The Shopping Experience of the Future

May 17, 2011

Food carts organizing in pods in Portland. Food vendors organizing in underground night markets, and farmers markets on the rise. These are all signs that the shopping experience shoppers want and need is changing.

In 1988, Supermarket Guru forecasted how the concept of the Supermarket would change for the new millennium. It may have taken over 10 years longer to get there, but we are now starting to see evidence of this evolution. 

Last week, a Fox News story featured the growing food cart phenomenon in Portland, Oregon where since 2007 the number of gourmet food vendors meeting up in “food pods” has doubled. The city has over 200 carts operating at any given time, and food enthusiasts can obtain maps to navigate through the choices. They are usually organized in surface lots. It’s an economical way for budding chefs, restaurateurs, food entrepreneurs can set up show with little overhead and little to no staff, and the permits from the city are cheap. For shoppers, foodies, tourists, or locals on a lunch break, it’s an inexpensive, quick lunch that beats the same old humdrum sandwich, burger, or salad. It’s a creative array from the exotic dishes to home cooked comfort foods to satisfy, expand, and surprise taste buds. In other words, it’s a food experience. 

But food carts in Portland are not the only place where shoppers are seeking out and finding an elevated experience in buying and consuming food. For example, adventurous and modern food enthusiasts in San Francisco are fathering another phenomenon that is spreading to other major cities, where chefs and food vendors meet up in underground markets at night for what the New York Times describes as an “indie food rave.” Organizers are able to avoid license fees and permits from the city by operating as a private club. And like we’ve seen with food trucks, Twitter, Facebook and food blogs are the vehicle for getting the word out about locations and times. 

What can supermarkets learn from these trends? To attract these shoppers, retailers must create an experience and excitement within the store. The fact that farmers markets in the U.S. have grown 214 percent since 2000 is even more evidence that shoppers are interested in this type of shopping – a place where shoppers can stroll from a smokehouse where they can watch a live highly skilled butcher prepare fresh meats and then cruise on over to a sommelier hosting wine tastings, or make a stop at by a sushi chef’s counter and then browse a selection of local artisanal cheeses.  

Here’s an idea for supermarkets. Host a monthly bazaar in the parking lot, creating an event for local growers, vendors, chefs, and even provide some family entertainment or workshops on preparing sushi, cooking for kids, or barbecue and grilling demos. Involve a local charity or community group or get the local radio station out. The more supermarkets can enhance the shopping experience, the more they can keep aside the trendy food and shopping events that are drawing the attention of modern food enthusiasts and shaping their expectations for an overall shopping trip.