Seeing Is Believing

How c-store retailers can communicate the story of fresh.

October 11, 2018

LAS VEGAS – First impressions are everything. As a retailer, first impressions of your store are your chance to tell your story. Getting it right was the focus of the NACS Show education session “Improving the Execution of Fresh.”

The session spotlighted examples of small- to mid-sized retailers who have successfully aligned their efforts with messaging to tell a fresh story that resonates with their customers. According to Joe Bona, session moderator and president of Bona Design Lab, the first step is to look at your store from the customer’s perspective— from your advertising to your community partnerships.

“I think the question should be, ‘What is the first thing you want customers to see when they enter a store?’ People eat with their eyes before they eat with their mouth,” Bona said. “Walking into a display of brown bananas or wrinkled tomatoes does not deliver a confident impression of being fresh.”

Likewise, Bona said if retailers want to be known as a destination for fresh-made food, then they should make the customer feel as if they are walking into a food store and not a wall of cigarettes or magazines. While traditional c-store sales are important, store layout should be more than a technical exercise of spatial organization. It should establish a strong first impression and control how you want customers to shop your store. Fixtures, merchandise displays and design are what bring a store to life, Bona said.

Conveying a message of “fresh” also means showing your customers where and when their food was produced. Local sourcing has a greater impact on purchase decisions than ever before, so communicating that information is critical.

“Typically, in c-stores, retailers throw a few apples and bananas on a standard end cap that oftentimes looks like an afterthought. Whereas, when you go to a Whole Foods or your local supermarket, it is merchandised in more specifically designed fixtures that enhance the presentation and actually make you want to buy,” Bona said. “Even fresh farm stands use wooden crates that reinforce that the fruit was just picked from the farm. If you want to sell fruits and vegetables, then sell them like the professionals.”

C-store retailers should take appropriate steps to tell their story, he said. In fresh-made food operations, be certain that the kitchen is well maintained, utensils are clean and proper food handling procedures are being followed to avoid serious health and safety issues that turn away guests. Attractive packaging, clever communication and professionally trained staff are the front-line tools that retailers can utilize to execute and deliver a consistent, positive experience.

“If guests don’t believe in what they see, they won’t believe in what they eat,” Bona said. “The same can be said of fresh products that might be sold in your store. It comes down to creating authentic experiences— you can’t be a little bit fresh and hope to convince customers you are a serious destination.”

To illustrate his point, Bona told attendees that while there are many times customers don’t see food being freshly made, they trust that the food is fresh. This is in part to smart storytelling and strong brand recognition.