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Not so long ago, D.C. was considered a two supermarket town. Today, shoppers have a dizzying array of options at their disposal, from discount grocers and shopping clubs to neighborhood farmers market. Kojo explores how regional and global forces impact what consumers see on supermarket shelves, as well as the evolving strategies we use to buy ingredients for their favorite dishes.
- Phil Lempert Food and Marketing Analyst, Supermarketguru.com
- Bonnie Benwick Deputy editor and recipe editor, Washington Post Food Section
- Bart Yablonsky Store Manager, Dawson’s Market (Rockville, MD)
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world on Food Wednesday.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIWe used to be loyal customers, clipping coupons for Giant and Safeway, finding everything we could possibly need and more, in one place. Today, the average customer buys food at nine stores, each month, making 2.2, 20 minute trips each week. We fill our carts with the mysterious store brands of Aldi, artisanal cheese at the Farmer's Market and oversized packages of olive oil and walnuts at Costco.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe dynamic between customers and stores is constantly influx. Consumers are demanding new, increasingly diverse ingredients, low prices and local produce. Companies are scrambling to meet these demands while trying to create new customer experiences and loyalties. We discuss the changing nature of grocery shopping with Bonnie Benwick, she is the deputy food editor and -- food and recipe's editor for The Washington Post. She writes the weekly column, Dinner in Minutes and the monthly Washington Cook's column and always comes baring gifts. Bonnie Benwick, thank you so much for joining us.
MS. BONNIE BENWICKHi there, I have some groceries baking in my car, right now.
NNAMDITell us what the gift is that you brought today, that I've already sampled.
BENWICKOh, it's a Turkish walnut and red pepper spread.
NNAMDIOoh, it's so good.
MR. BART YABLONSKYIt's delicious.
NNAMDIAlso joining us in studio, yes, he sampled it. Bart Yablonsky is the manager of Dawson's Market, an independent local market in Rockville, Md. Bart, thank you for joining us.
YABLONSKYOh, thank you. Glad to be here.
NNAMDIAnd joining us from the studios of the Radio Foundation in New York City is Phil Lempert, he runs the website Supermarketguru, which focuses on consumer behavior, marketing trends, new products and the changing retail landscape of food. Thank you so much for joining us, Phil.
MR. PHIL LEMPERTThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIYou too can join the conversation by calling 800-433-8850. What strategies do you use when grocery shopping? You can send email to email@example.com. Phil, D.C. used to be a two supermarket town, where you could wander the aisles of the local Giant or Safeway, once a week, tossing everything from fresh produce to household products into your cart. Today, that's not the case. We've seen a move away from the one-stop shopping experience. Are supermarket trends affecting consumer behavior or is consumer behavior changing the supermarket?
LEMPERTWell, Kojo, I think it all starts and ends with the consumer. And, frankly, the supermarket, and Bart, don't get upset with me because I'm not sure what size store you've got, but I've gotta to tell you that 40, 45, 50,000 supermarket today is a dinosaur. The supermarket industry has not kept up with what you and I, as a consumer, wants. Whether it's the variety, whether it's the service. And typically, what we find is those big chains, the Safeway, the Kroger's of the world, typically say, well, all that a consumer wants are low prices, not true.
LEMPERTWhat we want is we want to have a great relationship with food, we want to have a great relationship with someone like Bart, where we can go in the store, find something new and exciting every trip.
NNAMDIBonnie, while the average American consumers experience involves visiting up to nine stores, each month, to find our favorite products, Bonnie Benwick may be the District's most qualified ingredient finder. On any given day, you can find her hunting down dark soy sauce and Chantilly or gourmet Irish ketchup in Georgetown. What's unique about grocery shopping in Washington, Bonnie?
BENWICKWell, there's certainly a lot more choices, as Phil said, and I would say Amen to his point about, people are looking for something different and that one-stop shop thing, although it sounds nice, people are willing to, you know, sort of, work grocery store, food store runs into their daily experience, I think. I certainly do. And I -- for recipe testing, for the Post, we have a lot of volunteer testers but I end up doing a lot of shopping and I try to get, I live in Bethesda, but I try to get out to the suburbs and let's face it, that's where a lot of the international markets are.
NNAMDIWell, we'll get to that.
BENWICKSo it's incumbent upon me to, sort of, see what's in the stores. And that thing that's new or bringing some of those products, like I was talking to Bart about, he's got a potato cucumber that he's got at Dawson's Market that I haven't had my, you know, put my mitts on yet, so I'm anxious to go check that out.
NNAMDIBart, in an industry where there are huge national players, you work for a local independent store. How have your customers demands changed?
YABLONSKYWe have, you know, a lot of customers that are looking for specific things. They have dietary requests. We have a very strong customer base that's vegan and vegetarian, as well as gluten-free. And to Phil's point, we're actually, probably, about half the size of those 40,000 sq. ft. stores but we're full-service store as well. Customers come to us for specific things. We're very local focused. And so, what we've seen is, there's definitely a very strong push towards local, not just in produce but throughout the entire store, through the whole shop.
