Cross-Category Connectivity Reveals Ideas for Party Solutions


It’s party time!

These words can mean many things to many people, but for hosts, it most certainly means several trips to the grocery store.

Today’s time-crunched party planners need more help than ever cutting those shopping trips down in number and time, which creates a clear opportunity for grocery stores to be more than just a place to grab the chips and dips. The modern grocer needs to be an multicategory entertaining concierge.

A recent study, Total Store Connectivity: Entertaining Across the Store, commissioned by IDDBA from Nielsen Perishables Group, recognizes the immense opportunity in moving grocery stores to a service-oriented connected store model that makes party preparation – and all shopping – as easy as possible, whether the occasion is an impressive dinner party or a casual affair.

The study finds that helping shoppers easily connect all parts of the store takes some reframing among category managers, who need to step outside their sections and think as full-store shoppers who see a store as “an ecosystem of products across the entire store that solve a purpose or fulfill a need,” especially when the purpose is entertaining.

The Party Pre-Shop

Whether stores offer online shopping or not, a lot of party preparation can happen in the virtual world.

A visit to De Pere, Wis.-based Skogen’s Festival Foods’ website shows how much heavy lifting can happen online. Easy-to-navigate party planning pages inspire ideas and set a shopping blueprint before guests enter the store. Social media messages drive shoppers to new and seasonal content. For more ambitious hosts, recipes for chili and grilling tips are also available online.

The Skogen staff uses YouTube and Facebook to provide short videos helping the home cook. Examples of instructions include a lesson on customizing stove-top popcorn for a crowd using spices and toppings or a quick how-to on using the store’s new One-Step Prep meals to create a dinner-for-two in minutes.

“These online cooking instructions are a great way to educate our guests about new items, healthy snacks or recipe ideas. We see them as an extension of in-store demos, which are really well received,” says Cindy L. Schmidt, senior specialist of fresh foods of Skogen’s Festival Foods.

Some space restrictions make it hard for her staff to execute every cross-category demonstration or merchandising idea or demonstration they have, but online channels have proven to be a big help.

Deep in college and pro football country, Skogen’s website is full of tailgating and home-gating party ideas, with food photos and category headings leading readers through the store, giving party ideas from each section. For instance, from the deli, pre-made deviled eggs are the highlight. Next door, the bakery has pretzel rolls and cookies. From the meat counter – brats are house-made. Just add craft beer “firkins,” or small casks, and shoppers can see why Skogen’s Festival Foods earns the title of Grocery and Tailgating Headquarters of the Green Bay Packers.

Skogen’s online presence falls in line with the types of connections that IDBBA’s study encourages. A typical cross-category party shopper starts at the perimeter with crudités, fresh dips and specialty cheese, then moves on to bakery breads and desserts, next to meat and fish and eventually to center store for finishing touches.

IDDBA finds specialty cheese as a particularly effective grocery item when it comes to connecting with other grocery store categories. A 2015 report, Total Store Connectivity: Revealing New Pathways to Win: Specialty Cheese, also prepared for IDDA by Nielsen Perishables Group, found that the fine entertaining connection between specialty cheese, bakery, dips and other snacks.

In fact, 40 percent of Deli Specialty Cheese baskets also include in-store bakery products. Cross-merchandising and promoting these items together will encourage shoppers to buy them together for often and with more convenience. Adding other categories like jarred olives and fresh foods build basket even further.

In addition to purchase patterns, the IDDBA’s study also recognizes the many types of shoppers and shopping occasions stores must address, from guests looking for quarterbacking from the prepared foods section, to the do-it-yourself types who want to tackle Thanksgiving dinner entirely from scratch.

Thinking like a Host

Once the shopper is in the store, the IDBBA research encourages store operations to continue drawing connections among categories, even for simple gatherings.

“Some cross-merchandising makes sense, no matter the week or occasion, such as placing wine near your specialty cheese displays, says the study’s author, Sarah Schmansky, director of business operations at Nielsen Perishables Group. “Or utilize hand-made signs featuring different pairings each week, which you can place near the wine section.”

CPG companies have long included recipes and usage ideas on their packages, and Schmansky suggests stores’ borrow this idea on fresh items. For example, include customization ideas, like roasted pepper and pumpkin seeds with store-made hummus for an “almost home-made” spread that can be served fresh baguette slices and sliced vegetables.

Where space allows, cross-category merchandising centers can emulate a party planning center or – even a party – in the store. For the holidays, this might mean that the pumpkin pie spice jars don’t stay hidden in the spice aisle, and the cranberry sauce doesn’t have to be hunted down.

Also consider in-store wine and beer tastings, co-hosted with distributors, as more than a chance for shoppers to sip free beverages. Elevate these occasions as a way to experiment with food and beverage flavor pairings and entertaining ideas. Beyond the expected cheese pairings, try a beer and roasted spiced nuts flight, complete with recipe cards. Or have a mini-tapas night with wine and roasted chick pea recipes to pull in items from the canned food aisle.

Party planners are also open to suggestions, so use your staff as educators and entertainers. Have bakers do a quick cupcake decorating party with extras from the candy aisle. Use a chef to show how to sautés olives with herbs and citrus zest for a warm appetizer.

“Think about [party planning] from a shopper’s perspective,” encourages Schmansky. “Why leave the products scattered across the store and risk missing a sale? That would be like leaving each article of clothing for your outfit in a different room. You run the risk of forgetting something or giving up on tracking down that pair of earrings you had planned to wear.”

And, Schmidt points out, where merchandising and demonstration space can sometimes be restricted, the staff can use out-of-store communications to cross-merchandise. These messages can include simple checklists and store maps in newspaper circulars or more elaborate online cooking demos with guided store tours and shopping tips highlighting convenient, speed-scratch recipes using frozen dough, bagged salads and other short-cuts. 

Schmansky reminds retailers, “If you’re running a Twitter campaign, then use slogans like 'convenient solution,' which reinforces the value to the consumer. Offer special party packages that include a store-assembled variety of marinated olives, soft cheese spreads, crackers, nuts, bite-sized desserts, beverages and disposable dishes. For maximum convenience, offer online ordering with curbside pick-up."

Offering guests these final steps in shopping assistance delivers the ultimate convenience, and it’s a great goal to set.

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