PG Web Extra: Food City’s Power Play

Along with its offerings and services, the Food City store in Johnson City, Tenn., boasts state-of-the-art equipment and technology, with a laser-sharp focus on energy efficiency.

Particularly notable among those features, according to Store Design and Drafting Assistant Brandon Butler, are “our LED lights, starting from inside the parking lot to the store. … [A]ll the way from in the offices, the pharmacies, all the walk-in cooler freezers, everything has LED lights. All of the refrigerated cases that you see inside the store are all equipped with LED lights. That not only saves energy from the light, but also keeps … from putting more heat into the case.”

Another energy-saving move was to install, wherever possible, medium-temperature refrigerated cases with doors on them. “With the exception of a few isolated areas, well over 80 percent of our refrigerated cases in this store have doors on them,” notes Butler.

Some of the innovations adopted by the Johnson City store were actually requirements of the municipality’s building code that Food City has decided to add to its new stores going forward. As Butler explains: “As you walk in the store, there’s actually two sets of doors. That’s one of the new concepts actually required by the city of Johnson City that we started implementing. Creating that true airlock within the vestibule helps with the overall HVAC system in the store.”

The store also makes extensive use of natural lighting. “You see skylights all throughout the store, and the use of natural light, the dimming of fluorescent lights on the sales floor any time you can dim those,” says Butler, noting that these practices “obviously save a good amount of energy.”

Beyond the store’s visible features, Butler points out some important behind-the-scenes systems. “Something that you really can’t see is the heat reclaim,” he observes. “The heat that we pull from the refrigeration system, from the cases, we actually use to warm the water for the hot-water supply in the store, so we save quite a bit of energy by doing that.”

A further item unseen by shoppers “the variable-frequency drive for our main HVAC unit throughout the entire store, so as the store’s starting to shut down at night, and you start [turning things off,] we take that main HVAC system and start to crank it down, thus saving some energy,” adds Butler.

The result of all of these energy efficiency efforts? Since the first Food City flagship store of this caliber was built, in 2007, “we actually are [using] 40 percent less kilowatt-hours [of energy] per square foot,” says Butler, “so we feel that all the things that we talked about, the LED lights, the refrigerated cases, really contribute to that.”

Going Concern

Click-and-collect is big right now, but it hasn’t reached every market yet. That was the case in Johnson City, Tenn., last October, when the brand-new Food City in town rolled out the chain’s GoCart grocery shopping service. At the time of Progressive Grocer’s visit in early August, the store was still the only food retailer in the immediate area to offer such a service.

“It begins with the consumer going online on our website and registering their value card, their loyalty card, and from that point, they can shop the store [virtually],” explains Store Manager Derek Adkisson. “We’ll do the shopping for them; we do the work for them. My professional shoppers are able to pull that order for them, shop the order. The order’s ready at a designated time, [in] a designated area for pickup. Throughout the whole process, my shoppers have direct interaction with the customer via text or phone call if issues arise, and we charge a small fee for it. Whether it’s a $10 order or a $100 order, our fee is $4.99 flat.”

“You can do one-and-done, or you can sign in and do it every week,” adds EVP of Merchandising and Marketing Dan Glei. “We have customers that probably do both.”

Customers later drive by the store to have the ordered groceries loaded into their cars, at which time they pay by swiping their credit card, if they haven’t already paid online

Regarding the professional shoppers’ being equipped with dedicated cell phones to keep in direct contact with the customers for whom they’re selecting products, Glei notes: “Substitutions and out-of-stocks are just the big issue around e-commerce that frustrate customers. It seems a little more manual, but’s that’s the way we approach it to make sure that customer satisfaction is really high. And pretty much the entire store’s available to the customer; there’s not a highly truncated set available.”

Another way that GoCart stands apart from rival services is its inclusivity. “Through [the in-store] POS, if someone wants to use a SNAP card, they can actually use [the service] if they pay the fee separately,” says Glei. “That’s been a limitation for a lot of folks with e-commerce, so we tried to solve [it], either pure-play or you can use the store’s POS.”

