People Are Buying Food Everywhere

The average American buys food to consume at home 2.2 times a week – far greater shopping visits than for any other nonfood items. So it makes sense for nontraditional outlets, like the clothing discounter T.J. Maxx, to sell foods. 

A recent column in Bon Appetit, by Maggie Lange, found garlic-stuffed olives with organic beetroot powder, Himalayan salt with luxury Tunisian olive oil, bacon-flavored spice, and sriracha ketchup at the store. The chain also has sold Honey Horseradish Dijon Mustard, tuna imported from the Bay of Biscay in Spain, extra-bold peppercorns from Capetown, and Sri Lankan curry. 

But what's learnable from Lange is that she sees as the store’s food merchandising magic -- the T. J. Maxx hodgepodge of seemingly random food locations throughout the store -- as intentional.  She calls it “a successful, sneaky merchandise mode,"

It's important to note, that unlike dollar stores, or others like Grocery Outlet and the long-forgotten Loehmann’s – T.J. Maxx does not buy discontinued or overstock items at cents on the dollar, but rather contracts with companies for high-quality items made especially for them. 

In Lange's interview with Victoria Taylor, the owner of the bacon-flavored spice, Taylor said that the buyers who acquire merchandise for T. J. Maxx call this a “treasure hunt merchandising philosophy.” She added that the buyers want the store to run out of items, so they order mixed cases from Victoria’s Gourmet because they don’t want too many of the same item. 

Lange also spoke with Wharton marketing professor David Bell, who said that discount retailers like Zara, Trader Joe’s and Aldi use a similar concept, citing the acronym: WIGIG for “when it’s gone it’s gone,.” to put “pressure on consumers”  which in turn establishes an urgency to buy the item cheaply, but also to come back to the store, and a fear of missing out on your one-time opportunity to buy a product -- what he calls FOMO. 

Merchandising at its best.

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