NNAMDIPhil Lempert, from a national perspective, how does grocery stores -- grocery shopping, in D.C. compare to a city like, oh, New York or Chicago?
LEMPERTWell, it's very different. And, Kojo, I just want to go a bit deeper into something you said before.
LEMPERTThat the average shopper does nine visits. Well, it's nine different channels of distribution. So think about this, it's not about nine supermarkets, it's going to the Dollar Store, the drug chain, the warehouse club. People are buying food at Bed, Bath and Beyond. People want and adventure. So what Bart is describing, matter of fact, is exactly what consumers want, these days. They want to find something different every time they shop.
LEMPERTAnd if you compare D.C. with New York or Chicago, very different markets. And, frankly, what we've seen over the past five, six years, since the recession, it's the retailers like Dawson's who are doing well. Those independent grocers who really know their marketplace. Their market share is rising. The big chains, it's declining. The drug chains, going through the roof and also you mentioned Aldi before, they're going through the roof as well. So we're really thinking very different about how and where we acquire our foods.
NNAMDIWe’re talking about food shopping in Washington, inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. In case you're just joining us, we're talking with Phil Lempert, he runs the website supermarketguru, which focuses on consumer behavior, marketing trends, new products and the changing retail landscape of food. Bonnie Benwick is the deputy food and recipes editor for The Washington Post. And Bart Yablonsky is the manager of Dawson's Market, an independent, local market in Rockville, Md. How has grocery shopping, in your mind, changed in Washington, D.C.? Give us a call, 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIIf you go to our website, you can see the results of the poll we conducted. We asked, how many times do you visit a grocery store each week? Sixty-three percent say two to three times. The rest are split between once a week, 13 percent and four to five times a week, 10 percent. How many different stores do you visit in a given week, 80 percent say, two to three stores a week. Do you feel loyalty to a particular supermarket? Oh, about 24 percent say other than any of the chains, Giant and Whole Foods got about 15 percent each.
NNAMDISo you can go to our website, see the results of that poll. Bonnie, you mentioned suburbs earlier. They're often the center of culinary culture when it comes to buying groceries. Do we see so many more options in the suburbs then in the city? And if so, why?
BENWICKWell, I think, in D.C., there are a couple of reasons for that. One is, it's just too expensive for these stores, like an Asian market, large Asian -- Pan-Asian supermarket or a Latino market to find the footage that it needs in the District. There's also the people who live out there, want to shop for their food out there. So it's more supportive. I would imagine there's a great population of Latino's that live near Chantilly and have the benefit of going to Lotte Plaza, for example, which is -- has a produce department that just, sort of, blows my mind every time I go in.
NNAMDIWhat stores have been disruptive to the traditional supermarket in Washington?
BENWICKAldi's, kind of, chipping away at it. I think it's a really interesting store. I did a piece for the food section, a couple of months ago. I spent about a month just trying to subsist as much as possible on Aldi's, particular store brands which are not what a lot of people are used to. And I found that there's definite savings but when I talked to the regional managers of the store and some of the corporate people, they were not really looking to and didn't see themselves coming into the District, which I think, you know, I think it'd be perfect for Southeast, Southwest and Northeast and Northwest.
BENWICKI mean, everybody likes a bargain. If, you know, I'm just about to finish my dishwashing, you know, tablets from Aldi and I -- I mean, they were like a buck or something. I mean, it was kind of crazy. So I like that mix of finding what I want and also feeling like I can get a bargain. You know, the upside to that is, I wasn't buying a package of 75 of them from Costco.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Lisa, who says, "Before Aldi opened in D.C., I shopped around. Giant was pricey but close, Shopper's was cheap but felt well, cheap. And, yes, Organic broke the bank. And now I stick to Aldi and I was overjoyed, not exaggerating yesterday, when I saw that next month the Aldi on 17th Street Northeast will start selling alcohol, soon." Phil, you point out that Aldi is moving into cities, faster than larger retailers?
LEMPERTAbsolutely. And Bonnie, don't worry. Because I've spoken to Aldi and Trader Joe's, their sister companies for many years, and whatever they tell you, don't believe. This is a -- no, no, seriously. This is a private company that is well run, it is very secretive and I have...
BENWICKYes, they are, yeah.
LEMPERT...I have no doubt in my mind that throughout the U.S., we will have five to 10,000 Aldi's over the next 10 years. This is a chain that's fabulous. You look at their private label and you talked about their own brands, they win award after award for quality, for price. And we've just got to get past this whole idea of what the interior of a store should look like. Grocery outlets, Aldi's, a lot of stores throughout the country, even Safe A Lot's, might not look the way our parents grocery store looked but the value is there and the quality is there.
NNAMDIWell, Phil, new shoppers at Aldi probably won't see many names they recognize on the shelves, 90 percent of their products are Aldi's store brands, not the national brands. Consumers may be more familiar with store brands that they gain popularity during the recession, of course, but since then, many retailers have seen a way to capitalize on private labels. Talk a little bit about how store brands evolved.
LEMPERTSure. Well, keep in mind, again, for our parents day, store brands were the cheap knock-off. You would have somebody who looks at Oreo cookies and said, I want that but I want it 25 percent less, they would take the Oreo cookies to a baker and say, knock this off. You know, I want it cheaper, I want the package to look as close as possible so I fool consumers, they think they're getting the real thing. All that changed.
