Grocers in Tourist Areas Mark Change of Seasons

Food retailers share ways in which they wind up and down for visitors while meeting needs of year-round shoppers
Lynn Petrak, Progressive Grocer
Family Fare
In addition to its company-owned stores located in tourist communities, SpartanNash serves several independent grocers through its distribution arm.

The temperatures and leaves aren’t the only things changing this season. As summer fades into fall, grocers in different parts of the country are ramping up or scaling back their operations, depending on their location.

In the Midwest, food retailers in popular tourist areas are coming off a busy summer and returning to a quieter time in both traffic and inventory management. Meanwhile, in temperate areas of the country, such as Florida and Arizona, grocers are readying their stores for the arrival of “Snowbird” shoppers and vacationers.

[Read more: "Logistics Pros Weigh in on Holiday Planning"]

Bailey's General Store, an independent grocer in Sanibel, Fla., is one independent retailer that makes such adjustments. “Our business is extremely seasonal. This has been changing over the last decade from almost no customers during the early fall, when weather is pleasant up north, to larger number of year-round residential shoppers. We love our year-round residents, but we still depend on visitors shopping with us during our busy spring time season to ensure our business is successful,” reported Calli Johnson, fourth-generation co-owner.

In addition to planning for variations in traffic, grocers must also have a proper product mix for its different shoppers. For example, Michigan-based SpartanNash operates several stores in its Midwest footprint that serve the needs of residents as well as summertime boaters, cottage dwellers, cabin-goers and campers, reported Amy McClellan, the company’s chief marketing officer. As a distributor, SpartanNash also works with a variety of independent stores in such areas. “One of the key advantages of being both a distributor and retailer is that we are able to use data and analytics to determine which items are most important to different shoppers season by season,” she explained. “In the summer, there is a large influx of guests to our stores in tourist communities that are vital to the local economies, and these guests generally look for different items than those who are year-round residents. We plan to maintain the essentials to support the needs of permanent residents, but also strategically stock up on popular summer items to support a larger community of vacationers.”

Accordingly, store shelves reflect that balanced strategy. “During the spring, we are focused on providing our customers with items they would need for their visit as well as what residents might need for their guests. Then, when summer comes around we work hard to provide value to our visitors from closer places that are enjoying summertime activities like grilling and beach supplies. While our product availability changes, we always focus on top-notch service and staff that makes you feel like part of our family,” noted Johnson.

Likewise, but on a different seasonal rotation, SpartanNash mixes up offerings. “Each year, our merchandising team ensures there is an emphasis on seasonal items for both our independent grocery customers and our corporate-owned stores. As the summer lake-life season comes to an end, our team begins to work months in advance to forecast for the next season of summer activities so that we are prepared to support future seasonal summer selling,” McClellan shared.

The labor shortages that have gripped much of the nation this past year are also keenly felt by grocers in towns that have smaller populations in the off season. “With the addition of many national firms to our county and exponential growth, we are finding that many of the traditional areas where our staff drove from now have job opportunities closer to home. While our exponential growth is exciting, we find that many of the people moving to our area are not looking for the types of jobs we offer,” said Johnson.

The family-owned, multi-generational Bailey's General Store in Sanibel, Fla., depends on seasonal visitors in addition to its main shopper base.

To address the issue, the family-owned Bailey’s General Store is offering full time work at above-market hourly pay with strong benefits. “We are also fortunate that customers seem to be more patient and understanding than in the past with issues like staff and product shortages. Fortunately or unfortunately, it’s no secret that these past few years have been a challenge for grocery supply chains and staffing, which does help raise customer awareness and understanding for stock problems and staffing issues,” she remarked.

For retailers in resort towns, September and October are usually a time of transition, following the Labor Day departure of many visitors in the northern part of the United States and before the steady stream of vacationers in the southern region.

“Around Labor Day, we notice that our customers are ready for fall flavors like pumpkin spice, autumn maple and everything needed for a tailgate,” said McClellan. “We are also expecting a substantial holiday baking season this year as shoppers continue to prepare meals at home and get creative in the kitchen. There are more gatherings expected this year compared to 2020 and 2021, and we’re anticipating that shoppers will be looking for ways to impress their extended family members with both scratch cooking and ready-prepared meals.”

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