Monday, July 18, 2011

Detroit Grocer Exemplifies Serving Community - Part 2

When MetroFoodland first opened 26 years ago the independent grocery store didn't have a particular focus on offering healthier foods options or providing supports and education for improving customer health. But over time MetroFoodland has gradually evolved its business priorities toward supporting its customers' health and is demonstrating key innovations in how grocers can have a positive impact. 

It all started when a customer asked Mr. Hooks if his store had any natural juices. At the time MetroFoodland didn't carry any natural beverages - just things like soda and beverages with artificial ingredients and sweeteners. But, as a grocer that responds to his customer's request, Mr. Hooks began to carry natural juice. To his surprise the juices sold far better than he had ever anticipated. This told him that his customers were beginning to want to healthier food options. So Mr. hooks began to add more natural beverage products. Gradually his customers began to ask the store to carry other healthy food items. This got Mr. Hooks thinking that he could do more to not only support his customers health, but to strengthen his customer base and his store's sales.

And so began a journey of change for MetroFoodland that, in 2010, culminated in a complete resetting of the store's shelves in which, after working with a team of dieticians for a year, about 1/3 of its products were eliminated and replaced with healthier items. Then Mr. Hooks began looking for ways that he could support his customers to buy even more of the healthier foods he now carried. He partnered with local celebrity Chef Shannon Wilson to offer cooking classes and demonstrations, stores tours and healthy recipes. And he posted a variety of resources on MetroFoodland's website including a healthy food shopping list.

Then Mr. Hooks implemented what's likely MetroFoodland's greatest innovation in supporting customer health: the MetroFoodland Healthy Rewards Club. While most supermarkets have a rewards card program nowadays, the key difference in MetroFoodland's rewards card is that it's geared toward encouraging and rewarding healthy eating behavior. All of the healthy food products in the store feature a special tag which indicates that customers will receive points for purchasing those particular products. Customers receive one point for each penny they spend on qualifying items. Once a customer has earned 10,000 points (which is $100 in spending) they receive a $10 credit on their next purchase. This credit can be redeemed for discounts on the purchase of additional healthy food items.

What's most significant about the MetroFoodland Healthy Rewards Club is that, to our knowledge, it's the first rewards card program in the country to be targeted toward encouraging healthier behavior. Since other reward card programs are geared at encouraging the same shopping behavior that a customer already has - which includes purchasing unhealthy products - MetroFoodland's program is a major departure from the dominant industry trend. In addition to encouraging customers to purchase healthier food items the MetroFoodland Healthy Rewards Club helps make it more affordable to buy those healthier foods buy providing exclusive discounts on such products.

While the MetroFoodland Healthy Rewards Club has only been an active program for a few months Mr. Hooks believes it will have a significant on both customer's food choices and on his store's bottom line. He believes this, in part, because he has already observed that having a stronger health focus provides his store with a unique source of differentiation from other area grocers. And that makes all the difference for an independent grocer striving to deeply serve its communities while staying competitive against larger chain stores.

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