LEMPERTAbout six years ago, again with the recession, what we started to see is a new tier of store brands. Where the store brands and, frankly, this was led by Trader Joe's innovation, where the store brands really led when it came to innovation. New flavors, flavors that weren't there all the time. Flavors that actually surpassed the national brands in quality and the reason is very simple, now about 25 to 27 percent of all products that are sold in a supermarket are their own brand.
LEMPERTYou can only get that brand in their store. So it's a way to form a relationship and loyalty with that consumer, with a very unique product that they can't get elsewhere. So that's why we're seeing more of it. And in the case of Aldi and the case of Trader Joe's and other stores are starting to see this strategy as well, what you'll see is, you'll see a great product that you love that disappears for three months or six months. And you go to the manager and you say, where is that? Well, we've taken it off, we've replaced it by this, the store brands of tomorrow are more innovative then a lot of the national brands are.
NNAMDIWell, before we get off the subject of Aldi, let's go to Mike in Severn, Md. Mike, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MIKEHi, good morning. I had to call in and give a shout out to that store. I've been shopping there for probably 10 or 15 years. I used to make a trip into downtown Baltimore where they had a -- it was in an inner city neighborhood. Since then, they've added several locations in Anne Arundel County. And every time they add a new site, I'm just -- I'm thrilled that people have an alternative.
MIKEThere -- the quality of the food is excellent, the savings are huge. So, for our family of five and we have three teenagers, it really does make a huge difference in our budget. And we also lean on Costco. But they have an interesting back story. They're a German family owned company.
NNAMDIThe Albrecht family. The Albrecht family.
MIKEExactly. And in fact, I think they also own Trader Joe's.
NNAMDIThey do indeed, yes. They do.
MIKEI think they acquired them. And if you do some -- if you look into the story, Wal-Mart tried to get a foothold in Germany and Aldi's prices were so competitive that they simply could not make a go of it, I mean, beyond the union issues. But they just have an amazing efficient business model. And we really like the food.
NNAMDISame thing Phil Lempert was apparently saying. Thank you very much for your call, Mike. Here's Donna in Berlin, Md. Donna, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DONNAHello. Thank you for a wonderful conversation about food, one of my favorite subjects. I was wanting to comment about my shopping habits, how it relates to your conversation.
DONNAAnd I use a traditional grocery store less and less. I probably go maybe every months and stock up on some basic essentials, canned things, paper goods. But my favorite pleasure is to drive through a given town, seek out a little local market, try and find the farm stands in the summer. I probably make five or six different stops in the course of a week. I use Whole Foods for my meat, fish and chicken. I used farm stands at this time of year for vegetables and produce. I avoid the regular grocery stores as much as possible.
DONNAMy initial impression of Aldi was not so favorable but based on this conversation I probably should revisit it. I do like Trader Joe's. I think they do a good job. And I shop around. I think it's an attempt to keep variety, make shopping more interesting, save money, support local. I think it's multifaceted. And that's my comment.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call.
NNAMDIBonnie Benwick, this is the new normal, is it not, that we're talking about here?
BENWICKYeah, yeah. Although, you know, certainly I think you can find as many people who say, oh my god, you spend too much time shopping. But it really depends on your relationship with food. I mean, I think more people are sort of understanding that if you go to -- you know, if you seek out a store like Dawson's Market that has local products that is doing very interesting things like Bart was telling me he's composting, giving it back to the farmers who and producers who sell to his market.
BENWICKIf that matters to you then it's a great alternative and you're feeling good about, you know, where you're shopping and you're also getting, you know, perhaps a higher quality of food.
NNAMDIBart, for decades, buying organic was considered the paradigm of healthy eating. Today we're seeing an increased interest in local food. Why are more consumers flocking to local stores such as Dawson's Market over supermarkets that offer more options often at a lower price?
YABLONSKYI think that the interest in local is because it's a lot easier to understand versus organic. I think that, you know, organic is very important and there's been a lot of studies out there about the benefits of organic. And I think it's still a challenge to really understand all the benefits of organic.
YABLONSKYLocal's much easier to understand. The other parts of local is that you deal with smaller farms. And a lot of these smaller farms are following very closely those organic standards anyway. They may not be certified organic because they don't have the resources to pay the fees and everything, but they still follow that same kind of process. And at Dawson's Market we look for local farmers that are following those standards. We categorize our local farmers best, better and local, best being actually certified organic, better being following the process of organic but not certified. And then typical local conventional.
