I love thinking about marketing and branding.
I’m especially fond of watching retailers reinvent themselves (or at least their stores) in order to stay ahead of consumer trends and remain competitive. So I have watched with great interest as my local grocery store, the Metro Market, underwent an extensive renovation in the winter of 2017-2018.
For those who may not be familiar with Metro Market, here’s some background:
Metro Market is one of a handful of store brands used by the Wisconsin and Illinois-based Roundy’s Supermarket chain. Roundy’s is also known from its many Pick’ n Save locations as well as its Chicago flagship store, Mariano’s Fresh Market. Roundy’s was bought by the Kroger company in 2015 but the Roundy’s branding has remained mostly intact.
Metro Markets are located in middle class, urban neighborhoods in Milwaukee and Madison, and thus their primary competitors have been Whole Foods Market, Fresh Thyme Farmer’s Market, and to some extent Sendik’s Food Market. In the case of my local store, the three closest competitors are Whole Foods (2 miles), Fresh Thyme (0.8 miles), and Glorioso’s Italian Market (0.6 miles).
In order to remain competitive with these other local stores, the Metro Market branding strategy has incorporated two primary objectives:
- Distinguish the Metro Market from the Pic’ N Save stores. Pic’ N Save stores are usually located in suburbs or less affluent neighborhoods, and their aesthetic can be best described as a 90’s-era, average supermarket theme conveyed by a sterile atmosphere and an emphasis on cost-savings. Overall, the Pic N’ Save locations are bland and boring. You know the type: white floors, white ceilings, and row after row of shelves packed with a few different brands.
- Tap into the urban middle class appetite for a “market experience.” This means an emphasis on locally-sourced and organically grown foods, a warm (perhaps even earthy) atmosphere, and a store that feels less like a monolithic supermarket with only one vendor and more like a communal retail space shared by a variety of merchants and their unique brands.
So how did they do?
It’s a mixed bag. On the one hand, the rejuvenated Metro Market definitely feels warmer and more upscale, and the aesthetics of the place are greatly improved. On the other hand, the branding changes don’t go beyond the surface to offer shoppers much that is new. Of course, offering shoppers something “new” was never the point: it was about making it feel new. Here’s what was accomplished:
First, shoppers will notice the most dramatic changes in the produce, deli, meat, and bakery departments. Each is now branded separately (at least nominally so) in order to give the emulate an experience such as that of shopping at the Milwaukee Public Market.
The floors have been resurfaced in dark wood, the outdated lighting fixtures have been replaced by trendier models, and each section of the counter boasts its own superficial signage. The bakery counter is now “Badger Baking,” the liquor aisle is called “Cork & Cask,” and the deli counter is being billed as the “Van Buren Deli” and “Todds BBQ” (sic). The missing apostrophe in Todd’s BBQ really stuck out to me, but that’s my issue as an English teacher.
In addition to the store’s facelift and the use of multiple “brands” to break up the monotony of the shopping experience, there are some new additions. There’s a juice bar (“Squeezed”), a Starbucks location, and a beer and wine vending area so you can have a drink in the store. There’s also a gourmet popcorn counter, a gelato case, and an expanded Asian-themed counter.
These changes are welcome and in some cases they are substantial improvements. But overall, the renovation and rebranding are largely about aesthetics and not about the way Metro Market is doing business. Once shoppers wind their way past all the new signs and the wine bar, they will see a familiar sight:
So that’s my short review. Metro Market is still my closest grocery store, and I’ll continue to shop there as long as that’s the case. I’m pleased that the store received a much-needed facelift, but I’ll continue to long for the day when my location (and budget!) will allow me to shop more frequently at grocers that truly offer a closer connection to the food I eat.