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Jungle Jim’s focuses on in-store experience with grocery industry ‘grabbing for straws’

As grocery chains nationwide scramble to roll out more curbside pickup and home delivery options, a Butler County-based grocer is taking more of a wait-and-see approach.

Staying competitive in the e-commerce age means Jungle Jim’s International Market continues to update various digital aspects of doing business, including a recent revamp of www.junglejims.com.

The move amounted to “completely starting over,” consolidating years of add-ons and making the web site mobile friendly, according to Phill Adams, director of development for the grocery store.

“We actually built another one running simultaneous beside each other and then switched over one night,” he said.

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The destination grocery store, which started as a Butler County fruit stand in the early 1970s and grew to include locations in Fairfield and Eastgate, is exploring the idea of launching a mobile app at a later date, Adams said.

“You could ask 100 people ‘What should Jungle Jim’s app have?’ and you’ll get 100 different answers,” he said. “There seems to be no real overlap.”

Online ordering with curbside pick up and home delivery are on Jungle Jim’s list of technological advances, Adams said, but “do they fit us right now? Not right now, because that whole thing is changing so fast.”

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One of the issues Jungle Jim’s foresees as a problem for the grocery industry is finding a labor force to keep home delivery options staffed, he said.

“There’s not enough truck drivers in American to fulfill all this,” Adams said. “And does it really fit us? We’re kind of all about the experience: the touching, the seeing, the smell. That’s a lot about what of our customers come to the store for.”

Molly Patterson said she does all of her grocery shopping in person, driving from the Dayton area to shop at Jungle Jim’s with her two children a few times per year because of the selection.

“There’s such a variety here, a lot more to pick from, and it’s just a fun activity for the kids,” Patterson said.

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Barbara Reynolds says the fresh produce is the main reason she avoids online grocery shopping. “I can see it and smell it and make sure it’s fresh,” she said, perusing the wide array of options at Jungle Jim’s during a recent visit.

Another factor working in Fairfield grocer’s favor is that as online shopping becomes an increasingly popular trend, trips to the grocery store become more of an uncommon and increasingly savored experience.

“Everyone kind of refers to us as the amusement park of grocery, but the reality is, we kind of are,” said Adams, looking down from his perch high above shoppers, with one group dancing along with (an animatronic) Elvis while another sampled new craft beer and a third nibbling on samples of fruit Adams said they likely have never seen before.

“The industry’s an amoeba. It’s always changing,” he said. “This (e-commerce aspect of home delivery and curbside pickup) right now is changing fast, but is it going anywhere? I don’t know. We’ll see.”

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Adams, who has worked at the store since 1986, said he believes pickup and delivery options will “come back full circle” to the stores at some point because of a shortage of truck drivers from store to door.

In the meantime, Jungle Jim’s will continue to explore “new, cool and exciting” ideas for its Fairfield location, including the possibility of expansion, he said.

Adams, who has served as chairman of the board for the Ohio Grocers Association since April, said grocery stores are undergoing an identity crisis.

“Everyone’s trying to figure out who they are as a grocer and what they need to do to appease all these customers,” he said. “It feels like, to me, everyone’s grabbing for straws and throwing everything they’ve got out at it, which for a lot of them is the right thing to do.”

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Some Jungle Jim’s customers said they use a combination of online ordering and shopping.

Dan Kruger said he uses online ordering through Walmart and Amazon because they make regular grocery shopping easy to order and then quickly pick up.

He said he only goes to the physical stores for specialty items or “if I need something unexpected or something last-minute.”

Staff Writer Brennen Kauffman contributed to this report.

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