YABLONSKYSo I think it's because it's easy to understand and it's also supporting the community. With the economy being the way that it's been, people are really focused on their community and their neighborhood. And at Dawson's we're very focused on that as well. And you know that you're supporting people. You can actually meet the farmer. We have relationships with farmers. We go to the farms. We talk to them. And the customers can do the same thing.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back we'll be continuing this Food Wednesday conversation on food shopping in Washington. Feel free to call us at 800-433-8850. What strategies do you use when grocery shopping? Send us an email to kojowamu.org or shoot us a tweet @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on food shopping in Washington. We're talking with Bart Yablonsky. He is the manager of Dawson's Market, an independent local market in Rockville, Md. Bonnie Benwick is the deputy food and recipes editor at the Washington Post. She writes the weekly Dinner in Minutes column and the monthly Washington Cook's column. And Phil Lempert runs the website SuperMarketGuru which focuses on consumer behavior, marketing trends, new products and the changing landscape of food in the retail. Phil, we were talking with Bart about local versus organic. You wanted to chime in on that?
LEMPERTI do. I agree totally with what Bart had said. Two other things to keep in mind. One of the reasons that local has done so well, it tastes better. Keep in mind, especially when we look at produce, the longer that a fruit or vegetable is in the ground or on the vine or on the tree, the more flavor it has and the more nutrients it has. So one of the key drivers for local has been that frankly it's in season and it tastes better.
LEMPERTThe other thing, just to build on, is keep in mind, as Bart said, there's a lot of confusion about organics. People just don't understand it. Test after test has proven that there's no difference health wise, nutrition wise between conventional and organic from a nutrition standpoint. Also you can use over 100 different pesticides with different organics. So as a result, consumers are saying, wait a minute. If I can get local at an affordable price and it tastes better and has all these other health benefits, more nutritious, why am I going to pay 30, 40, 50 percent more and go to a Whole Foods and buy organic that really doesn't mean too much to me?
NNAMDIPhil, we got an email from someone who pointed out that you have done PR duties for places like ConAgra and wants to know who are you speaking on behalf of today.
LEMPERTI am speaking on behalf of myself. Yes. What we do is we have various sponsors. And ConAgra foods, we work very closely with once a year where they actually sponsor our 2014, 2015 this year trends where we really talk about -- and we've got a consumer panel of over 100,000 consumers -- we really talk about what consumers are looking for. It is unbiased. It doesn't have any input from ConAgra foods or any of our other sponsors. They just frankly pay for us to be able to get those messages out there both to retailers as well as to consumers.
NNAMDIThat said, what consumer trends have you noticed this year that affects how supermarkets are stocking their shelves?
LEMPERTWell, you know, clearly -- again, back to the whole local point, local continues to grow. What we're seeing is more retail dieticians being put into stores that are paid by supermarkets to really advise people. And again, lots of confusion from the media. I don't know if you saw the report that came out this morning from Time magazine that showed that baby boomers -- and I'm going to use that word for a second, that's their headline -- baby boomers who are eating less and drinking less than previous generations are more obese.
LEMPERTWell, look at the study and what we find is they're talking about baby boomers who are 65 years and older. Well, that's the really old baby boomers. Baby boomers run from 50 years old to 66 years old. And that data is very confusing. When consumers see that they throw up their hands and they say, well what can I do? So that's why supermarkets are really building a much stronger relationship with shoppers.
LEMPERTWe're also seeing supermarkets starting to mentor people. Instead of having cooking classes, what they have is they have community centers where people are coming into the community and they might have a chef mentor there to help them navigate what they should be making.
NNAMDIGot news for you. Baby boomers go to 68 actually. Here is Danielle. (sic)
BENWICKYou know, I have to just very quickly put in a word about Wegmans because it's one of these stores that I will drive to because it's not anywhere near me, sad to say. But they're very, very -- you know, I consider them sort of the Nordstrom of grocery stores in the D.C. area. They're so community-oriented. They have those rooms that you can rent. They -- not -- in addition to the classes they have the coaches. They're very encompassing in trying to get people involved in all kinds of ways in their in-store publications, in -- you know, in sharing recipes and strategies for saving food and preserving food and cooking food, in addition to the fact that you can sort of walk in and get just about anything you want there including patio furniture.
NNAMDIThey seem to have a certain impact with the quality of life in Silver Spring, Md. But earlier I was going to ask you, Bart Yablonsky, about whether or not local -- buying local products was affordable. But Danielle in Washington wants to talk about that. Danielle, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DANIELLEHi. Thank you. Yes. I was a local D.C. resident and I love shopping at farmers markets, but I went to the new one in City Center the other day. I bought a carton of cherries and two tomatoes and it cost me over $11 just for those three products. And I was always under the impression that going to farmers markets and buying from local vendors was cheaper. And I was shocked at the price. It kind of made me want to go back to the grocery store. I was just wondering what your panel's thoughts were on that.
YABLONSKYIt's probably the cherries that put the price up top there, I would think. You know, it depends on what you're buying and where you're getting it. So we certainly have a local product that is very price competitive. We do have local product that's going to be a little bit more expensive. It comes down to the growing season. As we know, living in this market, everything is late this year.
YABLONSKYBonnie and I were talking about that. You know, typically they would've had fresh tomatoes four weeks ago and now we're just starting to see all the tomatoes come in. So there's a lot of factors associated with the climate this year specifically. But typically the pricing should be competitive. It certainly is at Dawson's. And, again, it's probably got to do with maybe there's -- were they Rainier cherries? Maybe there was something special about those cherries. That's probably what drove the price up.
