Grocery competition in Butler County and the region has become an all-out battle as industry heavyweights launch new, creative measures to outdo competition and retain brand loyalty.
“The grocery industry has always been a competitive one,” said Kristin Mullins, president and CEO of the Ohio Grocers Association, which represents between 75 and 80 percent of grocers of all sizes statewide. “We work on very slim profit margins and so we try to make sure every store cateres to a wide variety of customers. Probably because of that, that’s why you’re seeing all these new, added services in all of our grocery stores.”
As customers’ lives continue to become more fast-paced, grocers will seek to enact more new services and programs to both defend and grow their market share, Mullins said.
Walmart, which is “expanding service constantly” launched its Online Grocery pickup service last month at four Cincinnati area stores, including locations in West Chester Twp. and Deerfield Twp., according to Anne Hatfield, director of communications for Walmart.
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The free service allows customers to order groceries online and pick them up at select Walmart stores without having to leave their vehicles.
“The nice thing about it is its free and we’re the only ones that offer it for free,” Hatfield said. “There’s no service charge and the prices are exactly the same as what you’re going to find in the store.”
Walmart’s grocery pickup service features 30,000 items, including fresh meat, dairy and produce, according to the company. Personal shoppers are trained to shop for customers as if they were shopping from themselves.
More than 90 percent of customers are repeat users and the satisfaction rate for the service place is the high 90s, Hatfield said.
‘It’s probably one of, if not the most popular service we’ve ever offered,” she said.
Alysha Wallace, who stopped by the West Chester Twp. Walmart on Thursday to pick up her online grocery order she placed Wednesday said she definitely do so again.
“It’ll be nice when it’s cold out (and) you don’t have to get out of the car,” she said. “It’s pretty exciting. There’s no separation between online and in the stores. It’s all just one experience.”
This summer, Walmart launched Walmart Pay, a pay app meant to eliminate the need to take out a credit card at checkout and do away with printed receipts.
“I just walk up to where I normally swipe my credit card, hit the Walmart Pay button and a QR code shows up and it connects with your phone,” Hatfield said. “Then I get an e-receipt and it’s stored in the app so if I ever had to return or exchange something, it’s right there.”Downloadable on any smartphone, the app is aimed at being “the most broad and inclusive system of any retailer,” Wallace said.
Kroger — the largest U.S. grocery chain — is hoping to have two new stores in West Chester and Liberty townships under construction in spring 2017, spokeswoman Patty Leeseman told the Journal-News.
Coming to the corner of Ohio 747 and Tylersville Road in West Chester Twp. will be a 133,000-square-foot Marketplace to replace replace a 71,000-square-foot storefront at Ohio 747 and and Smith Road.
Part of Crossings of Beckett shopping center, that Kroger Marketplace also will include a fuel pump station.
A 133,868-square-foot Kroger Marketplace coming to Ohio 4 and Kyles Station Road will replace a 57,000-square-foot storefront that Kroger started leasing at 5420 Liberty-Fairfield Road in 1998.
Kroger in 2015 made its online shopping service, ClickList, available to customers of its Kroger Marketplace at 7300 Yankee Road in Liberty Twp. before its other 2,777 supermarkets nationwide to test online ordering.
Kroger charges $4.95 for an online order, but the fee is waived for the first three orders. Other local Kroger stores that now offer ClickList include West Chester Twp. (Tylersville Road), Deerfield Twp. (Arbor Square), Sharonville and Lebanon locations.
Jennifer Klumb of Liberty Twp., said her favorite part of ClickList in the six months she’s been using it is saving two hours of her time each shopping trip.
“They’re fast, there’s never a long line, they’re very friendly (and) they have everything they say they’re going to have or substitute for it, so it’s nice,” Klumb said Thursday while her groceries were delivered to her vehicle.
Lee Casper, of Liberty Twp., said she’s been using ClickList since it was introduced at the Yankee Road location. Since then it’s become the favorite part of her Kroger experience and well worth the cost, she said.
“It saves time … and I get a lot of heavy items and they load those right in the car for me so I don’t have to pick them up and put them in a cart and put them on the belt and then put them in my car,” Casper said.
In addition, Kroger recently enhanced its mobile app, which includes a shopping list feature, digital coupons and other exclusive offers digitally.
The Cincinnati-based grocery chain also has launched an everyday 3-cent savings on fuel to complement its existing fuel rewards program and offer automatic savings if a customer has already used their accumulated fuel rewards, she said.
Meijer, which has four Butler County locations, continues to use its mPerks digital coupons and rewards program, an updated shopping app, updated its online presence to highlight the most common and popular products in its stores, according to spokesman Frank Guglielmi
Its also rolling out digital shopping programs such as Curbside, already available at stores in in Kettering, Dayton, Englewood and Fairborn.
Meijer Mastercard, used by customers to save money on gasoline as well as take advantage of special credit card events at our stores. This week the retail giant will switch to 10 cents off each gallon of gas purchased at Meijer gas stations, increased from 5 cents, as well as introduce a $10 cash reward coupon for every $1,500 spent, versus a 5 percent grocery/15 percent general merchandise coupon after $2,500 in spending.
Locally owned Jungle Jim’s International Market recently upgraded its live holding tanks in its the seafood department of its Fairfield location, a move that has “really enhanced the entire seafood experience,” according to spokesman Jared Bowers.
The store also is in the process of changing to LED lighting for a better overall experience in both its Fairfield and Eastgate location.
“As often as possible, Jungle Jim’s looks for ways to connect with their customers through demos of new products, as well as tastings, classes, events and festivals,” Bowers said. “New events like the Bacon & Cheese Festival, International Whiskey Trail and Taste of the Sea are all new, different and, most importantly, fun.
“It’s that connection that keeps them in touch with both what the customer is most interested in, as well as creating new items of interest for them.”
Discount-grocery chain ALDI, which has two locations in Butler County, in March began accepting credit cards – including Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express – at all ALDI stores nationwide.
ALDI officials said the chain now carries nearly 70 varieties of fruits and vegetables, including several organic produce items, ALDI officials said. Most recently, ALDI launched Little Journey, its first full line of baby products that shoppers can find in stores nationwide.
More opportunities still possible
Grocers could eventually start offering home delivery, especially as Amazon and other sites of that nature continue to encroaches on the grocery store industry, the Ohio Grocers Association’s Mullins said.
“Our retailers are responding because at the end of the day we still believe that going to the grocery store and buying your food from a grocery store still has great value to that consumer,” she said. “There’s something about being able to choose your own steak or feel that watermelon before you pick it up, when the consumer has the time.”