New Roles for Supermarkets

Grocery ShoppingYou probably won't find a customer-visible clock in your neighborhood supermarket.  The store wants you to forget about the passage of time and stay there forever, browsing the shelves and soaking up desires for more foods.  But beyond grocery-shopping, supermarkets are offering additional inducements for you to stay put.  Let's check out the specifics of what's fun and instructional in many stores.  Then, let's focus upon the one place at which the store wants to speed up your departure--the check-out counter.  A high-tech device now being tested can do this.   


Consumer's Reports Shopsmart makes shopping sound enjoyable in its description of how supermarkets are "pumping up their in-store social scene."  If you consider grocery-shopping a boring, tedious task, consider this: at a Hubbell & Hudson in Houston you can stroll the aisles with a glass of wine in one hand.  Furthermore at some Wegmans, Whole Foods, and other stores, you can buy a drink at the bar.  Many stores offer food samples to snack on. But that's just the beginning.  Shopsmart also mentions "comfy seating, free Wi-Fi, a flat-screen TV, and even live entertainment." Add to all that free food demos, seminars, and wine-and-cheese tastings.  Some stores even give cooking classes--for a fee. 


Food scientist, Dr. Catherine Cutter confirms the Shopsmart description.  She says Jungle Jim's International Market (in Fairfield Ohio, near Cincinnati) also feeds the social and educational needs of its customers (along with their dietary needs and desires) by offering cooking classes, a cooking school, and instruction in wine-and-food pairings.  It stocks some 180,00 items, about 60,000 of which are international. Its wine selection is the largest in the U.S.  But Jungle Jim's goes much further than that.  According to Wikipedia, it's been described as "a theme park of food." It has live seafood tanks, animal replicas accompanied by occasional roars and a miniature waterfall, and animatronic displays including a lion singing Elvis Presley songsand a rock band made up of General Mills cereal mascots.  There's also a 15,000-square-foot space for wine tastings and concerts.  How's that for shopping entertainment? 


If your supermarket doesn't yet provide social and educational benefits, cheer up.  Chances are, some efforts along these lines will soon be coming to a store near you.


These days, there's plenty of time to enjoy supermarket distractions because you don't need to do any home cooking anymore if you don't have the time or inclination.  The store can prepare all your meals for you. Many ready-made dinners now available have the added benefit of  being tasty.  The newest ones are cooked, not frozen combo-dinners that save you the trouble of preparing the food yourself and winding up with pots and pans to scrub.  Examples I've tried and enjoyed: chicken Parmesan and spaghetti and meatballs (sold in my neighborhood Dominick's in Lincolnwood, IL).  It's all done for you (often in portions for two); all you  need is a microwave and about 3 minutes' time to heat it.  Furthermore, the shelf life of these work-free meals usually ends at least a week from the time you take them home.   You wouldn't save your homemade leftovers that long, but these foods are packaged to last awhile if unopened.  (Once opened, follow the usual advice aboutleftovers: save them no more than 3 days.)


You may be wondering this:if, after doing some shopping, you decide to have a Starbucks or lunch or watch a cooking demo,  what's keeping the perishable goods in your cart cold? You might put them in an insulated bag, but Cutter has a better suggestion for stores to incorporate: a thermoelectric cooler that could be plugged into the cart.  Then you could go to that cooking class even after selecting your milk and chicken.  This device would be similar to the car coolers that can be plugged into a cigarette lighter outlet. 


After you've spent half your afternoon enjoying the newworld of the supermarket offerings, of course, you'll be in a hurry to get through check-out.  A Kroger store in Hebron, Kentucky is testing a device that will do just that--a scanning tunnel.  Food scientist Dr. Clair Hicks viewed this equipment in operation in March, 2012 and was impressed by it.  "Normally, there's a little less than a 3-minute wait in a Kroger store.  This technology may reduce line wait to less than 1 minute.The belt moves at 60 feet per minute, so you can almost just dump the entire contents of your cart onto the belt at once. This technology will reduce both time and labor and may lower the cost of groceries coming from a Kroger store.  I think it will be a real win-win for the store and the consumer." 


Supermarkets have been quite willing to cash in on the special needs of their customers--dietary needs such as gluten-free and lactose-free items and edible needs dictated by religious restrictions (kosher and halal foods). 


And let's not forget one more benefit that supermarkets have been offering customers for quite awhile: air conditioning. On a hot summer day, it's delightfully chilly in there. 




Catherine N. Cutter, Ph.D., Pennsylvania State University, Dept. of Food Science

Clair L. Hicks, Ph.D., University of Kentucky, Dept. of Animal and Food Sciences


Consumer Reports Shopsmart, September 2011. “Jungle Jim's International Market"'s_International_Market



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