Nonfoods Talk: Making the right choices

Figuring out what product lines to carry, and not carry, play an important role in a supermarket’s success.

I got a pretty interesting telephone call in mid-February. Seems as if an executive at a company that sells miniature toy soldiers wanted to pick my brain on the supermarket industry. He thought that marketing the product to grocery stores and its hordes of traffic would be Seth Mendelsona great way for retailers to make more money and, obviously, for him to cash in as well.

Not so fast, I suggested. I told him that I did not think that the supermarket was really an appropriate outlet for the sale of small metal objects that sell for around $30 a piece and have little or nothing to do with the selling of food or the people who may be shopping the store. In my eyes, I just did a good deed; saving another supplier the anguish of losing money and helping keep retailer shelves clean and available for appropriate merchandise.

It does raise an interesting point as to who, and who should not, be trying to market products at the supermarket. Nowhere is this more important than in the many general merchandise categories that dot a typical grocery store.

Many manufacturers of every knick-knack imaginable think that the supermarket is the right place for their items. With the store traffic of a typical food store, and the perceived relationship between just about everything (some people can make a case for just about anything) grocery retailers should be quite eager to place their new-fangled contraptions on their shelves.

Of course, these people are wrong and so are the retailers that fall for their lines that their products are going to sell at food stores.

Take the toy and games category for example. Certain types of toys can sell very well at the supermarket. Normally, they are the products that have low price points, offer immediate satisfaction to a child and makes sense for the adult purchasing it. That means not including $30 games or inexpensive products that simply will not sell.

It means doing your homework to determine exactly what the consumer expects from those areas—including the nonfoods section—that are not directly involved in the sale of food items. The supermarket can be all things to all people provided retailers and suppliers understand the frame of mind the typical consumer is in when they enter the store.

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