People Are Buying Food Everywhere

The Lempert Report
October 14, 2016

And why not? While traditional food retailers are griping, non-traditional outlets have long ago understood the value of selling food.

The average American buys food to consume at home 2.2 times a week – far greater shopping visits than for any other non-food items. So it makes sense for non-traditional outlets like the clothing discounter, T.J. MAXX, to sell foods. 

A recent column in Bon Appetit by Maggie Lange found garlic-stuffed olives with organic beetroot powder, Himalayan salt with luxury Tunisian olive oil, bacon-flavored spice and Sriracha ketchup at the store. The chain also has sold Honey Horseradish Dijon Mustard, tuna imported from the Bay of Biscay in Spain, extra bold peppercorns from Capetown, and Sri Lankan curry. 

But what is learnable from Lange is what she sees as the store’s food merchandising magic:  the T. J. Maxx hodge-podge of seemingly random food locations throughout the store as intentional.  She calls it “a successful, sneaky merchandise model”.

It is important to note, that unlike dollar stores, or others like Grocery Outlet and the long-forgotten Loehmann’s – T.J. Maxx does not buy discontinued or overstock items at cents on the dollar, but rather contracts with companies for high quality items made especially for them. 

In her interview with Victoria Taylor, the owner of the bacon-flavored spice, Taylor says that the buyers who acquire merchandise for T. J. Maxx call this a “treasure hunt merchandising philosophy.” She adds that the buyers want the store to run out of items, so they order mixed cases from Victoria’s Gourmet because they don’t want too many of the same item. 

Lange also spoke with Wharton marketing professor David Bell, who said that discount retailers like Zara, Trader Joe’s, and Aldi use a similar concept, citing the acronym: WIGIG for “when it’s gone it’s gone.” and to put “pressure on consumers”  which in turn establishes an urgency to buy the item cheaply but also to come back to the store, a fear of missing out on your one-time opportunity to buy a product, what he calls FOMO. 

Merchandising at its best.