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home : most recent : statewide implications July 23, 2017


7/6/2017 6:25:00 AM
Hometown Indiana groceries scramble to keep up by big national chains
Connie Walker of Logansport loads groceries into a customer's car, something he does for each cart that rolls out of D & R Fruit and Meat Market. CNHI New Indiana photo by Katie Stancombe
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Connie Walker of Logansport loads groceries into a customer's car, something he does for each cart that rolls out of D & R Fruit and Meat Market. CNHI New Indiana photo by Katie Stancombe

Katie Stancombe, Tribune-Star CNHI News Indiana

Customers who step inside Logansport’s D & R Fruit and Meat Market know they can count on the grocery’s friendly service and quality produce. They also know they’ll be treated like family.

In her 30 years of working at the market, Shawn Shoemaker has built close, irreplaceable relationships with her customers.

“We’re proud to be part of this community, part of this town, to have been here for over 60-some years,” Shoemaker said of D & R. “And if it weren’t for the people coming in every day, we wouldn’t be here.”

The family-owned grocery is just one of thousands across the country threatened by the expanding shadow of big businesses.

Some worry traditional grocery stores will be affected by Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods, adding to uncertainty for smaller markets.

“These big stores are going to eat us little stores up,” Shoemaker said. “I think that’s where we’re headed.”

But a bigger question looms: Where is the traditional grocery industry headed now that Amazon’s in the game?

“Online shopping will not replace brick-and-mortar stores. You cannot replace a personal touch,” said Laura Strange, spokesperson for the National Grocers Association.

Strange, whose organization represents more than 6,000 independent supermarkets nationwide, said smaller markets shouldn’t be too worried about e-commerce.

“There are many people who still want to go into their stores, they still want to squeeze the tomatoes and they still want to talk with their store associates,” Strange said.

Eighty-two percent of people who shop primarily at independent supermarkets reported being extremely satisfied, compared to 65 percent of those who shop at national chains, according to a 2017 Nielsen study.

Even in a fiercely competitive industry, independents are finding innovative ways to differentiate themselves from bigger competitors, Strange said.

“We argue that independents are the ones who have the advantage because they are nimble and can adapt very quickly,” she explained. “Those are the ones that are having a lot of success.”

Railer’s IGA, a small market in Lebanon, has offered home delivery services to its customers for more than 10 years. Railer’s is ready to add online orders to its repertoire.

“It’s something we are playing with,” said store manager Bill Massingill. “We’re doing what we have to do to compete.”

Massingill said his family grocery store is the last of three still in business in the Lebanon area. After a wave of bigger chain stores swept through town, Railer’s downsized. But he said independent markets have something that big groceries and online ordering services don’t.

“You can’t see a smile on someone’s face, the pain in their face,” he said. “I have people come in that have terminal cancer, and sometimes the only conversation they get is when they come to see us. You can’t get those things online.”

Shoemaker agreed and said, in some places, the heart of grocery shopping is still centered on community.

“We’re a ‘hometowny’ store. We like to keep it that way because we feel that’s important. Maybe it isn’t anymore,” Shoemaker said. “You have to offer the best service and respect your customers and give them the best quality and service you can. And you can’t do that online.”

Strange said that, regardless of technological advances in the industry, family-owned grocers know their communities best.

“It’s all about customer experience and customer service,” Strange said. “Whether that’s online or in-store, independents are very agile and close to their customer base. They’re the ones who can really differentiate themselves and excel in that area.”

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Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR


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