BENWICKDanielle, which part of town do you live in?
DANIELLEThe U Street area and I do go to the U Street farmers market recently on the weekends.
BENWICKYou should see -- yeah, the prices should be better at U Street even then they were at City Center. I think some of it has to do with who runs the market. And literally if you get out of D.C. -- I don't know if you have your own car or -- well, you can use public transportation, but the farther out you get the more you'll see the prices drop at farmers markets in the area.
BENWICKI like the farmers market in Cheverly which isn't really that far away as the crow flies. But it's a lovely market and they're hyper local growers. You know, someone who's doing (word?) it's just the best that I've had for example. And they've got, you know, a band there often and, you know, somebody selling coffee and somebody selling cheese. I mean, you really have to -- you know, that sort of cruising the farmers markets is something that I did for several summers just to try to see what the differences are. And price is a huge difference.
NNAMDIAnd Cheverly is one of the first store -- first two stops you'll find any time you get out of the city, so it's not that far away. Bart.
YABLONSKYI can just add real quickly to that. We sponsor a farmers market on Wednesdays at Dawson's. And it's independent farmers. We're not out there selling our product. It's all individual partners. And you'll see the product prices there will tend to be a little bit lower than our prices in the store for a product that may have been a regional product or an organic product. So comparing apples to apples literally at a farmers market in front of our store, the prices typically should be lower for the organic...
NNAMDITom in Washington, D.C. wants to continue the conversation about local stores. Tom, go ahead, please.
TOMYes, Kojo. Thanks for taking my call. Big fan. And wanted to -- I think Phil actually put it very well that some of the emphasis around local is the conversation is slowly but surely beginning to shift around capturing, aside from the local economic multiplier effect and it tasting better and all of these things that are intrinsic and captured in a farmers market, is the actual nutrient density of the food. So Bart, I think it was, just mentioned, you know, an apples-to-apples comparison. And Danielle your previous caller was talking about the expense.
TOMWhat really are we (word?) and comparing against? And I think one of the things that's wonderful about local food is it's scientifically measurable higher rates of nutrients, better for you, not to mention the carbon footprint and all these other things. And as that conversation continues to advance, you may see more institutional buyers beyond just the Dawson's of the world. But school systems and hospitals beginning to pay a slightly higher premium for those local foods from small scale farms because it is such a healthier product.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call. Phil, rather than following mom's advice to not snack between meals, a lot more consumers are snacking throughout the day. In fact, snacking is now perceived as a more healthful way to eat. How has this affected what we see on supermarket shelves?
LEMPERTWell, it has a huge effect and you're right. In fact, going to the MPD group -- and they've done a lot of research on this -- you know, frequent snacking really makes your entire diet throughout the entire day healthier. When you think back to our ancestors, they did not eat three big meals a day, push themselves away from the table and burp. What they did is they did something that was called roam and grazing.
LEMPERTSo they would eat and, you know, go kill something, go build something, eat some more and so on. And that's a much more healthful way. So what we are seeing is we're seeing more snacks in the supermarket. And that ranges. It ranges from more chips to more healthy snacks, especially in that produce department. And I think it's important to note when we are healthy, just as the last caller talked about. Let's think about nutrition.
LEMPERTAnd again, I hate to bring up the apple-to-apple, you know, situation but all apples are not made equally. So if you have a local apple that's grown locally, it's far different than an apple that comes from the state of Washington that's been in storage -- cold storage for a year-and-a-half. Not only from a taste standpoint but also, you know, from a nutrition standpoint. And I think that what local is doing, whether it's on snack foods or just about anything else, is creating a whole different conversation.
LEMPERTAlso, yeah, we've done studies where we looked at farmers markets throughout the country. And typically we're seeing two things. Number one, what Bart said is exactly what's happening throughout the country. Supermarkets are partnering in their parking lots, having their own farmers markets, reducing prices. But farmers markets typically are more expensive than supermarkets throughout the country. I'm not just talking about Washington, but throughout the country you're going to spend more.
NNAMDIBonnie there's -- go ahead, Bart.
LEMPERTI'd like to just add something. There's a great book called "Eating on the Wild Side." And it's all about the history of our produce and where it came from. And we actually are looking at varieties, so we're talking about the apples again or kale, and finding out which of those varieties are the most healthy and nutritious. And the farmers markets, a lot of these local farmers are starting to grow certain things that they have researched and have discovered are more nutritious than the varieties you would typically see. So that's definitely a big piece of the local.
NNAMDIBonnie, I wanted you to underscore a point that you made earlier. There's an increased interest in international foods, as many consumers are looking to experiment with new flavors. Where can shoppers find these unique ingredients? Think suburbs, right?
BENWICKYeah, but Trader Joe's has done a good job of -- you know, they'll get in one of this or one of that and you'll be familiar with it. But, yes, I tend to seek out those international markets. I'm kind of thrilled to -- and I notice that in the larger supermarkets -- maybe Phil can speak to this -- I see international aisles that have grown, expanded, mushroomed, you know, just in the time that I've been in the food section.
NNAMDIYeah, I've noticed that.
