By: Rick Stein, Vice President, Fresh Foods, Food Marketing Institute

20171205-FMI-Store Shoot-0249r-LowResI’m impressed with the experiences I see and hear about in FMI member stores. Smart retailers realized there is a new and very good reason for shoppers to visit a physical store - the incredible real-time experience that comes with the foods and beverages they enjoy.

As I visit and hear about retailers doing exciting things, some of them stick out in my memory. Sure, we’ve had in-store demonstrations and parking lot festivals for years, but now retailers are taking a close look at their shoppers, seeing what appeals to them and giving it to them. 

Cut ProduceIn many cases, food retailers turn themselves into community centers and give shoppers one more reason to visit their stores.

For instance, in many of Lowes Foods’ 83 stores throughout North and South Carolina, there is a Pick & Prep station, where shoppers choose fresh fruits and vegetables to purchase. Customers are then able to tell the professional associates behind the counter exactly how they’d like the fresh produce cut, sliced, diced or cubed. Store associates go to work and the shopper is able to pick up cut produce when they complete their shopping, making food preparation at home that much easier.

The Lowes Food store in Clemmons, North Carolina., also has a “sausage professor” who every day comes up with a new kind of sausage for shoppers to sample, with names like the Southern Belle, the Breakfast Piggy and the Godfather.

The Newport Avenue Market in Bend, Oregon, knows how important local products are to its customers. Last June it held a “Meet the Producers”Day with live music, demonstrations and sampling stations staffed by representatives of the farms, vendors, breweries and wineries who supply them with food and beverages.

Finally, when it comes to unique shopper experiences, it would be hard to match the annual Dorothy Lane Market Food & Wine Show in Dayton, Ohio. The first Show took place in 1998 and every year it gets bigger and better. 

“We just thought of having a great party for our customers,” said Dorothy Lane Market CEO Norman Mayne.

Today, 500 people attend the annual event and sample dishes prepared by the stores’ culinary staffs at 14 different food stations and taste more than 130 wines and beers. Every ingredient of every dish sampled, and every beverage tasted, can be purchased at Dorothy Lane Market’s stores.

Each of these retailers has found unique ways to give their customers - whether they’re in South Carolina, Oregon or Ohio - an experience that demonstrates the value of their community’s local foods and wines.