Offering convenience and value, GoCart is definitely catching on with the region’s shoppers. “It’s truly a service we try to provide for our customers,” affirms Glei. “It’s a growing service.”

That Old Familiar Feeling

Food City Shoppers can find on store shelves many brands with deep ties to the surrounding region, some actually resurrected by the grocery store chain for their name recognition and the fond memories they evoke.

“We … carry a line of what we call legacy brands, like Kay’s Ice Cream, Kern’s Bread, Lay’s Meats, Terry’s Chips,” says Derek Adkisson, store manager of the Food City in Johnson Tenn. “These are old brands that have a lot of nostalgia about them, that we’ve brought back to life, and we are the exclusive retailer.”

 “We’ve bought the rights to the brands,” explains EVP of Merchandising and Marketing Dan Glei. “We own them and produce them in this area.”

While touring the Johnson City store, Progressive Grocer encounters one of the brands in the commercial bread aisle, Kern’s. “This used to be the biggest bread back in the day out of the Knoxville market in east Tennessee,” notes Glei.

 “We brought the brand back,” adds District Manager Rick Bishop.

 “Customers liked it, and given the consolidation of the bakery business, there were some labels available, so it seemed like the right play for us, and it’s been nice,” observes Glei.

In the frozen food section, catching sight of another legacy brand, Kay’s Ice Cream, Bishop reminisces about a shared history: “I used to eat at the Kay’s Ice Cream Parlors when I was a kid. I mean, they were all over” the area.

Even savvy supermarket executives can’t resist the pull of memories sparked by a favorite brand from one’s past.

Food City-backed ‘Battles’

Progressive Grocer’s early-August visit to the Food City in Johnson City, Tenn., finds the store – and by extension, the chain –involved in several high-profile promotional “battles.”

These promotions all play off the much-hyped Battle at Bristol, billed as “the biggest college football game ever,” according to Store Manager Derek Adkisson, in which the University of Tennessee and Virginia Tech are slated to face off Sept. 10 at the nearby Bristol Motor Speedway. Adkisson notes that “we’ve got a Battle of the Burgers contest going on right now, we’ve got the Battle of the Brands, we’ll be giving away a fan package through a Battle Pass, giving away a car. These are all customer sweepstakes that are driven by our loyalty card.”

 “We’ve got one of the local TV stations in a partnership,” says EVP of Merchandising and Marketing Dan Glei. “We’ve got a Backyard Battle that happens here in this area, in Piney Flats, Tenn., which is about 10 miles from here, and the TV station will be having a backyard party on the 5:00 news. Those burgers are featured in that backyard battle. … Send in a picture of your backyard, and we’ll come in and see and have a little battle back there.” The prize is a catered meal by a Food City chef.

Regarding one of the other campaigns, Glei explains: “Across the chain, if you buy five participating items – and you’ll see tags as you go through the store – you’re automatically entered into [the Battle Pass promotion], randomly, from now to about the time of the event. People win Battle Passes, which guarantees them a couple of tickets and $100 to spend. From that, they’re entered into the finals, which, from that group, someone’s going to win a new car and a very elaborate experience at that particular time.”

The burgers, which Glei points out “were developed by a couple of our people,” are pre-seasoned all-beef gourmet patties sold in the meat department. The Tennessee burger is seasoned with Jack Daniels BBQ Sauce and stuffed with Yancey’s Fancy Smoked Gouda Cheese and bacon bits, and recommended to be served on a King’s Hawaiian bun and topped with Grainger County tomatoes, lettuce, sautéed orange bell peppers, fried onions and drizzled Jack Daniels BBQ Sauce The Virginia burger is seasoned with Butt Rub BBQ, mixed with diced Smithfield Spicy Smoked Sausage and stuffed with Velveeta and Smithfield Virginia Brand Ham, and best served on a toasted onion roll, and topped with crisp lettuce, thick slices of Smithfield Bacon and a fried egg.

Meat Supervisor Johnny Stout observes that the University of Tennessee and Virginia Tech burgers are “doing really well for us,” adding that, unsurprisingly, “this side of the state line, we’re selling more Tennessee [burgers] than Virginia Tech.”

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