BENWICKYou know, there might be seven different kinds of soy sauce instead of the 30 that you see at the Asian market. But they're just growing all the time. And I think that reflects how we're cooking and shopping.
LEMPERTKojo, one word, and this was brought up on your website with the survey yesterday, after you posted the survey. It's called Amazon. Amazon is changing the food world. So you've got Amazon fresh that's right now just in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle. Most people don't understand that you can buy some very exotic foods from Amazon. They'll deliver it to you the next day. They've got Amazon pantry. They're just doing everything imaginable for home delivery.
LEMPERTAnd then what we have is we've got Google Express, which has now put -- you know, started too, but within a year you'll see every supermarket in the country, including Dawson's, which will have same day delivery of all these exotic foods. So it's going to change the way we shop. We may only go to a supermarket like Dawson's once or twice a week, but we will get food delivered to us seven days a week.
NNAMDIWhich brings me to Kathy in Washington, D.C. Kathy, your turn.
KATHYHi. Thank you, Kojo, for taking my call. I think a lot of -- I love this program and one of the things that I noticed is that the conversation really is about sort of the consumer going out to the market. And as a city dweller -- I lived on Capitol Hill for the past three years -- I've seen a lot of local farm markets come to the city. And we have Yes Organic which is a small market in Capitol Hill and all that stuff, which is great. But the reality of living in the city is I don't have a car. And I don't really -- I work beyond 9:00 to 5:00. So going to a grocery store even on -- finding time once a week is difficult.
KATHYSo I really love Pea Pod but I don't have the option -- because they deliver -- I don't have the option of really international types of foods or like a lot of organic produce. So my question to the panel is whether or not you guys foresee delivery really growing, like compared to New York.
NNAMDII think Phil Lempert is ahead of there, because that's what he was just saying.
LEMPERTYeah, there's no question. Go to -- check out Amazon, especially for a lot of the international flavors. Pea Pod is great. I know Andrew Parkinson very well. When he started Pea Pod in Chicago I was a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. And they've done an exceptional job.
LEMPERTRight now you've got Fresh Direct, you've got Pea Pod, you've got all this new players coming out. And the good news is you're going to be able to get as exotic food as you want delivered to you at the timeframe that you want. Forget these windows now of two hours. You're going to be able to look at 15-minute increments. And that's when they're going to deliver it with you either by drone or by an actual human being. But delivery definitely growing. It's the fastest growing aspect of the food industry right now.
NNAMDIWhich brings me to this question, Bonnie. For many D.C. residents, convenience, as Kathy was pointing out, is a priority. How can supermarkets adapt to save customers time?
BENWICKWell, you know, certainly the delivery thing speaks to that directly. But I also think they -- you know, they're luring customers into the stores with specials, with times of day. You know, I know that there are certain things at Whole Foods like at the end of the day that, you know, will go on sale or they'll have wine evenings. They turn it into more of a social engagement aspect. So I was kind of surprised to see how well that works for downtown D.C.
BENWICKAnd for the caller who didn't have a car I would say, you know, if you really care about what you're eating and you happen to be a person who likes to shop, I find that I get kind of inspired if I go to Dawson's and I'm in the market. Maybe I didn't think I wanted kohlrabi but I see it and it's beautiful and I want to do seven things with it. So I'll buy it. And that's the kind of thing that I think delivery will certainly brighten a lot of people's lives and make it easier. But I'm the kind of shopper who isn't going to get all that delivered to me.
YABLONSKYRight. I agree. I think that the foodie really wants to go and see the food and smell the food and touch the food.
BENWICKNo, we're not using that word anymore, Bart.
YABLONSKYOh, well, sorry. But I think that, you know, somebody that is, you know, passionate about it is going to want to go in and try it and see it and take part in the wine tastings and that sort of thing that go on in the store.
NNAMDII recommended doing a show about that word and got shot down. We've got to take a short break. When we come back, we will continue this Food Wednesday conversation on food shopping in Washington. But you can still call us, 800-433-8850. Do you order your groceries online? What products would you be comfortable ordering online and which would you prefer to buy in person, 800-433-8850? I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're discussing food shopping in Washington with Bobbie Benwick, deputy food and recipes editor at the Washington Post. She writes the weekly Dinner in Minutes column and the monthly Washington Cooks column. Bart Yablonsky is the manager of Dawson's Market, an independent local market in Rockville. And Phil Lempert runs the website SuperMarketGuru which focuses on consumer behavior, marketing trends, new products and the changing retail landscape of food. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. You can go to our website kojoshow.org, ask a question or make a comment there.
NNAMDIPhil, a lot of today's shoppers use apps designed to streamline their shopping experience such as Fooducate and Grocery IQ. What shopping apps can we expect to see next?
LEMPERTWell, I think we're going through an evolution. There're some great ones out there. You mentioned Fooducate. I know that one very well, a lot of great information there. But frankly I'm seeing a lot of people saying, there's too many different apps. Give me one app that actually I can go to and I can use for a variety of things. My personal favorite is Seafood Watch. I think people have a lot of questions about what seafood to buy, especially as we're seeing beef and pork prices going up. Seafood is a great alternative. Seafood is healthy. It's affordable. And people are confused about seafood.
