Reporter's Notebook: Why Everything I Thought About Albertsons From Shopping There May Be Wrong

Jul 10, 2015

I shop at Albertsons a few times a week. I live near one and there are two close to our radio studio. I’ll pop over in the evening or on weekends to pick up a few things. Granted, my market research is light-years from being scientific, but on those trips I’ve noticed a couple of things that have made me less than optimistic for the future of this hometown company. 

One, it’s never crowded compared to the store where I go for my big, once-a-week shopping trips. And two, like me, everyone there seems to be buying just a few things.  

I recently had the chance to run my observations by a grocery industry expert. He says my concerns don’t have merit. Frank Dell is a food industry analyst, consultant and founder of Dellmart and Company. Dell says people only buying a few things doesn’t necessarily mean that Albertsons is underperforming.

“The American consumer is looking a lot more like the European consumer every day,” Dell says. “What you’re seeing is people in the store are in there for the most part [thinking] ‘I need this cleaning product and this is what we’re having for dinner tonight,’ and maybe, ‘I need another box of cereal for the kids tomorrow.’”

Dell says the practice of doing all the shopping for a week or two in one trip - which he calls ‘pantry loading’ -  was once the norm. But he says, increasingly, Americans are going to the grocery store three or four times a week for a few things rather than three or four times a month for many things.  

He says the only chains that get a lot of pantry loading customers are the ones with much lower prices than competitors and/or that sell a lot of other things besides food.  Dell adds that many people who still do a weekly or twice-monthly big shopping trip also go somewhere else to get things like produce. The reason? Many believe the quality isn't as good at the cheaper store. 

Dell also says my other observation, the decidedly uncrowded aisles, may not be something Albertsons should be concerned about.

Dell says a better way to judge how well a store is doing is by the number of checkout lanes open. But he says that test can’t be done all day. Plenty of successful grocery stores are packed for a only couple hours a day.

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