Skip to main content

Super T Opts For Unconventional


Just as Target is emerging as a significant player in food retailing in the United States, is it beginning to fall behind the times? In a recent comparison of merchandising and operations at major supercenter and supermarket operations, it seems as if Target’s food efforts are becoming a bit outdated.

In a fourth-quarter conference call, Target Stores president Gregg Steinhafel said food operations are a critical part of satisfying customer expectations. “To meet our guests’ increasing demand, we continue to broaden our assortment, improve our quality, allocate additional space to food and general merchandise stores and open new SuperTarget locations. In 2007 we plan to open our first SuperTarget stores in California.”

Yet, some observers have questioned whether Target has yet to reach its potential in food. In part, that question has arisen because of changes in strategy over the years, but lately the company has reached a certain consistency as it seeks to use hip merchandising and upscale private labels to “Targetize” its edibles.

In the meantime, supermarkets, which are used to undertaking major merchandising every 10 years or so, have been advancing. Kroger has been particularly active, shifting merchandising it has developed for its Marketplace stores into its even bigger, new-generation Food & Drug units. Wegmans and HEB have been developing entirely new store concepts that include dedicated and carefully tailored general merchandise additions. Safeway has been rolling out its Lifestyle stores which, if less focused on general merchandise than Kroger Marketplace, still have included specific non-foods programs dedicated to building on the gourmet food and merchandising the supermarket chain has added.

And supercenter competitor Meijer, from which Target drew at least inspiration for its supercenter format, has shifted to prototypes that place heavy emphasis on upscale perishables and meal solutions.

Target, in the meantime, retains a food department built on its long-time grocery block layout and limited perishables that offer a reduced service feature, including Sutton & Dodge meat, a case-ready program. Where Meijer has boosted its service meat by branding it as the “Angus department,” Target has renounced the staffed counter and created Sutton & Dodge as a label that is supposed to substitute for the traditional above-commodity element.

Yet, on a recent store visit during an unseasonably hot afternoon in the Chicago market, Target’s Sutton & Dodge meat was experiencing heavy internal condensation, indicating that the case temperature was set too high and virtually ensuring the product wouldn’t be purchased.

On another front, Safeway also has added O Organics, while Meijer has introduced Meijer Organics with a new generation of graphics that has taken a step forward, advancing a style that is somewhat more sophisticated than the slightly kitschy looks that Target employs in its own-brand food line.

Supercenter operators including Target have taught supermarkets a thing or two about serving today’s consumer in food, but they should consider that recently revived rivals might have learned the lessons too well.

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds