. But the SKUs are limited and most of the GM/HBC section, with the primary exception of kitchen gadgets and utensils, fits in half an aisle buried near organic products and other items that have little to do with nonfoods products.

Fairway wants to be perceived as an alternative to Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. But the chain, at least at the Woodland Park location, seems to be stuck between being a traditional retailer competing against ShopRite and A&P and one that is trying to win over more affluent and particular shoppers with unique and expensive items.

The end result will be the existence of a store that fails to understand the needs of its most likely shoppers. Let’s see what happens.

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The greeting card business will never survive the digital era? Not exactly what I saw when shopping a ShopRite store in New Jersey a few weeks back. Not only was the greeting card section mobbed, it seemed that consumers were clamoring for a greater assortment of merchandise in the section.

“The Internet is a great thing,” said a ShopRite store official. “But giving greeting cards still means a lot more than sending a message through Facebook or by email. We do very well with this section and not only during the key holidays. It is about the personal touch.”

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