LEMPERTSo download its free Seafood Watch and it'll tell you what species is endangered, what species could be harmful from a food safety standpoint. I think we're going to start to see the evolution of apps that are not store-based. There are a lot of them that are store-based. But actually, you know, it takes all the information into one and can tell us what's on sale in a particular store. Give us those coupons, give us those recipes and give us the needed information because now on my iPhone I probably have, you know, 200 different apps. And what happens is when I go into the store, I'm lucky if I use one or two.
NNAMDIOn now to David in Hyattsville, Md. David, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DAVIDHello, Kojo. Wonderful show. I know that in the Washington area Whole Foods is often considered the top of the heap. But in Portland, Oregon where I spend a fair amount of time with family, it's at the bottom of the heap because there's such a huge focus on organic natural foods. I'm glad to hear the whole natural foods market is expanding greatly in the D.C. area. So it's just wonderful information. I've rarely seen any of these natural farms. Where are they and how can we encourage more of them?
YABLONSKYWell, Dawson's Market's in Rockville Town Square. So, you know, there is definitely -- customers like coming to a local independent store, is what we've found. And so, you know, there are some other stores in the market that are coming around. As far as the farms you're speaking to, there are farmers markets all around. If you Google you can certainly find in Montgomery County, I know there's a good list of the farmers markets that are in Montgomery County, which is where we're located.
BENWICKThere's actually an area-wide list at WashingtonPost.com/food.
YABLONSKYThere you go.
NNAMDIThere you go, David.
LEMPERTAnd also, Kojo, if I can just add.
NNAMDIGo ahead, please, Phil.
LEMPERTThere's a couple things. When you talk about Portland, one of the best retailers out of Portland is called New Seasons.
LEMPERTAnd we're seeing New Seasons, we're seeing Fresh Market, we're seeing Sprouts, all these "healthy" quote unquote, or fresh markets really evolving. Number one, much less expensive than Whole Foods. Much more credible than Whole Foods. And also my favorite is a new upstart. There's only one store called Green Zebra in Portland. And it's the ex CEO of New Seasons who went off on her own. And she wants to create this new small format, about 5 to 7,000 square-foot store and have them throughout the entire country. So the next ten years in super marketing is going to be fabulous.
NNAMDIWe got a tweet from Ian who says, ""The Kojo Show" obsession with lower prices should not be the focus. Supporting local responsible farms and food artisans is more important." Well, tell that to people who have lower incomes, Ian. And we would assume that some such people listen to our broadcast. And believe me, affordability is very important to them. And I think that's one of the issues that David in Purcellville, Va. addresses. David, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DAVIDOh, thank you, Kojo. I'm a huge fan and I love the topic today. I wanted to talk about vegetable subscriptions because I used to live in Arlington. We moved out to Purcellville because there's a farmers market across the street, and I wanted to be near the farms. But we actually go the vegetable subscription in Arlington as well. They deliver to a central point. You can go and pick it up. And that's just farm fresh stuff that's delivered to, like well, basically somebody's house. And you pay about 6 or $700 and you get all the vegetables they grow for that season.
BENWICKAre you talking about a CSA Community Supported Agriculture?
DAVIDYeah, and, you know, it was organic and farm fresh. And now I actually live two miles from the farm that used to bring the subscriptions. So -- and we have that so it's really very convenient.
NNAMDIThank you very much...
LEMPERT...my only word of caution with CSAs -- and I think they're great, let me start there -- is you want to be real smart because what we have found is a lot of our consumer panel has signed up for CSAs. And then six months into it have found that 50 percent of what they're getting, they actually wind up wasting because they don't know what to do with it. So the smart CSAs now have recipes. They're now putting information in those boxes so you know what to do with a lot of this exotic produce that typically was wasted. So if you're going to sign up for a CSA, check it out, make sure that information is in there as well.
NNAMDIHere now is yet another David. This time in Washington, D. C. David, your turn.
DAVIDYes. I was just calling to say I really enjoy the show but one of the things that I found for me was a website called netgrocer.com. When I was deployed to Afghanistan, the things you can't get -- you just can't get because they're not feeding it to you in the chow hall, things like peanut butter and jelly, whole wheat bread, things like that. Netgrocer.com would actually deliver -- mail you your food. It was -- I thought it was a really useful service.
NNAMDIPhil, do these mailings and grocery service deliveries such as Pea Pod and Relay Foods pose a threat to the traditional supermarket? Do you anticipate online ordering becoming mainstream?
LEMPERTAbsolutely. Last week or a week-and-a-half ago in Chicago was FMI Connect, Food Marketing Institute, talked to a lot of the CEOs there. Number one concern they have, I'll say it again, Amazon. It is game changing. Amazon is changing the food world as we speak, as is Google Express. And every major CEO agrees that their brick and mortar store is not going to go away. It's just going to change everything.
LEMPERTWhat's going to happen is we're going to have refrigerators and cupboards that have scales and scanners in them. So you're going to preprogram that you never want to run out of milk. So you take milk out in the morning, you put it in cereal, you put it in your coffee. It's actually measuring your consumption and guess what happens? The day before you're about ready to run out of milk or toilet paper or water or coffee or anything else, it's automatically replenished.
