Supermarket mecca: Grocery stores adapt to fit changing appetites

By: Anna Harris, Times-Mirror Staff Writer

Grocery stores are getting a nod around this time with shoppers finishing up buying turkeys and stuffing for their Thanksgiving feasts, And shoppers in Loudoun have no shortage of options for where to satisfy their grocery list.

With more than 20 major grocery stores in the major parts of Loudoun alone, the competition for space on the part of the stores themselves is only one part of the equation. Developments want grocery stores as tenants for their major commercial draw for residents in the surrounding areas, and those that secure a major grocer become a one-stop-shop.

Loudoun’s growing population makes the county a desirable spot for grocers to make their beds.

The Village at Leesburg is one development that has become known for its grocery store access. Trying to describe which shopping center you’re going to grab a bite to eat in usually ends in a “the one with the Wegmans.” The store’s presence hasn’t drawn customers away from other shops there, either.

“The existence of an iconic anchor like Wegmans strongly attracts consumers and retailers to the Village at Leesburg,” said Jarnell L. Bonds, Vice President of Marketing at Rappaport Developers and Village at Leesburg. “Wegmans’ proximity to the rest of the Village has not affected the center’s allure to retailers. I can tell you that VAL has experienced phenomenal growth with more than 100,000 [square-feet] of new retail in approximately two years.”

Vying for space is the least of grocers’ problems, according to various studies that have come out in recent years.

Loudoun’s access to food overall earned a 12.63 percent low access rate in a 2014 Food Desert in Virginia study from the commonwealth, Virginia State University and Virginia Tech.

That percentage was considered relatively low, especially compared to the overall state’s low access number of 17.8 percent, also considered better than the rest of the country.

However, a 2013 study drafted by the county on Loudoun’s rural economy business development strategy showed the county could be doing more to give residents access to the food they want.

Consumers’ attitudes toward food and money have changed in regard to where they’re getting their groceries and what they expect from their victuals.

Consumer habits nationwide have shifted toward value-spending over convenience, according to a 2012 U.S. Grocery Shopper Trend study from the Food Marketing Institute.

The two main reasons survey respondents gave for what matters most in a primary store besides convenient location were lower prices in general (61 percent) and lower prices on specific items (53 percent). Fewer said better variety and selection (41 percent) or better quality and variety of fresh foods (39 percent) were the main sways when it came to where to shop.

That may be why of 1,200 shoppers surveyed in a King Retail Solutions and University of Arizona study, 77 percent across all ages said they bought groceries from non-grocers like Wal-Mart and Target in 2013.

The rise of education and interest into where food comes from may be changing these numbers just two years later, or at least in Loudoun.

Whole Foods in Ashburn, one of the newest food retail staples in the county, did extensive surveying of their own when they first scouted the area as a viable option for the popular fresh food chain.

For Loudouners, it was about local and fresh, a trend catching on across the country.

“I think a lot of the things you’re seeing coming around to date form an environmental standpoint where your food originates and comes from,” said Nicole Roberts, director of environmental graphics in the large format studio at Cincinnati-based FRCH Design Worldwide, which services Whole Foods. “Consumers are armed with more information and knowledge in the information age and looking for their grocer to provide them that in-store as well.”

But to compete with low prices of places like Wal-Mart, grocery stores are having to up their game, offering more than just full shelves and low prices.

Another part of Whole Foods survey creeps into the aesthetics of the store itself in hopes of an added draw to locals. Equestrian and “federal” were two elements added to the design of the store’s physical interior.

They also found that in both Loudoun and across the country, consumers want transparency and connection with their food providers, particularly transparency when it comes to food sources.

“I think the buzzword we hear consistently are transparency and authenticity,” Roberts said. “More and more today, consumers don’t like the idea of that big corporate monster and that they’re feeding the monster. They want to feel as if they’re contributing to a greater good … They want the market to be transparent and contributing to a thing greater than them … It’s balancing out that digital technology and apps that every retailer has to integrate but keeping that human connection in this day and age.”

Article posted by Loudoun Times-Mirror >>

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