Fresh Perspectives

Giving a whole new meaning to the definition of “retail theater,” Lund Food Holdings, Inc.’s (LFI) recently remodeled Byerly’s store in Golden Valley, Minn., served as the picture-perfect backdrop for one the most memorable and inspiring April Fools’ Day stunts I’ve heard about in ages.

Armed with the talents of music and theater students from the University of Minnesota, the clever, clandestine prank took both unsuspecting shoppers and associates by surprise with a mini-musical performance that was not only well received, but, more importantly, further underscores the element of “creative genius” that has become synonymous with the Edina, Minn.-based regional grocer’s outstanding knack for connecting with its customers throughout its core Twin Cities marketing area.

The brainchild of Greg Mack, director of marketing for the 21 Lunds and Byerly’s stores, the carefully planned caper was set in motion to the music of “Danny Boy,” and featured a group of embedded “customers” and “employees” positioned at the store’s front end who broke into song using modified “Mealtime Hero” lyrics to whip stunned shoppers into a whimsical frenzy about what to make for dinner.

Recalling how the in-store escapade took wing, Mack says, “We had begun to brainstorm in advance of the holidays, and formally started hatching the idea in January.” Aided by his local connections, Mack’s legwork “led to a long series of conversations with the University of Minnesota, which just so happened to be looking for outreach opportunities in the public arena,” he relates. “As soon as the professor that I had begun working with began contacting directors and composers,” everything began falling into place. Additionally, local NBC affiliate KARE 11 was instrumental in helping with the in-store production’s film and sound needs. Before long, Mack continues, “We realized it would be perfect for April 1.”

And the rest, as they say, is history — although not without a considerable amount of behind-the-scenes orchestration to keep the musical ruse under wraps. “It was a very covert operation, and really nerve-wracking for my crew,” says Mack, adding that in the fast-paced world of food retailing, which entailed a steady stream of post-grand opening in-store activities, “we were able to maintain our cover with the store’s staff, who didn’t think too much about” the pre-production groundwork that was quietly unfolding in the days leading up to the big reveal.

Further, while Mack admits that concealing the underground plan — which required two overnight dress rehearsals and hidden cameras on end caps that were concealed by slightly strange decorations, among other elements — was a bit more difficult to do with the store’s manager and night crew, the “impromptu” April Fools’ “Mealtime Heroes” musical came off with a hitch.

Beyond the inherent excitement and element of surprise, the melodious stunt performed a twofold role for the grocer, according to Mack, serving “not only as a big exclamation mark for our month-long grand reopening festivities of our Golden Valley store that opened a little over a month ago, but also as an opportunity to punch up our social media-based Mealtime Heroes concept, which is also fairly new,” and which he further describes as “a work in progress.”

Explains Mack: “The grocery industry is very traditional when it comes to marketing and advertising. But with the advent of social media platforms, we challenged ourselves to think long and hard about what else we can do to involve our shoppers in new ways, to create a community where people can go to share time-saving meal-planning tips and suggestions, recipes and ingredients that can help make their lives a bit easier. People visiting our stores have tremendous knowledge, and ultimately, most everybody — no matter what cooking experience level they possess — really wants to feel good about what we’re putting on the table. We wanted to build a unique forum to help them do just that.”

The family-held grocer’s first dedicated initiative to reside “outside of the traditional advertising world, and instead in the social media medium,” as Mack refers to it, “Mealtime Heroes” is backed by an active presence on Facebook, as well as a microsite on its homepage, which features an animated comic strip treatment alongside a call to action urging visitors to “Tell us about how you or someone you know is a Mealtime Hero.”

As noted above, there’s nothing foolish about Lund’s and Byerly’s outstanding efforts to build close bonds with its customers, which we heartily salute. Ditto for its amazing April Fools’ Day exhibition, footage of which can be viewed here.
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