Showing Local Some Love
By Elizabeth Louise Hatt
For the past week I've been engulfed in the center store. Not literally, of course. But along with the monthly issue, Grocery Headquarters will be putting out its annual Fresh Foods and Center Store Handbooks in September. Taking an in-depth look at the center store categories has never been more important, as the competition from fresh foods and foodservice continues to chip away at the shelf space and product assortment featured in the middle. Sooooo, look for your September issues everyone; you may want to pay close attention. Throughout the supplement's editorial, there are a number of consistent messages. Packaging... flavor... convenience... yada-yada... Basically, what it all boils down to – as always – is innovation! Let me preface my next comment: CPG and private label manufacturers are doing a fantastic job at innovating age-old products. I make a point to look for new things when I shop – and I am rarely disappointed. However... I have another idea. Why don't retailers turn the other way and look to the local community for innovations? Last weekend I had dinner at Paulie Gee's in Greenpoint, Brooklyn – a neighborhood that is literally around the corner from my own, yet I never ventured into until now. (Sorry Brooklyn; I'm a Queens gal!) On recommendation of a friend, we dived into a number of pizzas, including the "Hellboy," which includes "Fresh Mozzarella, Italian Tomatoes, Berkshire Sopressata Piccante, Parmigiano Reggiano and Mike’s HOT Honey." Mike's Hot WHAT? I am a purist when it comes to my pizza – sauce/tomatoes, cheese and if I'm feeing crazy, some fresh garlic – so I expressed some hesitance; but I was reassured that the sweet/hot combo would blow my mind. Well, let... me... tell... you... Whoa! It's a top-quality honey that hits your mouth sweet, as one would expect, but give it a second... wait for it... and boom! Before my second bite, I scouring the menu for more information about what the heck I was eating and where I could buy it. Voila! Mr Paulie – (I have no idea it the owner is called Paulie. He did come around to ask us how our experience was, as he supposedly does on the reg.) – sells it right there in the restaurant. I didn't buy any for no other reason than I completely forgot after devouring half a dozen slices of pizza (they were small!) and a couple beers. Naturally though, when I came to from my pizza-beer coma, I Googled the website to find out where I could buy the sweet/hot/gooey goodness, and found out it is sold in a number of local Brooklyn and Manhattan shops. No grocery stores though. Hmmmmm.... As I was editing the Center Store features, I kept thinking, "Guys! Get some of Paulie Gee's Hot Honey. Sales will go crazy." Well, maybe not "crazy," but stocking it in the NYC area would likely bring in some local loyal customers. It was the same with Dino BBQ sauce. Back in the day, before the BBQ chain reached beyond its Western NY roots, and expanded the grocery distribution of its bottle sauces, there were only one or two stores in my Long Island region that sold their traditional BBQ sauce. And since I #mayormaynot have had a slight obsession with it, I naturally shopped at these stores. And while we're talking about my favorite foods. Cheeky Money Foods Tomato Garlic Dipping Oil is another product that would keep me loyal. I discovered it in a friend's fridge a couple years ago and insisted on stocking up before leaving her Pennsylvania town. To my disappointment, she informed me it was not available locally and she had to stock up when she went home to Syracuse, N.Y. The Cheeky Monkey was a memory until I ran across the company at a Vegetarian Food Festival in NYC. I was met with more disappointment when the founder informed me that they were not yet distributing to any NYC stores – but at least I did walk away with half a dozen packs of the stuff. A number of retailers have experimented in this way with their fresh and to-go departments by bringing in local artisan cheeses – or even an entire cheese shop brand, like Murray's – and local restaurant products. So why not share the local love with the center store?