LEMPERTNow you're going to go to Dawson's for that great meat, those great vegetables. But those big bulky brand name items that we can't live without, they're just going to show up. And yes, it's Amazon and Google who are going to be delivering it.
NNAMDIBart, let's talk about food labels. They can often be misleading for consumers. Many consumers believe that natural products are better for them. But there's a lot of ambiguity about what standards a product must meet in order to receive this label. How can stores help consumers navigate nutrition labels?
YABLONSKYIt's a very good question and there's definitely -- a lot of customers are questioning that. At Dawson's we try to be fully transparent with the customers. And we post a lot of signs around the store and we try to educate our staff to answer those questions. I think a lot of it comes around, the difference between organic and natural. We carry -- we try to carry the organic option when we can but we certainly carry the natural option if the organic is too price adverse or it's not available.
YABLONSKYSo I think that people need to understand that natural -- all oranges are natural but not all oranges are organic. And that distinction of understanding the difference between natural and organic is a difficult one. For anything that's labeled organic, it's USDA organic. There are standards for that and it needs to meet certain standards to be able to be labeled like that. Unfortunately, the natural label does not have those standards. And there, I think, lies where the questions come from customers.
NNAMDII think Bob in Chilla (sp?) , Md. has a question about that. Bob, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BOBHi. Yeah, I was left a little confused by some of the conversation earlier in which first it was said that studies have shown that organically-produced produce is not -- has no discernible nutritional difference from conventionally-produced produce. And then later on in the conversation I heard that locally-produced food is thought to be more nutritious than other food. And that left a huge ambiguous area for me.
BENWICKI think one of the differences...
BENWICK...that Phil and Bart were talking about was really that it's fresher. Any food that you have that's fresher that's taken less time to get from that store to your plate has retained more of its nutrients. Once you cook it, once you, you know, break it down, you know, you're sort of losing ground there. But if I'm -- you know, if I have the opportunity to eat corn that was picked from Prince George's County farm yesterday as opposed to corn that's come from Chile that can be seven days old by the time it gets to me, you can understand which one I'm going to go for. And that will have more nutrients. I don't think that the local -- you know, anybody's suggesting that the local food is imbued naturally with, you know, greater anything.
NNAMDIHow does Dawson's determine what products to carry, Bart?
YABLONSKYSo we -- you know, we listen to our customers. We look at what sells. We listen to the comments that they make. And we look for what's unique. And as I said earlier, we do try -- and the produce specifically, we try to bring in the varieties that research has been done to show have higher nutritional value. Varieties of produce that are more of the original untainted, unchanged varieties.
YABLONSKYYou know, the darker the vegetable typically the more nutrition it is. So we will carry red dandelions versus green dandelions as an example. So we look at that. And then, you know, we try to look at the industry as well and see what's happening in the industry.
NNAMDIPhil, organic foods have long been associated with premium prices. Wal-Mart recently announced that it would start selling organic food products from Wild Oats at lower prices than competitors. Can Wal-Mart really make organics affordable?
LEMPERTAbsolutely. And it's not only Wal-Mart. It's Ron Burkle. Ron Burkle is one of the brilliant supermarket owners, creators in the country. And Ron's deal was with Tesco who opened up Fresh and Easy on the west coast. Fresh and Easy, again, is a smaller format store somewhere between 7 and 12,000 square foot. Tesco left the market for a variety of reasons. One was really bad merchandising and really bad, if you would, real estate. It's all about real estate. If you're in a lousy location, and I don't care how cheap it is, nobody's going to find it.
LEMPERTNow he also, when he sold Wild Oats to Whole Foods kept the Wild Oats brand. So the deal with Wal-Mart is brilliant. Here's why. Wild Oats brand products are not going to be sold in Wal-Mart as their store brand, 25 percent less than name brands. And no question in my mind, we're starting to see it already, Ron Burkle is now converting those Fresh and Easy stores to Wild Oats stores.
LEMPERTAnd Wal-Mart has wanted to have a small format store that is quote unquote "either organic or more healthful." And you'll see Ron Burkle probably within three years sell the Fresh and Easy Wild Oats chain to Wal-Mart who's then having this whole new format store. And it's going to change, once again, the business. Think in terms of ten years from now, smaller size stores that are more specialized to what your need is.
NNAMDIWith consumers feeling less loyalty to a particular store -- and we only have about 30 seconds -- is it possible that health food pioneers such as Whole Foods could lose business from customers looking to save money at Wal-Mart?
LEMPERTAbsolutely. You know, look at Whole Foods stock price. It's down 40 percent. Whole Foods is in trouble. Whole Foods' model is broken. What Whole Foods did is they said, oh look at that corner health food store. That guy who could barely stand up who looked like he was ready to die, that was the old model that they came in and cleaned up. They haven't done anything since then.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Phil Lempert, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIBonnie Benwick, thank you for joining us.
BENWICKAlways a pleasure.
NNAMDIAnd Bart Yablonsky, thank you for joining us.
YABLONSKYThank you very much.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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