published Saturday, May 21st, 2011

Fresh Food Lion roar

Produce manager Ralph Dockery restocks bagged salads in the produce department at the Food Lion in Rocky Face, Ga. Area Food Lion grocery stores are attempting to bring more customers in by revamping their stores with fresher produce, wider aisles, new branding, better lighting and faster checkout lanes. 
Staff Photo by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press
Produce manager Ralph Dockery restocks bagged salads in the produce department at the Food Lion in Rocky Face, Ga. Area Food Lion grocery stores are attempting to bring more customers in by revamping their stores with fresher produce, wider aisles, new branding, better lighting and faster checkout lanes. Staff Photo by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press

Food Lion just can’t wait to be king of Chattanooga grocery stores — that’s why the grocery chain is shaking up almost every aspect of its local supermarkets.

The Chattanooga and Raleigh, N.C., markets are the first to see stores with wider aisles and price reductions on about a fifth of the stores’ 30,000-item inventory.

“It’s really an offensive move on our part,” Food Lion President Cathy Green Burns said. “We have been deliberate in executing our strategy versus being defensive to a competitor’s strategy.”

Some of these changes challenge industry norms. For example, removing displays to clear aisles goes against the conventional idea that confronting customers with more discounted products will lead to more sales.

“As an operator, I was very concerned with pulling all the merchandising we did from the sales floor. I expected to see sales trend downward,” Chattanooga district manager John Morris said. “It was just the opposite. It never trended downward. It started moving up gradually, and then it increased as we implemented more.”

Food Lion decided to revamp its direction after consumer research showed customers wanted specific changes, Burns said. The grocer tweaked store layouts, displays and staffing to address concerns.

“They said if you make it easier to shop, we’ll shop more,” Morris said. “We’re obviously not as smart as our customers about what they want.”

The good news for Food Lion was customers wanted very few expensive bricka-and-mortar changes to the stores. Aside from a few relatively minor additions such as extra lighting in parking lots and upgraded restrooms, most of the changes are related to staffing and store layout.

The largest staffing changes came to the produce department. Data showed consumers wanted staff on hand in the department, just like they would be in the meat and bakery sections.

Food Lion employs about 800 people at their 19 stores in the Chattanooga market. Locally the grocer competes strongly against stores such as Bi-Lo and Walmart, but Chattanooga has room for growth. The area was chosen as a testing ground because Food Lion has a relatively small presence here, especially compared to the 167 stores in the large Raleigh market.

“Both markets are critically important to understand what elements will resonate with the customers, where we’re hitting the mark and where we’re not,” Burns said.

Food Lion is no stranger to change. Its parent company is one of the most forward-thinking in the industry, according to Mark Hamstra, retail editor of trade publication Supermarket News.

“Food Lion does try to stay out ahead of the industry in a lot of ways,” he said. “They’re always experimenting with new projects.”

With Walmart hammering the low-price angle, Hamstra said, supermarkets across the industry are trying to find ways to stand out beyond pricing.

“It’s harder and harder for grocery stores to distinguish themselves just on price alone,” he said.

Burns hopes these changes will keep Food Lion a distinct brand, helping her stores gain an even larger presence in Chattanooga and eventually up the East Coast.

“We’re not foreshadowing any market share gains, but the opportunities are there,” Burns said. “It was really about tethering ourselves to the consumer. When you deliver on those expectations, then over time we should see market share gains based on that.”

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TwinkleTN said...

I'm not sure how Food Lion found out what customers wanted. I called the customer service hot line to complain about a sitution at my local Food Lion that was based upon a decision the company made. The representative told me it would be logged as a complaint against the store manager who is EXCELLENT!!! In addition if they want me back in the stores they need to get rid of the items at the end of the check out belt. A lot of us want to place bread, eggs, etc there until other items are taken out of the cart so they will not be crushed. That is not possible if there is colored spun sugar on the end. Also, since they removed the coffee grinder we have been going to BiLO every time we need coffee. When we are there we always purchase other items. I guess Food Lion has lost at least $3,000 annually of our dollars since they made that change. I wonder how many other customers do that? If they want to grind their own coffee I guarantee they are purchasing other items when they go to the other store. Finally, it seems that Food Lion has cut the total hours that managers can have each week. There is no need to say what that does to customer service. Oh, once again, don't call customer service. They will log yet another complaint against the excellent store manager.

May 21, 2011 at 8:03 a.m.
hcirehttae said...

It's not about grinding coffee. How about regrinding hamburger after its sell-by date and repackaging it as new hamburger? America remembers Food Lion from a few years ago, and we're not impressed by the new lipstick on the proverbial pig...

May 22, 2011 at 6:27 p.m.
nomad said...

Foodlion is money driven period. They could care less about their customers, or associates. During the holidays they always cut payroll in order to make more profits. They should all close. I personally know a child who got sick from eating outdated meat from one of their remodeled stores. The District manager told the parents that this never happens. Good luck if you shop there, but for the young, and elderly you are taking a huge chance.

January 12, 2012 at 2:38 p.m.
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